Twitter: ‘resistance is futile’

On: October 13, 2008
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About Wouter Dijkstra
I am concerned with ICT for accountability, awareness and transparency. I am doing research on traditional, local and popular communication structures in Uganda and will see how New Media technologies can be used effectively as a tool within these structures. My aim is to find ways in which citizens can take on a more active role within political structures in Uganda and how ICT’s can help in this process.

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http://ICT4accountability.wordpress.com    

First of all I have to define twitter for myself, I have no clue where this is going to lead me..

Twitter is the popular name for the non-commercial phenomenon of micro-blogging. We could search where this popular name came from and come to a better understanding.

To twitter (Dictionary.com):

1. To utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird.

2. To talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter

The second definition stems from the first one, the twittering of a bird, seen as mere sounds, are a metaphor for speech without a very significant content. I will try to find a third definition that will have its base in the former two.

For one we should mention the new medium. Namely the digital network. Twittering, in the contemporary sense of the word, is done trough either Internet or a third generation mobile telephone. It is mediated in the form of text, so the sound aspect is lost in our definition.

What is taken over from the first definition is the ‘bird style’ social environment. A twitter is a message from one source into a space where everything (given it has the right sensors) at that time occupying the space can take notice of the twitter, even when it is not meant specifically for this receiver.

The major common denominator is that a twitter is a short message. It is a signal more than an argument and it is up to the receiver to pay attention. More twitters are ignored than payed attention to. In the bird twitter the information is useful just for a short period of time, it is not worth documenting or remembering. Still Twittering at Twitter.com is documented for an undefined period of time, for all you know your message is never lost, this is an interesting new aspect of modern day twittering.

Also in the second definition the information contained in the twitter has no significance on the long run. If you do not occupy the space in which the twitter is produced, the information contained in the twitter is not relevant. Both seem to be a way to confirm ones presence in a certain space rather than contributing to an argument. In this way, for the twitter, time is more important than content.

My definition would be: A 140 character, digitally mediated and saved text into cyberspace, which should be seen more as an Impulse or Signal than a serious contribution to an argument. Content is less important than the act of confirming ones presence on the web.

SMS & Twitter

What is the major difference between SMS and Twitter? SMS is a message send by a producer to essentially one receiver. Twitter is a message put into a space which can be collected by a range of receivers. It is the audience that decides to whether a twitter is relevant, not, like the SMS, the producer.

A digital Twitter is released in an open space for people who are interested and people who are not.

In this way the birds perspective of a twitter comes closer to the application than the chatting way of twittering which is more confined, interactive and private.

In this way twitter is useful when a person has an interesting (but small) thing to announce to a big audience, like the price of his goods. This interaction gives use to the application. Negotiations can be instant over vast distances to an audience that wants to take notice. However, the majority use of Twitter is for total nonsense messages, which I can so far only account to boredom or finding a way to leave a footprint in a communal area for greater self esteem and a feeling of collectiveness. Messages saying: ‘I am now having a shit’, or ‘gfeeeeseeee!!’ are just incomprehensible to me from a useful point of view.

Twitter as contemporary art

If contemporary art is seen as a relationship between art and society, and contemporary art evolving in a direction of anti-elitism, audience interaction and communication (Nasir Baharuddin), Twitter can be seen as a contemporary piece of art. It might be an indication or a symbol for social change. It is a collective hunch of what is to come, without really knowing where it is going. The massive hype around the application in combination with the seemingly useless content it is generating is definitely interesting.

Could it imply that everybody will be heard in the new age? That when everybody is connected a sort of general global voice or even emotion is heard? When all twitters can be interpreted and categorized will we have a sort of code for a global consciousness?

If we take a look at our brain, we are able to grasp this thought better.

Brains can be extremely complex. The human brain contains roughly 100 billion neurons, linked with up to 10,000 synaptic connections each. These neurons communicate with one another by means of long protoplasmic fibers called axons, which carry trains of signal pulses called action potentials to distant parts of the brain or body and target them to specific recipient cells. (Wikipedia)

What if we saw every Twitter as a neuron connected by fiberglass axons. On their own these neurons do not have much significance, however, if there could be a central point to decipher all incoming neurons (like the brain) a general action potential could be the result.

Are we talking of true democracy here or are we turning into the Borg?

3 Responses to “Twitter: ‘resistance is futile’”
  • October 16, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    You wrote: “Are we talking of true democracy here or are we turning into the Borg?”. I think this isn’t the question we should be asking ourselves, because it implies that the microblogging phenomenon could lead to two binairy results; 1. democracry (a.k.a. new freedom) or 2. new control mechanisms. Rather, we should focus on the competence of humans subjects to create new weapons to respond to the possible outcomes of the microblogging phenomenon.

  • October 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    If a twitter could be seen a a mere signal or impuls, that could be decoded by a computer and interpretted into more general meanings (like a brain does), a computer could analyze all twitters and deduct statistical data. This data could then be seen as a general human thought. Of course their could be much more uses for this then the Borg view or a democratic tool. If we see that a computer is almost able to interpret what we say we could think of a way for a computer to interpret our collective utterances.(see Loebner prize)and ALICE the reacting computergirl: http://www.pandorabots.com/pandora/talk?botid=f5d922d97e345aa1

  • October 20, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Ok, it’s true that these applications could be used for quantitive analysis. But I don’t think that the results of this kind of research should be interpreted as a representation of human behaviour. If one solely focusses on external (written)human behaviours and tries to reconstruct this as a collective concept (interpreting utterances & ‘being social’ as a thing that exists out there), than one fails to acknowledge the connections between individuals, place, time and objects which also shape & reshape the social sphere. The results of this kind of research imply that the social sphere is constructed by some overarching power (sociality), instead of focussing on how the social sphere is continually shaped and reshaped.

    What I’m trying to say is: if a computer is able to interpret what we do/say/write, is it really able to ‘understand’ humans? Or is it just reconstructing human behaviour into a generalized frame (where humans are treaded as a collective, instead of individuals)? Maybe before we try to foresee future developments, we should try to understand what this quantitive data tells us about ourselves (and what not) and how this data reframes our interpretation of ‘being human’.

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