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The case against — and for — Twitter - The case against — and for — Twitter - click opera Page 2 — LiveJournal
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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.

38CommentReply

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.


ReplyThread
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.


ReplyThread
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.


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

Yet another excuse to not think. Ho-hum.


ReplyThread

(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!


ReplyThread

(no subject) - (Anonymous)
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.


ReplyThread Parent

(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.


ReplyThread
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.


ReplyThread Parent