Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't Get me started on Twitter, Tweets, Twits and more

- Wednesday, 24 June 2009, 02:09 am
Twitter, Tweets and Twits

Andrew Sullivan in his article, “Twitter ripped the veil off ‘the other’ – and we saw ourselves,” reminds us how a simple technology can be revolutionary and revealing. Like any technology it has the potential to be used for good or bad, and in the case of twitter its use can be good, bad and down right silly. Sullivan rightly notes that when Ashton Kutcher proclaimed that the creation of twitter, “is as significant and paradigm-shifting as the invention of Morse code, the telephone, radio, television or the personal computer,” it seemed ridiculous even if Kutcher is the first person to have 1,000,000 followers on twitter. Many of us assumed that all the twittering was self-indulgent mush. There was a side to me that saw it that way too, but I’ve been watching Twitter for a while as it has gained momentum and my mind is changed.

I knew something was up in March when I saw a company- Skittles change their homepage to a site with a constant feed of Twitter comments. Needless to say, Skittles bold move quickly went bad as evil twitterers posted not so nice things to do with Skittles, (see my blog post Evil Twitterers )and I worried later when I saw someone had created a product to put into the soil of plants to twitter you when they needed something. (See my post “Oh my Gawd don’t let my plants on twitter.

I felt better about twitter when I wrote about the “Twitchiker,” a guy who travelled 11,000 miles around the world without spending a penny depending only upon unknown twitterers. (See my blog post Twitchiker)

I signed up for a twitter account a while ago, but I am more a lurker. I’ve got a couple of blogs and unless there is some unique circumstance, I’m not sure I’ll tweet.

Two weeks ago, I saw twitter in a new way. It was the day of Apple’s Developers conference, and they were about to announce all things new in Apple. But the conference was not available to those outside of the conference. I wanted to know what was about to go on in that conference, so I did a search and found a site producing a feed with short descriptive sentences of the presentation. About every five minutes their page refreshed itself and I was able to know with just a few minutes delay. This was satisfying but I thought what about twitter? With that page still open, I opened another window to twitter and put in #apple.

What did I find on twitter? Someone inside the conference was twittering and using a telephone to produce a live audiovisual feed of the conference. So off I went to the URL and I heard the conference live, not great visuals, but I was there on someone’s cell phone. Now it wasn’t twitter alone who got me there. It was the combination of software tools and the community that shared. There’s something warm and fuzzy about that kind of sharing.
This was quite revolutionary to me realizing that we can be almost anywhere; so when I read about the situation in Iran and read Sullivan’s article I could again see that there is something quite unique going on.

On June 17th the Toronto Star wrote about how the US state department had contacted Twitter to request that they delay a planned upgrade until late in the evening in Iran so that the people would be able to continue to get their messages out. (See http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/651927) That’s important. But it’s not twitter alone, it’s the combination of social tools- Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and a generation who is demanding social networks to make meaning and community possible. As Clay Shirky suggests, it’s a time when we are doing something. Sullivan too recognizes these social tools are changing the way media reports information. We have the rise of the citizen journalist and major news outlets are increasingly including not just what we say but what we produce in their reports. Journalists know they are treading a fine line. When we watch the news do we really care what some ordinary average Joe tweets? He could be crazy. And what about objectivity and truth?

Just last week a few hundred people turned out for a conference called the 140 Characters Conference to discuss “Twitter the Disruption of Now.” Twitter may not be “the big” thing in the future, but it is a big thing now.

The other thing that occurred to me while reading the Sullivan article concerned our remembrance of important historical events. What everyone worries about with the 140 character limit of twitter is this- Is it the end of writing as we know it? Will we become so superficial that we never go deep? What of our rich beautiful language? As a teacher of Visual Communications, I choose to see this another way. We all remember the striking images from the past. Who can forget the 1989 photo of the lone man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square or the 1972 photo of the naked young Kim Phuc running from Napalm in Vietnam?

People stood up in protest when the Vietnam was broadcast into their living rooms. We still have television, and more than likely these days we see images of violence in other countries on our nightly news. We would be a lot less likely to see images of wars that our countries are involved in. The governments have wised up. But this revolution we are seeing in Iran does include the visuals. The tragic image of a martyred young girl Neda will be one, but some of those striking images this time will be words, lots of words, words of a community broadcast through social networks. So I would suggest though twitter may be trivial, it can speak to the power of words, wonderful words.

On the other side of the beauty, we have Perez Hilton tweeting in a hotel room in Toronto about being assaulted by someone from the Black Eyed Peas after an MMVA after-party, and the Toronto police department inundated by concerned citizens around the world in response to Hilton’s plaintive wail of 140 characters. That’s the twit part for me.

Clay Shirky Where do We find the Time

Reading and watching Clay Shirky talk about Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, I was engaged by some of his ideas but I can’t say I’m buying them wholeheartedly. It would be nice to believe that we have suddenly done this major 180 and now we are all productive and active. How different are the World of Warcraft “men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves” from the Trekkers dressed in Star Trek gear speaking Klingon? I think Neil Postman might suggest that both groups were “amusing themselves to death.”

It’s true that many of us are less engaged in sitting watching television passively. Today there are a million options, but how meaningful is tweeting about your bathroom habits or competing to have the most friends on facebook. Are these not examples of Aldous Huxley’s “almost infinite appetite for distractions?”

In the past where there were few options, now there are many and many of us are more and more involved in the creation of things. Some would suggest, and I think rightly, that it’s a shift of control. In the golden age of sitcoms we were fed media, today many of us are like the child in Shirky’s talk: we want the mouse.

While the younger generation is engaged socially online and according to Shirky “doing something,” how good is that for them and us as obesity rates are rising? If you play all day online creating things in collaboration with your social group are you social or anti-social?

Last year the actor who plays Geordi from one of the versions of Star Trek was in Toronto. He wanted to know a good place to hang out, so he sent out a tweet in twitter asking where to go. In minutes the twitterverse answered. He tweeted back that he would be at that location in let’s say 20 minutes. (I can’t remember the exact time.) The author himself really was kind of embarrassed to be showing up at this “twitvent.” But he rationalized it by saying it was a story, and it was.

What he observed was a bunch of awkward people showing up and not knowing how to talk to each other. It took the actor to get them to start talking amongst themselves. This group of twitter people were not at all that social.

I wonder whether this need to collaborate and create and be online is less about being social than we think. I wonder if it’s more about the anti-social among us playing social, and I wonder if the collaboration and creation is more about us making meaning of ourselves the same way the cave people did by painting on the cave wall; it’s just our wall is virtual. I wonder too if the human leopard does change its spots.

I can agree that, “that this isn't the sort of thing society grows out of. It's the sort of thing that society grows into,” and that the crisis is an opportunity for change and that, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here” we could, “make a good thing happen.” His talk makes me question more than it gives me an answer and for me that’s always good.

I was again conflicted by Clay Shirky’s “A Group is its Own Worst Enemy.” While the author makes good points about the changes in the nature of the internet and its change from being rather flat and one way to more collaborative and interactive, he makes some assumptions about groups that personally I have a problem with. Firstly, I should declare that I’m with Groucho who suggests he doesn’t want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. As much as I like to work with people or believe in any one particular thing, I have a need to be on the side as an individual and not identify myself as one part of a group. I’m not sure if that is my reason for some of my questions in this piece or whether I am part of the reason a group is apparently, “its own worst enemy.”

My objection started early with the discussion of Bion’s “Experiences in Groups.” Although I can agree with Bion’s conclusion that humans are both individual and social and that there is a bond with groups of people that transcend, “ the intellectual aspects of the individual,” I don’t necessarily buy his method for reaching that conclusion. (Shirkey, p3) Bion’s therapy with groups of neurotics made him conclude that the group were conspiring to defeat therapy. There seems to be an assumption that a neurotic goes to group therapy to get better. I wonder about that. Could it not be that a neurotic actually wants to be the way he/she is? Going to therapy for a neurotic might naturally have a different motive when compared others seeking therapy.

Shirky on page 4, makes the assumption that everyone has had this particular party experience where they are at a boring party, and yet they find themselves staying. It’s not just that I object to the absolute assumption that everybody does this or that-- it’s just not true. I always sneak out. Here’s how that goes- first find the dog or kid at the party; hang out be stupid; watch who is watching; grab coat quietly disappear. It’s true that once someone makes a sudden movement, they all tend to get up and disappear. We see this happen sometimes in class when the first person starts packing up their books.

Vilifying an outside enemy and gravitating towards a leader who is the most paranoid is certainly something we have seen in politics. Shirky also declares that learning from experience is the worst way to learn things. He suggests its better to learn from someone telling you something. My best learning has very often been from my biggest mistakes. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone, so I can’t agree here.

Considering that he wrote this article in 2003, we can look at what he got right so far and what he might have not have predicted correctly. To set the scene, MySpace may have been around barely but Facebook was not on the scene and twitter was not on the radar. On page 15 he says, ‘”If the software doesn’t allow the core group to express itself, it will invent new ways of doing so.” On this one he seems to be bang on especially if we look at what happened in Iran. The first attempts at communication were through cell phones blogs and facebook, when those sites began to be jammed, some logged onto proxy servers to circumvent the blocking; the information was going to get out. What I might suggest he got wrong was his assertion on page 22 that “You have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale kills conversation.” If we look at the tweets from Iran, how can we say that scale killed the conversation?

Creating and Connecting
The 2007 paper published by the National School Boards Association lays out the general statistics of what students of 2007 were doing with their time with respect to social networking. It’s clear from the report that there is a gap between where they are in their outside life and where they are inside their schools. The report suggests a number of ways to encourage educators to find ways to have the students connect to the curriculum through social networking. I was both sad and hopeful reading this report. Sad of course because some school districts would ban social networking outright but hopeful in the report’s attempts to push for change. I was more than somewhat disturbed to see the logos of Microsoft and Verizon on the back of a report written by a not for profit federation of state associations of school boards.

Stein- Creepy Treehouse Effect
Recently, I was at a conference and the keynote speaker spoke of the “creepy tree house effect” without defining it, so I was glad to read this simple and straightforward description. I don’t know whether it’s a case of reading about a disease and then starting to think you have it, but I’ve started to see the creepy tree house effect all over the place. I have to admit any social network has at least a small bit of creepy tree house for me, so I could certainly understand any student’s feeling about being forced into any artificial society.

I’m not a drinker but doesn’t the saying go, “bottoms up!” From the previous articles, it’s not hard to see that we have a generation of generators; they are involved in the creation of things. A lot of times it is through their initiative. We have to be where they are and allow them to be involved in a place they choose to be, not an artificial overly controlled environment. Top down is oppressive, it’s bottom up all the way.

My Space is so Ugly

The article Do you ever say My Space is so ugly is an example of what Shirky would call vilifying the other. It always happens. The article was interesting especially when we consider that MySpace was so ahead of facebook at the time of his writing. Oh how the tables have turned. I’d think it was time for Chen to be now on something else and vilifying both of these.

I found the YouTube The Downside of Facebook video to be bang on. There are more than a few good reasons to be wary of facebook. Not the least of which was their “Beacon” program, and this article too http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=68444807515&h=IhwCY&u=grxkm&ref=mf

On a lighter note, I think this YouTube Video strikes an accurate and funny note

Facebook manners and you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iROYzrm5SBM

In case the twitter picture at the top of this post is difficult to read, here are  the words

"So you're saying people will "tweet" what they're eating for breakfast?"
"And 'upload' pictures of their breakfasts to Facebook?
"And other people will look at the breakfasts and make comments?"

"Sorry to burst your bubble dudes, but you asked. Yes that's the future."

"No offense future man, but is everyone in your time stupid?"

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