From Tweet to Hypertextual Consciousness?

On: October 4, 2009
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About Susana Zaragoza
I am a Spanish professional within the cultural field. since 2003, I have been involved in several cultural cooperation projects related to new media in Brazil, Spain and Uruguay. All them are presented in my personal blog. I am a current student at UvA University. My aim is to gain new inputs and academic knowledge in the New Media academic field.


One might claim that Twitter is just another boring conversational platform not very different from any other kind of social network site, where you can share your cuts-ups of personal information instantly with your friends. But in a social-humanistic perspective could means much more than this.

In fact, Twitter is literally, a conversational platform that lead us to think about the concept of Secondary Orality deriving from both print and oral culture, hinted by Walter Ong in 1982. Ong argued that as a product of electronic technologies, it would emerge a mixture of literate, oral and electronics culture in a contemporary discourse, that will allow us to transcend barriers of time and place grounded in everyday concerns. Furthermore, it would be able to strengthen knowledge in a collaborative and communal way  for both objective and subjective points of view through situational and also, abstract analysis [1]. Twitter captures this idea of primarily conversational tool (orality is close to the human lifeworld),  but also introduces an operational manner related to wiki construction of knowledge, incorporating ideas like aggregation and linked material, better known as Hypermedia.

All this interconnected exchange of tweets (information) works in a properly and dynamic way because of the existence of flow. Flow can be understood as the metaphor of the acceleration or the rate of change of information represented as social trends in a on-line community. Twitter could be a metaphor of social accelerator because of its ability to identify people with common interests. We should take into account that this peer to peer identification process refers to a phenomena known as re-tribalization coined by McLuhan. Re-tribalization lies in the fact that technologies re-creates the sensory unification characteristic of tribal society. This process of re-integration of humans in a horde is as well related to some more contemporary and philosophical ideas by Peter Sloterdijk, who claims about the practice of networking; The horde returns in the guise of an iPhone address book. Close physical togetherness is no longer a necessary condition of sociality. The future belongs to tele-socialism. The past returns as tele-horde life. [2]

In relation to this “collage production” by groups, I would like to introduce the idea of Twitter as an example for non-linear and networked cultural production within a huge community of readers and writers, producers and prosumers. My starting point is that narrative exists to convey perspective. In Mark Meadous’s words; If humanity were a building, each author would be a window. So, the context of the person telling the story, the specifics of the way that is told, and the pieces that are chosen to be relayed all inform the perspective.

People in Twitter make use of the Hypertext to create perspective, as a text which is not constrained to be linear and contains links to other texts. Additionally, if  Hypertext is not constrained to be text and can also include graphics, videos and sound, we are talking about Hypermedia as an extension of  the first term. Hypertext requires an active reader and is fluid, multiple, networked, anti-hierarchical, collaborative and multi-centered.  Hypertext has no beginning or ending; the indeterminacy is a relevant feature. [3] Twitter works in those terms; on one hand twitter gives to pop culture the possibility of a deep remixability of contents (hypertext as collage) and on the other hand it is done within a decentralized sphere because of Twitter’s refined connection system between people. Artist  Mark Amerika had been working since the 90’s in this field related to interactive narratives structures looking for a Hypertextual Consciousness. His work Grammatron is a big reference for a further investigation on how hypertext reconfigures the text, the author, the writing and the literacy education.

To sum up, what appear evident is that the aloof and dissociated of the literate man of the Western World is succumbing to the new and we must abandon the conceptual systems based on ideas of centralism, linearity and margin. Multilinearity, nodes and networks are the keys of this paradigm shift that marks a revolution of the human thought. Twitter is an hybrid between a friend-based social media and a Wiki, that shows the hypernarrative potential of this networks.

[1] For more information about Twitter and Second Orality at MOM blog see here

[2] Lecture at Harvard University Graduated School of Design. Febraury 17, 2009. See the whole interview here.

[3] Landow George P. “Hypertext 3.0: Critical Theory and New Media in an Era of Globalization” Johns Hopkins University Press. 2006.

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