Twitter and the Vertical Stacking

On: October 7, 2009
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About Simeona Petkova
My name is Simeona Petkova and I am a second year Research Master student at UVA's Media Studies Faculty. I have my BA in Journalism and MA in Electronic Broadcasting from Sofia University. New Media (quite broad, isn't it?) has become a main field of my current academic interest and through this blog i will share topics that are or have evolved to be important for me.


In Politics of the Very Worst[1] (1999) and Information Bomb[2] (2000) Paul Virilio argues that ‘speed’ historically has been a source of power in all societies (from horsemanship, to railway transportation, naval power, flight and finally information technology). ‘Speed’ has become a ‘power itself’ especially in the digital era in which technologies converge the past, the present and the future by supporting only real time (in which we operate simultaneously). The local and the regional become ‘destabilized’ by the global. By substituting the ‘chronological’ succession of local times with universal time and global space, digital technologies not only transform all activity into inter-activity, but also affect the ‘common’ understanding of ‘truth’ and ‘historical reality’. For Virilio, new digital environments with their immediacy and instaneity impose a threat to (Western) democracy, ethics, and aesthetics. Global interactivity is seen as practice that erodes difference and diversity, and removes human agency. The introduction of higher speed of action demanding reaction (labeled as ‘interaction’) discredits the value of an action as personal choice and empowerment. Virilio interprets the multiplication of “points of view” not as ensuring diversity and difference but as supporting media-controlled conformity. The screen becomes the only ‘artificial horizon’ that can display various media perspectives. The global speed of communications can only move us ‘towards inertia, towards the sterility of movement’ (122).

In Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age[3] (2001) Eriksen builds upon Virilio’s emphasis on acceleration, adding Lyotard’s notion of performativity: in the postmodern condition leisure time often incorporates activities more associated with work or acts of consumption. Eriksen elaborates further, noting that just as fast time drives out slow time, performative leisure displaces leisure erasing the distinction between work and free time. He also conceptualizes what happens to the information when it gets distributed through growing amount of data and speed. It becomes impossible to maintain coherent narratives and sequences. Fragments become the dominant modes that start to ‘question’ the centrality of the frameworks ‘of cause and effect’, ‘organic’ growth, evolution, etc. Acceleration drives also the practices of vertical stacking (putting things on the top of each other rather than placing them linearly), leading Erikson to conclude that speed and fast time are creating a new pattern, new code and new set of organizing principles that (may about to) dominate our society.

Twitter through Virilio’s and Erikson’s theoretical lenses:

  1. Twitter supports ‘real time’, inter-activity and the global dissemination of information.
  2. Various points of view are presented only through one interface/computer screen.
  3. Tweets and re-tweets move faster (in space/time continuum) than our actual movements.
  4. Interacting on Twitter resembles more work or performative leisure than free time activities.
  5. Fragments dominate the posts (narratives and sequences cannot be sustained under 140 limit).
  6. Posts are vertically stacked (on the top of each other) than linearly placed in contextual space.


Picnic ’09 paid attention to the way Al Jazeera has incorporated Twitter in their journalistic reporting during the attacks on Gaza. The term micro-reporting was coined as a practice of reporters (on the field) to tweet real time. Their tweets are further incorporated into Al Jazeera’s website where they are ‘enhanced’ with more context and content of the events. For Al Jazeera, therefore, ‘micro reporting’ through Twitter’s 140 limit is not enough for providing ‘traditional’ news narrative/or story line). The tweets should be further contextualized and ‘enriched’ with content.  In Future of Public Media (Public Media 2.0) Project Jessica Clark argues almost the same: since news is of high demand, news content and context should become crucial for both broadcasting media and users generated content. What if Erikson’s pattern of vertical stacking is already enacted online? We see it on Twitter, on RSS feed, on blogs, on Facebook’s News Feed, etc. What if context is no longer linearly but vertically deployed (the more relevant ‘things’ are put on the top of less relevant ones)? How the news should be then contextualized and enhanced with content? The blog’s news page, Twitter’s update or the RSS feed no longer mimics the newspaper page where reports are linearly spaced to maintain interaction between different news items. Will the broadcasting media loose the ‘battle’ (again) to the online or they will start to ‘enhance’ their audiences’ reading skills to distinguish the ‘good’ (following their policy) from ‘the bad’ (not following) vertically stacked news items?

[1] Virilio P. (1999). Politics of the Very Worst. New York: Semiotexte.

[2] Virilio P. (2000). Information Bomb. London:Sage.

[3] Eriksen T. H. (2001). Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age. London:

Pluto Press.

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