So I’ve just recently been using Twitter [40 characters]. I can already feel my “writing muscles” trying to expand from the contracted Tweet-style [86 characters]. Briefly looking over my pre-liminary TETRAD on Monday, I still definitely feel like it enhances my ability to connect to other people’s work and ideas (favorite so far is the economist Paul Krugman @NYTimeskrugman with all of his articles). I’m not entirely sure if it enhances productivity in a strict quantitative sense as far as the actual word-count goes. It seems like micro-blogging is really a kind of meta-medium (can this be a word?) because it isn’t so much a means to transmit information, but to find links to information… At least that’s been my experience.
PEW (Gotta love the name)
I recently read a Pew Foundation Study which discussed the various reasons that Americans use social media. What I found particularly interesting (although perhaps not surprising) was that younger adults and teenagers are moving to Twitter at the expense of other networks at a far quicker rate than older adults. My experience of Twitter, as a microblog, is that it is very adaptive to fast-paced, miscellaneous, eclectic information and interactions—it seems to be a hub for whip-fast immersion into plurality and information-onslaught.
I recently read a book called Bubbles, by Peter Sloterdijk, and he calls the contemporary “condition” one of foam—i.e. there are so many combatting “bubbles” of influence and identity that they are creating a kind of multicultural, amorphous “foam” (I’m talking in pretty abstract terms). As I was reading the Pew study, it seemed to me that perhaps the younger generation, already attuned to a kind of foam culture, would naturally gravitate towards such a adaptive and multifarious medium as Twitter…. Kind of a weird idea, but it gets weirder…
Democracy of Rioting
The other assigned reading (a great article from Wired), takes a more intimate look at the unbridled, and at times unhealthy, enthusiasm that social media can create. Using a few McLuhan terms, the article comments how some people view social media as “obselescing flesh and blood,” or at least often tries to. However, as can be seen through the Arab Spring, social media can mobilize and unite throngs of people in the blink of an eye. These “flash mobs” can take on many different variations, but they rely mostly on a (false?) sense of “legitimacy,” i.e. tweeting “The Police Can’t Stop Us” must mean they really can’t, and the “perception of power” despite any necessary physical proximity.
Unfortunately, many of these gatherings turn dangerously violent.
Psychologists have been trying to understand mob-mentality for decades. Even the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said “Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” What I found most interesting were two things:
1.) Like my Heidegger article seemed to suggest, social media inverts or collapses the normal perception of space and time—Raddon’s event unexpectedly attracted thousands upon thousands in about one hour’s time. Is this indicative of some incommensurability between the “Ideal” of the internet and the “Real” of the non-technological world?
2.) The author Bill Wasik says at the end that these mass “flash” crowds will “challenge the freedom of assembly.”
Does the internet, in all of its time- and space- defying glory represent the human limit of democracy? Perhaps it represents the only vessel that can actually handle it–i.e. an “ideal” world of assembly where millions can congregate on Twitter and Facebook, but if transposed to reality it creates chaos. The challenge of democracy is that it lets everyone in… but is there ever enough Real space for everyone to congregate?