Finally found the article on Twitter I came across while I was away. And the line that got me to use it was, “So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends.” Including full article here.
WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.07
Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense
Twitter is the app that everyone loves to hate. Odds are you’ve noticed people — probably much younger than you — manically using Twitter, a tool that lets you post brief updates about your everyday thoughts and activities to the Web via browser, cell phone, or IM. The messages are limited to 140 characters, so they lean toward pithy, haiku-like utterances. When I dropped by the main Twitter page, people had posted notes like “Doing lunch and picking up father-in-law from senior center.” Or “Checking out Ghost Whisperer” or simply “Thinking I’m old.” (Most users are between 18 and 27.)It might seem like blogging taken to a supremely banal extreme. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss calls Twitter “pointless email on steroids.” One Silicon Valley businessman I met complained that his staff had become Twitter-obsessed. “You can’t say anything in such a short message,” he said, baffled. “So why do it at all?”
They’re precisely right: Individually, most Twitter messages are stupefyingly trivial. But the true value of Twitter — and the similarly mundane Dodgeball, a tool for reporting your real-time location to friends — is cumulative. The power is in the surprising effects that come from receiving thousands of pings from your posse. And this, as it turns out, suggests where the Web is heading.
When I see that my friend Misha is “waiting at Genius Bar to send my MacBook to the shop,” that’s not much information. But when I get such granular updates every day for a month, I know a lot more about her. And when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.
It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.
Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.
For example, when I meet Misha for lunch after not having seen her for a month, I already know the wireframe outline of her life: She was nervous about last week’s big presentation, got stuck in a rare spring snowstorm, and became addicted to salt bagels. With Dodgeball, I never actually race out to meet a friend when they report their nearby location; I just note it as something to talk about the next time we meet.
It’s almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who’s overloaded — better not bug Amanda today — and who’s on a roll. A buddy list isn’t just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.
So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends. (Monitoring the lives of total strangers is fun but doesn’t have the same addictive effect.) Critics sneer at Twitter and Dodgeball as hipster narcissism, but the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.
Mind you, quick-ping media can be a massive time-suck. You also may not want more information pecking at your frayed attention span. And who knows? Twitter’s rabid fans (their numbers are doubling every three weeks) may well abandon it for a shinier new toy. It happened to Friendster.
But here’s my bet: The animating genius behind Twitter will live on in future apps. That tactile sense of your community is simply too much fun, too useful — and it makes the group more than the sum of its parts.
Retrieved online from http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/15-07/st_thompson on July 24, 2007.