The Twitter Society

On: October 11, 2008
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About Dorris de Heij
I finished my Bachlor in Information science last year and am now a student at the New Media Master.

Twitter is the biggest microblogging community to be found in cyberspace, here people write their (short) thoughts and upload them to the website: “Twitter, which was created by a 10-person start-up in San Francisco called Obvious, is a heady mixture of messaging; social networking of the sort associated with Web sites like MySpace; the terse, jittery personal revelations of “microblogging” found on services like Jaiku; and something called “presence,” shorthand for the idea that people should enjoy an “always on” virtual omnipresence.” (new york times).

Some of the twitter post can be seen as new aphorisms with sometimes interesting massages. (The word aphorism denotes an original thought, spoken or written in a laconic and easily memorable form. (wikipedia)) Most of them aren’t though, they only tell were someone is, what he or she is doing or they quote some news that just happened. But if you search for them, maybe some people actually do have something important to say. You just get so lost in all the twitter posts, it’s hard to find stuff you would want to spend time on reading. So why twitter and not read real blogs you definitely like?

Twitter has been studied by Akshay Java et al. (2007), in their research paper “Why we twitter” they explain the different kind of twitter users. They’ve looked at every post made on twitter for 2 months in 2007. They concluded there are 3 types of twitter users: information sharing types (followed by many), information seeking types (follow many), and friendship-wise relationship types (follow and followed by the same people). This paper gives a good overview of how people twitter, but not why we twitter. Why do we feel the need to tell the whole world what we are doing? Who cares? Apparently, We care! We read strangers posts and expect them to read ours, but why? Maybe this is more a philosophical question, are we looking for a new way of proving and confirming we are alive? Or is it a psychological question, is twittering modern narcissism? Do we all want to claim our 1 second of fame? As YouTube has become so big now no one will ever watch your video, on twitter people will read your post as it shows up for sure.

I think maybe these deeper layers of why our society is changing (partially) into an online community have to be examined and thought upon before you can say Why we twitter. Mister Manuel Castells, a Spanish sociologist, says some nice things about our network society: “My biggest concern is that we live in a period where we are technologically overdeveloped , but socially underdeveloped. While the economy is getting global, the networks between people are getting more socially fragmentized. More networks come into being that sometimes can work better than big vertical organisations. This wasn’t a plan, it is an autonomous power that can’t be stopped. You can easily access all these new networks because of the information technology, but you can get thrown out just as easily.” (link to interview (Dutch))

Maybe here is a link to the twitter phenomenon: people want to fit in somewhere, they want to feel they are part of this network society and so show themselves online as much as possible to not be forgotten or thrown out. A new meaning to Marshall McLuhan‘s quote “the medium is the message” comes into life: being on the Internet just to be there, not to have important messages but just to use it to secure you are part of this new network society.
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