Ryan Meyer has a general distaste for microblogging.

As I can only assume those daring to read this blog must know, Facebook semi-recently restructured its interface to more closely resemble the ultimate in instant communication and microblogging, Twitter. Oh, I’m sorry, this story is so 2 months ago? Well, would it still have been relevant if it were so 2 days ago? I pray, hear me out here before you flip channels to the promise of a hopefully flashier webpage, because time and the flow of information is the very subject of my inquiry here.

Being a somewhat avid Facebook user (mostly because I find myself with significant downtime at work), I was somewhat disappointed by this move away from the personalized, customizable social newspaper the Facebook homepage once was to the blur of instant status updates, wall p0stings and hyperlinks that characterize the microblogosphere (was that a word before now? Of course it was. Nothing is original anymore). I couldn’t quite put my finger on my ire until I read this article detailing the very nature of time on Facebook, namely that it was built upon pre-established relationships and past occurrences, while Twitter more heavily relies on this precise moment as spoken from whomever you find most interesting, regardless of a shared personal history.

Now, I should mention that I’ve never had a profile on Twitter – I’ve never been excited about the th0ught of it – and my only experience with it was to bounce around a few friends’ profiles just to get that twittery taste, to find out why these super intelligent/interesting/provocative people I know and enjoy feel the need to either endlessly broadcast their thoughts to no one or passively communicate with their fellow twitterers, to use my new found articulation of my frustrations with the microblogging application in order to greater understand its insurgent place in our culture. But then I read this article that purports to explain how one should be using Twitter to its greatest efffect. If you no longer have the attention span to click on the link and read the article, let me sum it up for you: Twitter is there to keep you up to date. Period. Big surprise, right? Yes, there are legitimate CNN/NPR newsfeeds that can give you up-to-the-fucking-micro-second updates on your favorite news stories (“9:18am: Craigslist murderer seemed like a nice guy; 9:22am: Craigslist murderer had pictures of puppies in his apartment.”), but, really, how important is it to stay that up-to-date? Will the world crumble if we the public hear about North Korea’s reinstatement of its nuclear program tomorrow morning as opposed to in 5 minutes? Oh my God, what on earth will we do without that information? Or, perhaps the better question to ask is, what on earth will we do with that information?

I already have a hard time figuring out what to do with news stories about people starving/dying/getting kidnapped in countries to which I have no clear or effective access. But when I’m given a headline as breaking news 5 minutes after it happens, the subtext is that I must know this information immediately in order to function in my daily life (car crash, brush fire), or at least because there may be something I can do to bring about its resolution (Amber alerts, elections). So when Wolf Blitzer twitters about the 25th case of swine flu found in some remote Chinese province before the story even ends up on the Situation Room, I just end up feeling neutered, useless, like there’s some kind of action I should be taking when there isn’t any. Like it’s not enough just to feel empathy for the person who contracted the illness.

Of course, it’s different when it comes to friends and personalities publishing humorous thoughts, interesting details, etc. But even with friends, it happens with such overwhelming frequency in such an impersonal manner that I guess I just don’t see much of a benefit for it. I do find entertaining the tidbit trivia it provides, or even the very tiny prison windows it allows into the tastes or even personality of the author, but in the end it just feels cheap and easy. Like information without a context. Ideas without explanations. In the end, this extended network of “friends” and their status updates – even the hard news stories from CNN – are made into entertainment for the short attention spanned. It’s the need to constantly feel connected to a fog of internet profiles without actively doing anything to make that connection meaningful or substantive.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to what they personally see to be the honest, real world benefits of such an application as Twitter beyond just the need to be up-to-date, because to this guy it just seems like the one night stand of communication forms: fun and loose, spontaneous, maybe even a little dangerous, but ultimately hollow and purposeless once you wake up in the morning. It’s almost as if people are willfully trying to obliterate their corporeal sense of self in favor of inviting a series of  “friends” classified as thus mostly for the sake of convenience but also out of necessity for the application to work (would you want to broadcast what you’re eating for lunch to 256 “acquaintances”?) to have constant and unmitigated access not so much to their thoughts as to the minutiae of their actions.

So if all we do is share the facts of where we are, what we just ate, who we are about to see, what url is the most lol, isn’t that like giving away your body without your mind? Isn’t that a little like prostitution?

I know to whom I’m speaking when I blog here: myself. I don’t pretend to know everyone or even anyone who is reading this, and as I said in my first entry, I mostly write to figure out and articulate why I care about the things I think about. It’s why I like writing longer entries, allowing myself the time and space to explore the nooks and crannies of my opinions. And I publish to give myself a sense of completion, an excuse to move on to other thoughts, and also to (hopefully though not too frequently) receive alternate perspectives on the subject from other readers. However, when we microblog, we’re not really figuring anything out, exploring a thought or even a specific personal connection, so who are we talking to? And even if we can identify the recipient(s), should we be talking as much as we are? Sure, someone in Buffalo is more than able to tweet a stranger – or even an old high school acquaintance – in Houston, but as Mr. Thoreau asked, what happens if all they have to share is that one of them has a whooping cough?

This may sound like I’m calling for the abolition of microblogging, when in fact that is far from the truth. I would never ask to eliminate any channel of communication from a free society. Furthermore, I firmly believe in the powers of the immediate internet, though I more firmly feel that the internet should act as an addendum to and not a replacement of true human interaction. What I fear here is a pollution of information streams with stories and headlines, either personal or political, that I am told are relevant simply because they are new, because they are now, even if said headline provides zero intellectual nourishment. Because in doing so, it becomes so much harder to decipher between that which is important and that which is, quite frankly, not.

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Published in: on April 23, 2009 at 3:47 am  Comments (3)  
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