September 8th, 2008


Twittering Thoughts

Eric Orchard pointed out an interesting article on social networking, and particularly Twitter. For those who don't know what Twitter is, it's a form of "micro-blogging", making lots of tiny posts, usually via one's cell phone, throughout the day. This may sound dull -- after all, do you really want to know that your friend just did laundry and lost a sock? Surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes, because all those little Twittered "tweets" add up to something called "ambient awareness", which creates this phenomenon:

Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

I'm fascinated this because I've been playing around with Facebook, and MySpace, and Twitter, and the other five million forms of social networking. I disabled the Twitter feed, but now I'm thinking about sticking it back up because I like the posts that collect a person's Twitters from the day and present them like a little poem entitled "Things I Thought About Today".

If you are old enough to have gone to summer camp, or TASP, or any other form of program that took you away and made you hang out with a bunch of people pre-Internet, you remember what happened. At the end everyone ran around swapping addresses and swearing to be BFFs forever. A few letters make the attempt, but sooner or later those friendships all fell away, unable to sustain the weight of distance and the cost of phone bills. And now that's no longer true -- lifetime communication with those folks is only the creation of an e-mail list away.  I am curious what this means and how it will shape interactions.

I like my online friends.  I've made friendships that have spread into real life, and I'm even married to someone I originally met online. And now that I work at home, it becomes even nicer to be able to pull up my Twitter page now, for instance, and see that Matt is also feeling a little bitchy about Sarah Palin, that Jenny is waiting for the delivery of her Kindle, and that Elizabeth is thinking about dying her hair purple. If I want to, I can reply back to one of those, or I can let the conversation keep flowing while I work, knowing that I can always dip back into it when I like. It makes me feel connected to the world.