Twitter blows my mind.
No, that's not right. The media's reception of twitter as the second coming of the digital baby jesus himself blows my mind.
Next time you hear some big news media outlet talk about the new and innovative ways they are using twitter to deliver the latest and greatest from their minds to your retinas, I want you to keep in mind that Twitter has done absolutely nothing to further innovation or internet technology in any form or at any level in the realms of digital messaging and social networking in the paltry and pathetic three years of their existence. They have joined the ranks of venerable products that have been honored to become a verb of their own based on absolutely nothing of value or worth. Let me give you a quick rundown of the thought process that went into the design of the Twitter platform:
Hmmm, Facebook and MySpace are doing really well. People seem to like it. This whole Web 2.0 thing seems like a great idea. Youtube has enabled regular old folks like me become celebrities overnight. Oooooo, I have an idea! Let's take out all of the functionality and cool features of social networking, severely limit the amount of stuff people can say, and restrict communication to text! It's a perfectly logical evolution of the digital medium! And then we'll give it a name that makes everyone sound like morons when they mention it!
Whoever pitched this idea - successfully - at a board meeting deserves some unbelievably large props. Seriously, what is going on?
When you really think about it, when you take a step back and recognize Twitter for what it really is, headlines like these are grin-inducing. I'm not trying to downplay the effects of Web 2.0 and it's startling ability to amplify the thoughts and voices of the populace unto the world. Innumerable papers, studies, and articles have been devoted to the sociological and philosophical earthquakes this new outlet of self-expression has wrought. That aspect of twitter doesn't bother me. Yay to them for embracing that ideal. What bothers me is how in today's day and age, in a vastly overcrowded and saturated world of digital start-ups, the one idea that throws every invention and innovation of social networking in the past 8 years down the proverbial drain and essentially reverts the technology back to pre-myspace days (or before civilization as we know it ceased to function normally, if you so desire) is the one idea that makes the big time. Why?
Well, naturally, I have some theories:
- Illusions of Grandeur. Put differently, would you rather have a friend or a follower? I thought so. I don't know of this was done on purpose, but this small terminology change has effectively shifted the nature of the Web 2.0 connection from a equality based "Oooh, lets' be friends so we can share stuff together" to a more subservient "Oooh, I really really want to hear what you have to say. What I want to say is meaningless. Forget I was even here." The lower human impulse to acquire followers is much stringer than the desire to make friends. Unless I'm just a psychopath. Can't rule that out. But this goes pretty far to explain why celebrities and big executives have latched on so quickly. We're no longer sharing information. We're doling it out to our loyal followers.
- Right place, Right Time. Just like Facebook exploded at just about the same time MySpace imploded, Twitter is filling the void that Facebook left when alienated uses left in droves due to rising complexity and commercialism. Twitter is simply the next "pure" company to put a more humane face on the cutthroat world of social networking. It has nothing to do with features or functionality. It's very much a rebound relationship.
- TXT 2.0. I see twitter not as the evolution of social networking but as the evolution of the text message. The formats are strikingly similar (limited characters, text-only) and now it's just taking it to the next level. Viewed from a cell phone perspective, the idea makes a whole lot more sense. It's really just a global bulletin board for your text messages. Web 2.0 it ain't.
- Western Idiocy, or what some call Luck - The last theory (and most plausible, in my opinion) is that the average American is an idiot. The average American sees people doing something, and then goes out of their way to do that thing, regardless of the soundness of the idea. Yes, for the average American, if Brian Wiliams, CNN, showed a clip of well-dressed, beautiful people jumping off a bridge, we would soon have a serious water pollution problem.
And we will no doubt be able to follow the Bridge Jumping Movement... on Twitter.