Writing about Twitter has been quite fashionable recently and questions surrounding its rightful place in the social media pyramid and its viability as a money-maker have certainly been the blog du jour. I’ve read pieces about everything from the inherent narcissism of micro-blogging to the productivity-sapping potential of tweeting on the job. All of that may or may not be true, but to me Twitter appears to be a step in the right direction.
At the turn of the last century, different questions were on the minds of early-early-adopters surrounding the great communication innovation of their day: the telegraph. For the first time, short bursts of specific information could be transmitted over great distances. Prior to this technological breakthrough, news and information could travel only as fast and far as a horse or train could carry it. Suddenly and wonderfully, it was possible to speak to the world in an instant.
Needless to say, people were hooked and the pursuit of new modes for global communication pretty much exploded. The sharing of ideas and information, plus the thrill of staying on the cusp of new developments, is the engine that drove the media revolution from telegraph to telephone, radio to television, to email, web forums, chat, blogs, online gaming, etc.
The telegraph has slowly gone the way of the dodo. Western Union finally discontinued all of its telegram services at the end of January 2006 — ironically, only a month or so before the launch of a new kind of tiny revolution called Twitter.
Saying a Whole Lot of Nothing
I have long felt that in our drive to share every aspect of our lives with each other, there must exist a tipping point into the absurd. A place where we’re so preoccupied with logging and transmitting, we forget to do any living. Web communities like MySpace and Facebook represent the high water mark for non-traditional sociology and virtual communities. Hundreds of thousands of people with little or no shared history or background invest hours of each day to collaborate, admire, criticize and ogle each others ideas, interests, and spring break photos.
There is certainly some value to be had in this “community casserole” approach, but as someone who still likes to make calls on a phone, take pictures with a camera, and listen to music on a stereo, I love the purity of purpose that Twitter offers. Wading into FaceSpace, I often find myself wishing I could take someone’s 90 favorite bands, 32 videos, 16 photo albums, 9 notes, and 25 random things and distill them down into 140 meaningful little characters.
The Beauty of Less
My hope — and the reason for yet another post about Twitter — is that we might be starting to realize that when it comes to social media, old Mies was right: Less really is more. I would estimate that on average, Twitter saves me about an hour on the phone and two hours writing and reading emails per week. Not to mention sifting through RSS feeds or blog posts looking for new inspiration. That stuff adds up. If we can learn to get our global news and community fix, and end up with more time for dinner with our families or coffee with an old friend, wouldn’t life be that much richer? Whether you use twitter for sharing information (“just passing it along”), journaling (“here’s what I did today”), or self-promotion (“look what I made”) — or like me, a mix of all three, there is much to see and say 140 characters at a time.
Truly, Twitter’s blessing is its brevity.