@MOM, twitter #addmeaning or #losemeaning?

On: October 5, 2009
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About Margarida Fonseca
I am currently a Project Manager and mostly work on web related projects: websites, intranets, web advertising and usability projects at the Portuguese Telecom. This year I decided to take 1 year off work to learn new approaches and to gain insight. Since 1995 I’ve worked on all sorts of web related projects. I started as a Communication Designer (BA at IADE, Lisbon) and then learned HTMl and moved to webdesign. In 2001 I started working as a Project Manager and in 2006 I became a certified Project Manager by the PMI. Besides Project Management I also like Design and whenever I find the time I like to do illustrations and photography.


Last week we read Vannevar Bush’s essay “As we may think” and one aspect I truly found fascinating was the purpose for what he came up with the idea of the memex: an effort to arrange a mechanism to automate the actions of saving, indexing and retrieving the human knowledge.

“The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers— conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear.”

Another aspect of Bush’s essay was the division of human thought:

“For mature thought there is no mechanical substitute. But creative thought and essentially repetitive thought are very different things. For the latter there are, and may be, powerful mechanical aids.”

In a way, it’s comforting to acknowledge that information overload is not a concern exclusive of our times and this can also be seen with other concerns such as medium shaping the way we write.

Bush wrote “As we may think” in 1945 on the Atlantic magazine; in 2008 Nicholas Carr wrote on the same magazine an article posing the question “Is Google making us stupid?”.

The article is very thorough and presents us several examples of how writers or philosophers felt through time with the introduction of new mediums and threats they may pose:

For instance in the book Phaedrus by Plato, Socrates laments about the development of writing: “He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”

The same kind of concern was shown by the Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico after the event of the Gutenberg press “worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men less studious and weakening their minds.”

Another example is the one of Nietzsche, who saw his prose become more telegraphic when he adopted the typewriter: “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

Raising the same kind of concerns towards Twitter would the obvious next thing to do, after all, according to a study by Harvard published on the bbc site there is an estimate of more than 10 million users.

While trying to answer the question “Will meaning increase with the shortening and acceleration of text-based conversations or are we losing something with this acceleration?” I remembered a remark one conference presenter at PICNIC made while opening his talk:

“What a wonderful event, so many talks being exchanged over twitter and blog entries, there are more people talking there than there are actually here on the event”

Inside the Picnic Club there was a huge screen displaying the feeds of twits that were being released under the hashtags #PICNIC09 and boy were they updated by the second.

So what we saw with all these tweets of the event was the birth of a parallel event, a second layer of discussion that brought a wider audience into the Picnic event and that made it go on the web even after the event itself has ended: the event ended on the 28th of September but 8 hours ago there were still people tweeting about it .

Maybe not much meaning can be added with a stream of 140 tweets, but that stream can offer a real time stream of thoughts and links to the people who didn’t attend the event , comments from the inside to the outside. Of course that this cannot be a labour of the mature thought Bush talked about. In my opinion this is food for our increasing crave for entertainment and distraction.

The more the technology provides us ways to be connected the more ON we seem to need to be.

And for the users who actually were on the event, the possibility of commenting allowed them to personally follow/make the heartbeat of the event ; you can’t get much closer than this.

Another study presented by Nielsen in April this year reports that more than 60 percent of U.S. twitter users fail to return the following month. It would be interesting to understand the reasons why people don’t come back.

I have a Twitter account, but just like my friends, I don’t pay much attention to it and yet we struggle to understand why the 40% that keep coming back and do use the service make such a fuss about it!

Yesterday (Sunday) one of the Trending Topics was #iminchurch in less than a minute 32 tweets were added to the thread, in one hour 2025!

Maybe it’s because we haven’t update our mobile phones or maybe because we haven’t yet adopted this new language.


I wonder what Shakespeare tweeted if he had a Twitter account and someone did a very nice post about it.


18 Tweets You Might See, If Shakespeare Used Twitter


  1. Need Photoshop expert with mad skillz in hiding Adams apples. DM me if interested.
  2. Is it realistic that a king would be convinced his wife is unfaithful based only on a misplaced handkerchief? Pls tweet yes or no kthanxbai.
  3. Im not comfortable with the title of bard, yet. I think of myself as an OG Soneteer, really.
  4. Told @BenJonson I’d be in his play, as long as it wasn’t another freaky masque about mice or some shit. Dude needs to cut down on the absinthe.
  5. Just unfollowed @GuyKawasaki, dude still hasn’t put me in Alltop, and he updates too damn much about sidewalk chalk & other useless shit.
  6. Pshaw Virgin Queen! Virgin Queen my ass!
  7. Of course @KennethBrannaugh is too old 4 Hamlet! Was a 2-film deal w/ Sony tho. Still bitter about @MelG, too. @&%! Hollywood
  8. So, then, I was like, we can talk all you want about hacks for increasing productivity, but I don’t see anybody coming up with something better than a feather for me to write with.
  9. Added @CMarlowe to my blogroll, now that I’ve removed the no-asshats policy.
  10. Mtg at Koi 2nite w/ network execs re 12th nite pilotwondering if I should lose the flavor-saver?
  11. @PornGirls69 Thanks for the follow back! Let’s keep tweeting.
  12. Havent tweeted in ten days. Fucking Twilight series!
  13. RT help @QueenE help you: theaters closed again #plague.
  14. Shall I compare thee to a summers day? Nah.
  15. To those that unfollowed after the @CMarlowe tweet, whatevs, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking.
  16. Looks like somebodys got a case of the Mondays. I’m looking in your direction @SWRaleigh.
  17. Anybody ever notice that the Spaniards are always dressed in all black? What’s that about, do you think?
  18. Like the new album, but yeah, #KanyeWest is a total douchebag.

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