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The case against — and for — Twitter - click opera
February 2010
 
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Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:18 am
The case against — and for — Twitter

Click Opera is probably the result of some kind of bad craziness. I'm often asked -- at my lecture in Oslo last week, for instance -- how I can find the time or the motivation to update it with a major cultural essay of some kind every day. I just say "I'm insane". A longer, slightly more accurate answer would be that it takes me a couple of hours in the morning, that that isn't a huge investment for someone who doesn't have a dayjob, that Click Opera has led to lots of paid work, and that I'm a media-head (and probably a narcissist) who's always made little magazines for small audiences. When I was 15 and lived in Montréal, for instance, I put together on photocopiers at my dad's Concordia office a little magazine called Curreview, circulation five (the immediate members of my nuclear family). I do this sort of stuff because it's fun, and because "happiness is a byproduct of absorption"; you can't get happiness from a bottle or a pill, but you can get it from working at something you love.



But recently I've noticed that Click Opera got even more anomalous than it was before. My belle lettristique entries stand out even more from the entries on my Friends Page than they used to. And the reason is Twitter. Everyman-and-his-wife is switching to microblogging; to twittering, tweeting, and status updating on Facebook (which is obviously designed to be a Twitter-killer, but may well be failing). The same way Facebook made your email inbox quieter by shifting messaging over to shouts on a restricted proprietorial site, Twitter has made microblogging proprietorial. It's also evangelistic: my LiveJournal Friends Page now increasingly features content "automatically shipped by LoudTwitter". Example (this is actually on my Friends Page right now): "14:16 Oh to hell with this, I need food. #" Wow! Hold the front page, stand by at the command centre!



You could easily see the tweet as an inherently worthless form, some kind of spreading weed, replacing meaningful content with something scattershot, trivial, phatic, desultory -- eroding topsoil, decreasing crop yields. Blogging has certainly sped up since the arrival of the tweet; the minimal investment makes folk post more as microbloggers than they would as bloggers, and you certainly learn a lot about their transient emotions and habits, the microevents that make up their day. But if blogging has sped up, it's also lightened up. Blogging has caught a bad dose of ADD.



Five years ago Click Opera and a Tokyo-based blog called Neomarxisme began sparring productively over differing interpretations of all things Japanese. Marxy and I used the conflict to generate content, debate, alliances, positions, arguments, actions, paid articles. It was the blogging equivalent of certain academic rivalries, and I personally found it very valuable. Neomarxisme is now defunct; Marxy diversified into four or five new blogs (Clast, Mekas, Neojaponisme, Meta No Tame, google 'em), some paid for by employers, some run as businesses, some collaborative. Although several of these new blogs feature excellent and weighty content, none has attracted the creative energy, the debate, the passion, or the scale of participation Neomarxisme achieved. Marxy recently promised on his Twitter feed: "I am either going to start Twittering a broader range of topics or create a more news-feed-y twitter feed. I will let you know." He added: "I will also commence blogging again in the near future. I have been too busy charting the course of my life in this recessionary age."



The idea of "Twittering a broader range of topics" sounds sort of absurd to me, like the story The Guardian ran on April 1st: "Twitter switch for Guardian, after 188 years of ink • Newspaper to be available only on messaging service • Experts say any story can be told in 140 characters". Are people really going to try to shoehorn serious content into such a minimalist form? Why? Just because it's a trendy meme, a successful startup, a dinner party topic? Because they can do it when they're out-and-about, using mobile devices? Because it's not as daunting to start a 140-character tweet as it is to commence a 2000 word essay?



I recently visited the STASI Museum in East Berlin and was struck by how capitalism has now reproduced virtually the entire omni-surveillance machinery the communists had during the Cold War. The only difference is that we've done it voluntarily -- why bother concealing tiny cameras inside fake boulders or lapel blooms when someone will happily tell you his every passing thought or action on the internet, sitting in full view of a camera he's paid for himself? Similarly, who needs an Orwellian Party to enforce the use of Newspeak when microblogging imposes a 140-character limit?



Then again, then again... Couldn't "workers of the world unite -- you have nothing to lose but your chains" have been a tweet? Couldn't "we meet at Trafalgar Square at 1pm, then take over parliament" be a tweet too? Couldn't all the important things ever said be reduced to 140 characters? There's nothing more wonderful than seeing a short form given some kind of lapidary perfection, or even some obscene directness. It isn't just poets like Martial who enjoyed the maxim, or Auden who recommended the liberating strictures of those divine structures, rhyme and metre. What about pecha kucha, which stops designers mouthing off for hours about their work by imposing a strict formal limit: 20 slides, 20 seconds to talk about each. Anyone who can't sum up what they do in six and a half minutes isn't a good communicator, right? It's the same with Twitter, right?



This isn't an anti-Twitter tirade. I enjoy reading people's Twitter feeds. I recently made a new bookmark folder for them, and it's filling up quickly. I've personally always loved short forms, and I think they're much too brilliant to be wasted on phatic how ya doin'-type stuff. Short forms deserve more imagination. It isn't easy to know how to use them, though. Ever since starting my Facebook page I've been a bit flummoxed by the Status Update feature. I went through a phase of posting paranoid, petulant meta stuff on mine:

Nicholas Currie is adding value to a Web 2.0 social networking platform.

I went through another phase of just saying what I was doing or thinking (twittering, in other words):

When iMovie crashed just as he was about to save a big project, Nick cried out "This sucks ten billion bags!"

I started linking the kind of pages I'd usually only link from Click Opera once I'd found a big theme to unite them all. But that seemed to be frittering or twittering material away. After that I tried Big Important Ideas:

When future civilisations look back at us, they'll say "Oh yeah, that time when the top 10% of people owned 85% of all global wealth!" And roll their eyes.

Currently, I'm running a series I call Ultrashort Fiction:

Ultrashort Fiction 1: Ernesto Strongheart was devastated, one afternoon, to discover that his dog had just been pretending to like him.

Ultrashort Fiction 2: The tactful art professor would dress up as a clown before critiquing his students' work. The costume, he reasoned, would allow them to dismiss hurtful remarks: "Why should I care what a fucking clown thinks of my work?"


But probably the most telling and truthful Status Update I ever made from Facebook is:

Nicholas Currie is best appreciated on LiveJournal.

Let's hope they never fritter-twitter it away. You know who I'm talking about.

39CommentReplyShare

chickensnack
chickensnack
Brian
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:14 am (UTC)

For me twitter is just another thing to read on my blackberry when I'm bored at school. At least that's the plan, I only finally bit the bullet and joined yesterday. Frequently updated pseudo-entertainment produced by people I know or kind of know hooray.

I wonder what my life would be like if I didn't know what all my old highschool classmates that I never talk to were doing every day.

By the way have you seen tumblr?
It seems to be just like LJ except easier to post pictures to or something. A bunch of my friends started joining it and I'm so confused.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:29 am (UTC)

I notice some of my LJ friends moving over to Dreamwidth, which is based on LJ code and can import your LJ content, but isn't owned by the Russians and isn't being staffed down (I hear LJ's staff is now 8 people, total).

My experience in the music business -- with both record labels and sequencing software -- is that chopping and changing gets you too wrapped up in meta issues when you should be concentrating on composition, continuity and content. Capitalism is really lousy at sustaining content platforms, though. They shoot up, they shoot back down. They rise, they fall, they disappear. They make a profit, they make a loss. What they don't do so well is work, and serve, and endure.


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:35 am (UTC)

What initially won me over to twitter was finding out that Jenny Holzer was using it to disseminate her truisms. The thought of receiving random, unsolicited text messages from her completely delighted me.

I went for several months only using twitter to receive instructions from her.

Gradually, however, I realized that it could be used to receive softcore porn, too! The next few people I added were hot guys that liked to take pictures of themselves.

That was really all it took to justify using twitter for me. If you're not Jenny Holzer or a cute camwhore, the next best use I've seen for twitter is brief social or psychological observations, since they can be made in the field.

Many things posted to twitter benefit from the character restriction, because the form eliminates the temptation to pad a hard kernel of observation with a preamble, context, or elaboration that would only lessen the impact.

A couple of examples that have helped redeem the site for me, both from the same person:

  • @kuschkusch: The hurdle I have faced in all my relationships: the fear that saying no to anything means saying no to everything.
  • @kuschkusch: I was told today, "That's your ego talking." I responded, "Your ego is what you talk with. Your id has no vocabulary."


Edited at 2009-04-10 09:37 am (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:45 am (UTC)

Those are both great aphorisms. Could Twitter usher in a new Golden Age of Aphorism? I shall begin my 10,000 word New Yorker essay on the subject forthwith.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC)

I like to think of twitter as multiplayer sms.


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krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:45 am (UTC)

I think the problem with Twitter isn't necessarily even a problem with Twitter. It's a problem with all of the media types who're so quick to call it a game changing online revolution. The only thing that seems to be keeping Twitter intact is a hardcore group of early devotees, and then the rabble who have joined up recently in order to follow the celebrities who've taken a temporary interest in the service. Everything about it screams "trend," which is why I'm waiting to see which idiotic web powerhouse buys it for some inflated price, only to see it flop a few years later.

Tumblr, on the other hand, actually seems to have a lot more flexibility. You can build your own design from the ground up with CSS/HTML, a capability which most other blog services will charge you for, if they even offer it at all. It makes simple everything you ever wanted made simple by a blog service (i.e. posting pictures, videos, songs, etc). You can also send updates via SMS/email, if you prefer to run a Twitter-like thing. And you can create your own Tumblr RSS-style feed by "following" other users.

In the end, Twitter only has one thing, and that one thing is going to get old really quickly. Facebook and Tumblr have tons of functionality, and they're only adding more as time goes on. This isn't to say that Twitter couldn't add new functionality in the future, but they've already made their entire brand the 140-character "tweet." Not a very robust foundation from which to branch out, service-wise. And if they don't add new functionality, the gimmick is eventually going to wear off. I think the hardcore Twitter community would remain, but you obviously have a lot of people dipping their toes in these days, hoping that the thing will prove to be more than a gimmick, and actually branch out into other territories.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)

all of the media types who're so quick to call it a game changing online revolution

After I've finished penning "Is Twitter tweeting in a new Golden Age of Aphorism" for the New Yorker I will commence a spoof for The Onion about a new service called FlashInThePan®:

"Move all your content over to FlashInThePan® and see it flash daily into the minds of millions of FlashInThePan® users! See them pan it! Then panic as the service goes out of fashion and gets sold to 97 year-old demon Rupert Murdoch, leaving a little puff of smoke and a few gritty cinders of your content, stubbornly clinging to the empty pan!"


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krskrft
krskrft
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)

Exactly.

And see, I'm not the luddite type at all. I barely use Facebook (I check it maybe once a week), but I have an account and I actually see some real use value in it. I appreciate being connected to my friends, especially those I fell out of touch with after high school/college, and now that I live in South Korea, it's an easy way to see what people are up to, and to let people in on what I'm up to, as well as find groups of people doing interesting stuff in my city. I'm not crazy about Facebook by any means, but it is nice to have available.

Twitter, on the other hand, would have absolutely no use value for me. I think Tumblr finds a happy medium between Twitter--which is a buzzkill if you ever have a thought that runs over 140 characters--and most major blogging services--which give you clunky layouts and options, and then make them a pain the ass to use/customize. With Tumblr, I actually feel like posting because using the service isn't a pain the ass. I can make it look how I want. I can post a picture without having to make sure the pixel width is perfect. And the community features are just present enough to be pleasing without forcing you to invite interaction on your own blog (commenting isn't packaged with the service, though you can sign up for and add commenting code to your blog if you please).


ReplyThread Parent
bongo_kong
bongo_kong
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 09:55 am (UTC)

I might well have misunderstood your comment about the Guardian twitter article, but if you note its publication date then you can see that it is a rather poor joke. Apologies if I've completely misunderstood your point. It is definitely absurd. Perhaps that was your point.

I went to the Stasi museum a few years ago. I was reminded of it when Gordon Brown suggested putting listening devices into lamp-posts to listen for terrorist activity at the 2012 Olympics. Does anyone know if this is still going ahead?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:14 am (UTC)

Perhaps that was your point.

Yes, that's why I wrote: "...sounds sort of absurd to me, like the story The Guardian ran on April 1st..."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:16 am (UTC)

Gordon Brown suggested putting listening devices into lamp-posts to listen for terrorist activity at the 2012 Olympics. Does anyone know if this is still going ahead?

Ask the lamp-posts, they'll be the first to know. And the walls-with-ears will be second.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:03 am (UTC)

What is live journal?


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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)

A miserable little pile of secrets. But enough talk... Have at you!


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)

Although several of these new blogs feature excellent and weighty content, none has attracted the creative energy, the debate, the passion, or the scale of participation Neomarxisme achieved.

I feel like some of Neomarxisme was that there was a debate in the air and I was there right-time/right-place. I also had a schedule that allowed me to essay every day and a backlog of topics in my head. Now there are a lot more good blogs about Japan that actually provide lots of nice details and information instead of rhetoric and opinion. My Neomarxisme writing about Japanese politics, for example, is criminally simple.

MEKAS. and Clast are over for me, so I am now working on a lot of new content for Néojaponisme. But I feel like the "stakes are higher" in this 2009 blogosphere compared to 2004, so I have to work a lot more on each essay before it goes up. The old site had a lot of spontaneity and rough edges. The product of youth, no doubt.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:31 am (UTC)

MEKAS. and Clast are over for me

Aw, that's a shame, I was just starting to really get into MEKAS. The interviews and street snaps in particular.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)

momus bogus middle class wanker


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 08:09 pm (UTC)

Hi Mr Mcgee


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)

Momus, I don't have the time or attention span to read your long-ass post. Please sum it up in 140 characters.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 11:11 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 11:30 am (UTC)

...and yet, if i may, Twitter is the total opposite of Farcebook, etc

Twitter turns the tawdry (i.e. personal) into the public, but actually gives very little away

one doesn't have to include much information to start, only one photo at a time, and one does not need to write a description etc, unlike a number of mandatory fields on FB

one can get to know someone through their deeds, not their details (look! he is a 26yo 6ft homosexual who likes Abba!) unless they deign to reveal these, so encourages the average user with both confidence and comfort to Twitter without restriction

as an aside, it will probably go the way of Friendster, or Myspace (very much dying a death in the UK, it seems) eventually, as you suggest. also, rather like Spotify, it's a great service, but may be elusive to try and make any money from, which could ultimately seal the deal

DC
(or http://twitter.com/dalecornish if you are that way inclined)


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krskrft
krskrft
Sat, Apr. 11th, 2009 04:06 am (UTC)

There are lots of ways they could use Twitter to make money. They could put up ads, as Facebook has, or they could charge all media companies a fee to use the service, as several blogging platforms do (in return for more robust SDK that lets them integrate it in interesting ways).

Making money should be Twitter's last problem.

I think the bigger problem is that the permanence of its user base is highly speculative at this point. A lot of people have gotten in on the fad lately, but there isn't much there to point to it being anything bigger than that ... a fad. It's not a good idea to build a profit model around a fickle user base.

While I'm no Facebook devotee, at least it offers a proven set of functions, and only really stands to grow its user base over time, barring some major unforeseen fuck-up by the developers/marketers.

Anyway, Facebook is typically for keeping in touch with those people you already know, or new people you meet on any given day. "Look me up on Facebook" is a far more common use than is meeting people through the service itself.


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dabroots
dabroots
dabroots
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)

avantpop has an article of some sort on microblogging due for publication, sometime soon.

Most people aren't writers by nature, but when I read their longer posts on Live Journal, I can at least pick out important points within a minute or so, while these same people are harder to find worth reading when it's a random line on Twitter, and a collection of random lines leaves me not caring.


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theartoflamb
theartoflamb
josewilliamvigers
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 01:02 pm (UTC)

I really enjoyed reading this, and always appreciate the effort it must take :)


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)

You realise you rambled on way to long for anyone to bother reading all this entry. Cut it short buster. You get tweets and twats, where do you fall?


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slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
slime_slime_sly
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)

I love twitter as I've always been too ADD to blog or even to keep a facebook/myspace/whatever updated (and your blog is usually the longest thing i read daily).
Short forms can be really great. I recently discovered vvork's twitter feed, which posts a short description of every art piece they post at their website, and I've found it to be the ultimate source for art news (for me). At a time when there is so much art everywhere and it all demands so much attention by having lenghty discourses behind it (or, if it doesnt, leaving you pondering for a while at where the knack is), it's amazingly refreshing to just read something like
vvorkconcentric rings of biomorphic colored plastic (?) on gallery wall with stonehenge reference in title
or
vvorkphoto of anti-coal protesters

and imagine the rest by yourself, without any pressure. It is better than purely conceptual art because you know there is a piece out there representing it, but you are not burdened by having to see it, having to judge whether it was worth the effort, having to judge whether it deserves a place in the world.


I also followed allan mcgee for laughs for a while during the whole brian eno thing, but he is terrribly annoying and Im gonna unfollow him right now


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)

By the way, Mario, I wrote an article about you as El ingenioso hipster de la Mancha. Hope that's okay!


ReplyThread Parent
nina_blomquist
nina_blomquist
Nennen Sie mich Ninen
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)

Lately, over at my Facebook-profile, I have been feeling nostalgia for Livejournal.


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subalpine
subalpine
subalpine
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 07:41 pm (UTC)

after resisting the Facebook status updates for months, i've recently found that i like them for certain things. i had to use the Hide feature to clear away the clutter of updates about what video game someone was getting frustrated by, etc..

Facebook-style Status block for Drupal


now, on a good day, i can check in for a minute and find a couple seeds of thoughts, maybe an enigmatic grain of a future line from a poet friend, and it's enjoyable enough to read what tea someone is listening to with what music as a backdrop.

i don't know or mind how many friends are Hide-ing my own posts, but i've found it worthwhile over the past month or so as a place to enter single lines from time to time. i don't know where else i would have written that i'd come across local honey made from snowberry pollen or about my surprise at getting a call from my great-uncle for info on nattō, and i don't think things like that warranted full blog entries or individual e-mails to friends.

that said, i would hate to see Click Opera switch to a Twitter feed. the long-form and the micro-form each have their places.


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learnaboutruby
learnaboutruby
no thanks
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)

It is everything I hate about everything. Boring, self-absorbed, and disingenuous, not to mention that the site itself is buggy and irritating to navigate. I do appreciate economy, but it is so seldom used in an interesting way on that site.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Fri, Apr. 10th, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)

Yet another excuse to not think. Ho-hum.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Apr. 11th, 2009 02:42 am (UTC)

Nicholas Currie is best appreciated on LiveJournal.

I totally agree. I've been a lurking reader for a year now, and always enjoy your writing on click opera. Hope you'll not succumb to the twitter way, ever!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Apr. 11th, 2009 05:16 am (UTC)

Hmm, those resemble a newswire ticker feed, but become strangely repetitious. He's made them all a bit over-the-top; somebody has to be shot in almost every one.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Apr. 12th, 2009 06:14 am (UTC)
Creative use of Twitter

Hello Momus, how about the creative use of Twitter? Back in 07, we started a collective experiment called MICROTXTS on Twitter (http://twitter.com/microtxts). We invited 50+ well know writers, journalists & arts students from Mexico & Spain to write micro short fiction. Right know we have 234 microtxts (yeah, someone delete 2 texts). I´ve doing this Narrative 3.0 workshop and I include a twitter writing module. And, with a little help of my twitter friends, I wrote a few short stories live and direct while twittering.
Yeah, Twitter is a fad now as blog was in 2004. So, we´re keep writing, sharing stories & moments & discoveries.
BTW, thanks for your essays, they´re so great.

rafa


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sun, Apr. 12th, 2009 10:18 am (UTC)
Re: Creative use of Twitter

Good to know about your feed, Rafa!

Now, if only my Spanish were better...


ReplyThread Parent
microworlds
microworlds
Sparkachu Maelworth
Sun, Apr. 12th, 2009 06:01 am (UTC)

I pretty much only use Twitter as StephenFryLover to troll Stephen Fry now. Sadly I missed a tweet he made saying he was at the Farmer's Market 2 blocks away from my house 2 hours before I looked at Twitter (my boyfriend got jealous of all of the text messages I got from him updating every 5 minutes, woe is me!), so I missed him. I was going to introduce myself as the satirical capslocking girl obsessed with him, but I guess it was best not to frighten him as he was drinking coffee and was most likely going to visit the Apple Store nearby.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Mon, Apr. 13th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)

twitter is just asymmetrical chat. it's almost exactly the same as the way many people have been using irc since the '90s. you idle most of the time and then every once in a while you say something. a little while later, someone else, who has been idling most of the time, reads what you wrote and maybe responds. a little while later you read what that other person wrote. my twitter usage pattern is basically to have twenty or thirty such time-delayed conversations taking place at once, basically forever.

analogy: the literary/screenwriting cliche of two individuals who carry out a chess game over a long period of time, pausing between moves to go about their lives. think of the scene in 'blade runner' between mr. tyrell and the guy from newhart.


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stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Mon, Apr. 13th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)

once mobile hud-like interfaces are a reality and have become sufficiently invisible owing to daily use, i expect that this sort of shared stream of consciousness, in one form or another, will become part of the human condition, much as books and literature are considered fundamental elements of civilized culture. asking "what is the point of twitter" seems to me to be drastically beside the point. people are using it and some of them are using it unselfconsciously. i can say i never stopped to think much about what twitter "means" until the hype about it began to permeate popular culture in america to the point that it is being mentioned in advertisements for other, unrelated products. up until that point i simply viewed it as yet another network service.


ReplyThread Parent
stanleylieber
stanleylieber
Stanley Lieber
Mon, Apr. 13th, 2009 12:57 am (UTC)

'analogy: the literary/screenwriting cliche of two individuals who carry out a chess game over a long period of time, pausing between moves to go about their lives. think of the scene in 'blade runner' between mr. tyrell and the guy from newhart.'

perhaps notably, in the film, neither character stops to ponder the structural "meaning" or "usefulness" of carrying out the game of chess in just such a fashion. the play is the thing.


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