People say Twitter is the next big thing.
While it is true that the Twitter phenomenon can be subversive, as we learned from Ahmadineyad's election coup in Iran (2009-2010), the blue birdie's song is essentially a one-way text-message operation (and a little less friendly than Facebook at that). And though there are clever tweets, the vapid seems to reign. Twitter is designed for "who" or "what" generates more attention. Content is secondary, almost a pretext for textlebrity.1
Twitter is defended in some quarters as "social phenomenon." This writer, for instance, uses Lacanian theory to make his point:
Social networks may be the new form of social life that is arising in the midst of the degradation of the Symbolic Order and the consequent fragmentation of Imaginary reality. The hallmark of this new form is that people are shifting their orientations away from the Symbolic Order to each other. The Symbolic Order no longer serves as a locus from which guidelines for living emanate. The representatives of orthodox knowledge, experts, are being supplanted by me "wisdom of crowds," evoked through social networks.2
I'm not convinced. Surely, "texting" is not the problem. What I object to is the platform's self-imposed 140-character limit. Why? The idea cannot be that compressing meaning is necessarily better. What happens is that in our increasing (over)crowded space for attention, less is more.
This blogger cleverly imagines a -possible- Shakespeare tweet:
"2b or not 2b: thats the ? whthr tis noblr 2 suffr slings+arrws of outrgous frtune or take arms vs sea of trbles & by opposng end thm, die: sleep: prchance 2 dream. theres rub"
Tweeter's minimalist credo is conditioned by our present global predicament: As space and time get more crowded, there is less space and time time to say anything. Like in food rationing, the more you get rationed, the hungrier you get.3
Sysomos' survey, which finds that nearly 60% of tweets come from 2.2% of Twitter's users, with 22.5% making up a full 90% of Twitter's activity. How should we read this fact? Imagine each tweet as a unit of exchange with a certain value. If so, the information that is digested by the majority of tweetizens in Tweetverse emanates from a minority. What makes this minority so special?
Moreover: What is the majority in Tweetverse doing? Absorbing the endless proliferation of tweets coming down the tweetpipe. Even if they tweet once in a while, they still get all this news content and information. They don't have to do very much to get a lot back. It's just a matter of connecting and immediately getting flooded with stuff. In Tweetverse, being happy means being inside the Tweetbubble.
The "social phenomenon" boils down to getting people's attention.
Something has changed: We used to pay attention selectively, at discreet intervals. The very idea of attention (from the Latin attendere) means directing our attention carefully. One cannot pay attention to everything. Since the platform is created for the constant bombardment of platitudes, one's attention becomes "enter-tained" (Lat. intertenere) literally "stopping in between" Tweeter's ever-changing content.
In Tweetverse one really doesn't pay attention. Instead, the tweet-addict passively absorbs the endless noise.
Don't take this post as an invective against Twitter. (Disclosure: I have a Twitter account). With McLuhan, I'm ready to say: "Twitter (the medium) is the massage." Only that this kind of medium leaves me empty.
As society, we've become less and less engaged with discourse, i.e., fighting with ideas, sweating a paragraph, looking for the best words, taking time to make the writing more lucid, richer.
How could this be good?
1Celebrities seldom text. Instead, they send pics (and count with the most followers). 2 There are manuals that teach you how to write your best Twitter. You learn "how to avoid the too-much syndrome," as if writing and too-big-to-fail were related. The writer candidly recommends "writing techniques for writing poetry and fiction." There are "twitips" such as this: "An example of Twitterville Grammar is leaving out unnecessary words such as that and which. People understand what you're trying to say without them." How about spelling? It doesn't really matter because "English is a living language and Twitter is just the place to have some fun with your word choices." 3 O. C. McSwite, "Administrative Theory & Praxis." Volume: 31, #1 (March, 2009).