The Uses of Twitteracy

On: October 7, 2009
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About Rakesh Kanhai
New Media MA student, All-Round Turntablist DJ, Media Addict, Pro Evolution Soccer and Gears of War Champion of the world, and as of now: a Blogger... Recent theoretical interests : Lessig, Jenkins, Deuze, Gerd Leonhard (Music 2.0), Kevin Kelly and the such... Right now i'm very interested in the 'future' of the Music industry('s), its convergence with other industries and the way artists challenge precarity with creativity in contemporary conditions...


Why do I tweet?. Because I’m a narcissist?, because I want to start a revolution?, because I want to share my activities?, because I want my aphorism in the Twitter Wit book?, or simply because everyone’s doing it?. Honestly I have no answer yet. Sometimes I tweet because something interesting is going on, sometimes I want people to know what I’m doing, sometimes I want to share multimedia, and sometimes I just tweet because I haven’t touched my Blackberry in a while. I can’t describe why I do it, I just do.

When Richard Hoggart wrote his Uses of Literacy he contributed to the understanding of popular culture. One key aspect of his formulations was the attack on mass culture and not popular culture. He was one of the first to move beyond the elitist (Leavist) approach by acknowledging integrity and human agency with regards to popular culture (while still condemning mass culture). According to Hoggart the public was able to appropriate for its own purpose and on its own terms the commodities offered by the culture industry without being merely enslaved by them. I propose we also move towards a more open minded approach and take whatever people are doing with Twitter serious. There have been a lot of  “anti” Twitter talks (including this very funny mockumentary) which to me just stresses the relevance of this phenomena. Disregarding it as trivial nonsense would be just another elitist approach to culture,  that’s not the way to go. I think the most important and difficult question to answer is: Why do we Tweet?

According to Julian Dibbel of Wired we use it because it gives birth to a hitherto underexploited quantum of thought: The random, fleeting observation [1] . He compares the way Twitter is treated with the way TV was treated before its relevance was acknowledged and says that the medium (140 character status updates) is the message. Twitter in his thoughts gives a medium to a hitherto unmediated process.  Jay Rosen calls it “mindcasting”, the tweet as partial thought (instead of a blogpost or book) that is picked up and formed by the community into something larger [2]. The tweet as part of a snowball process in which collaborative authorship form something.  Mike Osborne contributes its massive use to the fact that it combines mobile telephony and the internet, both empower people and allow expression. He sees Twitter as an hybrid of SMS and the internet; Twitter offers E-messages on User’s Terms [3] . Hans Geser adds: a low threshold of participation, bottom up leadership-follower patterns, signalling and alerting functions and many other Twitter specific qualities. [4] All the above mentioned aspects can be seen as contributing to Twitter’s immense popularity, but none of them conclusively answer why we do it and what’s the use. I’m not posing I do have the answer,I can however explain my own motives. I tweet mostly to stay informed about actualities. My Twitter accounts gives me acces to multimedia (by linking) that is relevant on the moment I look at it. It serves as a RSS feed of my followers collective interests. (which correspond to mine). It seems to me that the ideas formulated with regards to Twitter forget about the relevance of linking to outside sources, a common practice on Twitter.

I want to add to this something about the contents of a tweet. There is most definitely a protocol of sorts . There are many debates on what’s tweetable and what’s not tweetable. There’s the unwritten law of wittiness, the unwritten law of relevance ( I can only tweet about taking a crap if I’m extra extra witty) and most importantly; the unwritten law of actuality. If it isn’t going on right now it’s not relevant.

Twitter forces continuous engagement even though it doesn’t require the effort that real writing would. This continuous engagement also serves another function that is underestimated; Twitter can be a search engine. Twitter is used by people to find out things in real time. Even though Google is quite functional it can’t tell me about how long the line is at Starbucks or how good the Latte is on that particular day according to my friends or celebrities. Twitter can also tell me which one of my followers is close to me (geotagging, GSM cell tower). Twitter can be a virtual real time search engine of the world with functionalities that exceed that of Google or the such. But then again, this locative aspect can also ruin lives. Much has been said of the stalk function of Twitter, and not to forget, the snitch function.

The locative function and its consequences aren’t the only “problems” I see with Twitter. There is also the editorial force, the way Twitter recommends people to follow. In the newer version you are actually following certain people by default if you don’t alter this in the options.  Also there is the new form of spam, Twitter is increasingly being used by advertising agency’s and private companies to reach people.

It poses certain problems and things to critically think about; editorial forces, privacy issues, identity forming and so on. However i’m not forgetting about the possibilities: real time searches, feedback functions, signalling and alerting functions and many more.

summer is too short

being brief  is an art form

let me twitter that




[3] Osborne, Mike. Twitter offers E-messages on User’s Terms. In: Voice of Amerika. Sept.8

[4] Geser, Hans. Tweeted thoughts and Twittered Relationships. In: Sociology in Switzerland: Towards Cybersociety and Vireal Social Relations. Zurich. Feb, 2009

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