Tweeting your head off

Friday, 13 February, 2009

Having been a Twitter user for the past several months, a Facebook user for almost a year (I think), a blogger for eight years and an email and IM user for the better part of 15 years, it's been interesting to me to see how the way people relate to and use these different types of technologies has shifted, changed and evolved. When I first stared out, people treated email like a substitute for letter writing (which was logical; we hadn't really experienced relating through text in any other way, save, perhaps, through telegrams [early capitalised Tweets?]). Then the immediacy of email started to get to us, and all of sudden, trying to manage your inbox is now a real problem. We are time-poor and attention-poor, but email demands 100% of our attention (can't remember where I read that, sorry no reference).

I then thought through the other cyber applications I use and the way I relate to them and through them. IM does require 100% of my attention but only in small grabs; I can have an IM application open in the background of whatever I'm doing, but I only need to give it some TLC when it's my turn to reply. It's like talking to someone while you're both washing a car or piecing together a quilt; we're relating, but I don't need to maintain eye contact with you while we do what we do because the conversation tends to just flow around the activity we're pursuing (ooh, multitasking!)

Blogs, however, do seem to require more attention and time. I know I have way too many feeds (and these days, I definitely don't keep up with all of them). I can be selective about what I choose to read and not read, but when I do read a post, it engages me 100%, even when I'm speed-reading.

Facebook and Twitter, however, are different again. They're more social networking tools. From what I've observed, people tend to use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and catch up with them when physical distance makes it harder to catch up physically. It also bridges the gaps in time between when you see someone and when you see them again. No one reads everything that's posted on Facebook, and certainly Facebook's mini feed is selective about what news stories it tells you about your friends. (You can even adjust it if you want to hear more about a certain friend and less about another friend.) And, of course, the category of “friend” is fairly fluid and fuzzy around the edges; not all Facebook friends are your friends (some are just your acquaintances), and your online relationship with each one is going to vary depending on your relationship with them in the real world.

Twitter is an interesting one. It took me a while to join. (I think some regard me as being an early adopter, and to outward appearances, I suppose I am, but I usually think long and hard about the benefits of joining something before I do it.) This article about Twitter not catching on didn't really help matters. However, I was very much swayed by this article (which I think I've blogged about before ... I forget). I found it fascinating how microblogging creates “ambiant awareness”, allowing you to stay in touch with what's going on in people's lives, thereby bringing you somewhat closer (sometimes to the detriment of your real life relationships, but that's another story). I love that “Merely looking at a stranger's Twitter or Facebook feed isn't interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it's a novel.” I love that

It's just like living in a village, where it's actually hard to lie because everybody knows the truth already ... The current generation is never unconnected. They're never losing touch with their friends. So we're going back to a more normal place, historically. If you look at human history, the idea that you would drift through life, going from new relation to new relation, that's very new. It's just the 20th century.

I love how technologies like this connect you with people (and that, really, is the the whole point of them, isn't it? To reach out—to connect with someone else—to not feel like you're alone.) The overriding determiner was that I wanted to hang out where Ben hangs out.

However, with social technology comes etiquette, and unfortunately the rules of etiquette, though seemingly agreed upon by the general mass of users, aren't really as fixed as that mass of users would like to think. I thought this article was interesting because it pointed out that there are no rules. The author writes about adopting Twitter for the first time, and trying to work out what was acceptable and what was not:

Most of these articles are lists of rules. One says to use Twitter to market your business; another says never to use Twitter to market your business. One recommends writing about what you're doing right now (after all, the typing box is labeled, “What are you doing?”); another says not to.

The author then runs into one of Twitter's founders at a conference and asks him about the whole thing. The founder then

... told me the truth about Twitter: that they're all wrong.

Or, put another way, that they're all right.

Twitter, in other words, is precisely what you want it to be. It can be a business tool, a teenage time-killer, a research assistant, a news source—whatever. There are no rules, or at least none that apply equally well to everyone.

Indeed, much of Twitter's conventions (e.g. using ‘@’ for replies, and ‘RT’ for re-tweeting) came about through the Twitter user community, not from the company.

What is the point of all this? It's just something I bear in mind when using Facebook and Twitter. The other day I got in trouble with a few Facebook users because of the number of times I updated my status and got featured on their news feed (it's because I use Twitter to update Facebook). I could understand that the constant pinging annoyed them, but what I found interesting was that one Facebook friend implied in (Facebook) conversation that frequent updating of one's status was oversharing and attention-seeking. I'm sure it felt like that to her, but that wasn't my intention. On the other side, others found my updates interesting. So I'm sitting a little loosely to the whole social etiquette of all these things.

Still, it does beg the question, “How does one love one's neighbour on Twitter/IM/email/Facebook?”


Disqus comments

Other comments

I think I subscribe to too many RSS feeds as well. I want to start twittering too, but I don’t have a mobile with internet access so I’m not sure if there’s much point.

Posted by Elsie on 14 February, 2009 2:05 AM

The problem is the amount of personal information your giving away for free to marketing, anyone and everyone is a high risk, thats why I don’t give my real name to any of the facebook/etc sites.
For example if I was a medical insurance company, I googled someone and they said on their blog they had depression but didn’t tell the medical insurance company, do you think they might feel concerned?

It only brings you closer to information which is about people, which isn’t really bringing you closer to people, its just information.

Hi Karen. Good post. Did you leave your bq tag open?

Elsie, I don’t have a phone with internet access either. I just tweet when I’m online.

Philip, marketing I don’t care so much about as I have a lot of confidence in my self-control and ability to stop myself from spending money unnecessarily. Medical information is another kettle of fish I’m going to have to think about.

Ben: thanks for letting me know! One should not blog when one has five minutes before one has to catch a bus ...

About marketing, I mean its a big worry about the amount of information they have about you.
For example I worked for one company we had a database of every doctor in Sydney and their favorite football team, lots of personal information about them.
When I worked for countrylink I had access to every persons online booking, their names, dates, phone numbers, if they were disabled, student, address….
I could have make a query on the database to watch for a specific person if I wanted then stalk them if I was crazy ... or psychotic or whatever.
You would be surprised how much they gather about you and for what dark purposes they do and who has access to that information, which is often the programmers who are all austistic.


Kinds of Blue: Cover art



A way of funding writing in the future: pitch and idea and get people to support it.

Place where you can hire play equipment for parties, etc.

How to recalibrate the home button on your iPhone.

Unsolicited manuscripts accepted by Pan Macmillan with certain conditions.

Thought Balloon is a group blog in which the writers tackle a new theme every week? month? with one-page scripts. This URL is for their Phonogram ones.


Social media