I have attempted Twitter and I can’t say that I’m happy. It might help if there was more of a payoff. You see, I had thought this was some kind of social networking application, but aside from a kind friend invite from someone named “hephatitssundae,” who seems, based on her user profile, to be a pleasant pink-haired individual who I will likely never meet, my online ramblings, as far as I know, have been received by deaf ears. Perhaps I’m not meant to communicate in shorthand. Perhaps I’m simply too old.
140 characters? Hell, I can just barely get in a haiku within the box. What possible significance can I offer with such a diminutive limit? I may as well “type” a text message into my phone. At least I know that my text message will go to someone I know and that it will have some actual content value, such as conveying where the hell I am or telling someone I’m running five minutes late or describing a rather strange place I happen to be in. But if I’m typing every thought and I don’t have unlimited space to consider depth or nuances, then the Twitter people are almost ensuring a kind of Sturgeon’s law effect. I could be in the middle of a perfectly fantastic sentence, only to be warned that I have 20 characters left, and then where will I be? Spreading it out across a vast chasm of other text messages? That’s inconsiderate to the other users. That’s ineffectual communication. The problems may very well be mine, since I’m sort of a long-winded guy. But Twitter’s approach suggests that “long-winded guys” aren’t part of the constituency, which suggests, in turn, a kind of conformity masquerading as community.
And that’s just it. Aside from quibbles over meaningless messages, I don’t feel like conveying what I am constantly doing or thinking to random strangers, particularly since I don’t know if this content is being aggregated or data mined or sifted through by a server farm. I feel that the whole Twitter exercise is less of a social experiment and more of a way to rifle through anything I have to say so that people can sell me things somewhere down the line or so “friends” who are less concerned with who I am and more concerned with what I can purchase can form some kind of deranged impression of who I am. I have no proof, of course; only instinct. I do know that Twitter was set up by Obvious Corporation, a corporation led by one-time Blogger head man Evan Williams, who once worked at Google and who likely learned some inside information about how Google keeps track of user data (see, for example, the cookie set to expire on January 17, 2038).
I’m wondering if he is familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s mind set shortly before his death. After all, what do you do after you’ve given the world Blogger? Perhaps this is another case of the time-honored tech equation:
Twitter is gaining apparent steam right now. Obviously, this is going to cost bandwidth. And obviously, Obvious is going to need some way to recoup their investment. I can imagine the pitch to advertisers: “You think Google AdSense provides context? Well, not only do we have a user base revealing their immediate impulses online without fear of any of it coming back to bite them in the ass later. But we’re building a community to keep them addicted to this confessional impulse. We all know that nobody cares about privacy anymore and our user base demonstrates it!”
To be fair, Twitter has given you a Trash icon to get rid of your messages. But let’s say that you get on a roll and you have hundreds of messages to sift through. Who’s honestly going to take the time to go through them? A blog is one thing, where you can single out your thoughts by categories and the like. But Twitter offers no easy way to sort through your messages except chronology, which implies, in addition to the meager 140 character cap, that thought isn’t part of this new form of communication.
Of course, it’s very possible that some smart people, perhaps inspired by David Markson’s books, might find a form of free association and interesting expression with this tool.
But without thought and with an ostensible attitude and an interface that collides against the idea of thinking before writing, I’m afraid I have serious reservations against Twitter’s possibilities.
© 2007, Edward Champion. All rights reserved.