Oct 14 2008 10:36am

Twittering on the Global Frequency

“Why do you Twitter?” someone once asked me. “Why would anyone twitter? It seems completely pointless when you can just socialize like a normal person.”

But that’s exactly the point of Twitter. It’s part of the phenomenon of social media, after all.

Ah, social media: the child of the Internet. The sharing of information and knowledge with strangers, through websites and software that form connections across the entire membership. Pervasive and sometimes invasive, and above all inevitable, because humans are socially driven creatures.

Social media can be described as promiscuous, and often has, but it’s more like hanging out in the park—a shared space. Shared space is a very human thing to want; hanging out is practically an instinct with us. So you can people watch or not. You can contribute noise or simply sit back. You can choose to chat with only friends or to kibitz with strangers.

Not simply a few in a chat room, or a few hundred in a forum, but thousands of them, all at once. It’s not just writing a list and posting it on a corkboard in the Hufflepuff Common Room, but actual real-time communication across a huge audience. Maybe no one is really listening, but tens of thousands of them can hear you, tens of thousands of people you’ve never met In Real Life.

And they can respond to you, interact directly with you. Physical degree of separation, as in all things online, no longer matters. Offline, you can’t even begin to approach that level of broadcast communication, a dialogue that flows in both directions. Not even rock concerts or press conferences cut it.

And perhaps that’s where some of the bafflement comes in. Why cant you just talk to people you know? But that can lead to a rather isolated life. At some point you have to talk to people you don’t know....

And there’s additional value in talking to strangers.

I tend to think of Twitter as the best example of social media there is. All those words floating in the ether belong to the people posting, even if it’s just 140 characters at a time.

It’s not like simply sharing bookmarks. Twittering is instantaneous contribution.  And never underestimate the impact of size—it’s far more impulsive and easier than blogging.

And it’s not quite like forums, because forums imply some kind of order in the manner of threads and sub-fora.

Twitter on the other hand is amorphous and chaotic, even if you only listen to the people you follow rather than the entire Twitter timeline.

Twitter’s restriction of 140 characters is sometimes considered a curse, but it’s enough (and not too long) for the efficient aggregation of real thoughts, short as they are, as opposed to bookmark echoes.

Not to mention that you can get more personal, nuanced trending here than the Digg front page will give you. To me, this is the most fascinating aspect of Twitter.

Whenever the Dow moves, Twitter’s heart skips a beat.

Warren Ellis once penned a comic book series, The Global Frequency, about normal people using distributed methods—which is just my academicy essayey way of saying webcams, wireless, and massive online communication over long distances—to accomplish great, world-saving things. More impressive than anything I’ve ever seen on Heroes when it comes to concept, even with Hiro’s awesome time traveling hijinks. To me, it echoes of Twitter.

In fact, Twitter is often the first warning I have about events of wide, or very wide, interest. The passage of the eye of Hurricane Ike, tracked in detail by witnesses, complete with the communication of way stations and shelter information for those in the way of the storm. The bailout, both in the US and elsewhere, and reactions of either outrage or depressed acceptance. The trailing fall of the U.S. stock market, the banks of Europe, and Iceland’s insolvency.

It’s not all dire: there’s the live discussions during the debates and the Tina Fey Saturday Night Live skits. Steve Jobs’ fake heart attack and the upcoming Apple gadget love-in.

Twitter is a true global frequency.

And Now, Salutations.

Thanks for reading to the end, and I hope it was fun and not quite so bitter. There are more links about Twitter below, as per my usual blogging customs. 

Anyways, hello there. I’m now a blogger for Tor.com, which I totally did not intend, but circumstances have carried me along and so I go willingly with them. I’m happy that people, including the folks here, think my words are amusing, and so I hope to amuse you.

I carry nothing in my pockets with respects to any official status in the field of SF&F. I am a wanderer, albeit a wanderer with my Kindle in hand, across this land and that of the ever-boggling Internet, which I do count eBooks as part of. My mind overfills with this stuff, and sometimes I write about it. I try to write about it often, for fear that my head will explode otherwise.

I’m thinking of in the next few posts discussing the demon lover, what makes for good cross-platform eBooks, and the horrible things that Sherlock Holmes fanfiction pastiche writers get up to when they Cross the Streams with Science Fiction.

Oh, before I forget. Here’s my Twitter account.

Until next time, have some links.

More Twitter Links

If you want to start twittering, register at Twitter.com and read the official Getting Started guide.

You can look at your timeline and tweet from the Twitter website, but there are many Twitter clients to download, available across all platforms, including embedded ones and browsers. My favorite isn’t listed on the official Twitter site—it’s TwitterFox, a Firefox extension.

There are multiple Twitter aggregation/trending sites out there, but I’m especially fond of TwitScoop, since they additionally tweet emergent trends.

For my WordPress blog at home, I use Twitter Tools to cache and display my Tweets down the side. For everywhere else, there’s Twitter’s official badge widgets.

Many of the staff and bloggers on the Tor.com also Twitter. Come find us.

Even websites have their own Twitter accounts that they post updated to, including @tordotcom, @sfsignal, and @io9, and of course Boing Boing.

Some of my favorite people (and “people”) to follow: @TwitterLit@novelsin3lines, @stephenfry, @MarsPhoenix, @BadAstronomer, @BarackObama, @Othar, @wilw, @warrenellis.

[Images of Hyde Park, London by banootah_qtr and Itchen Bridge by Rhys Jones Photography, CC-licensed for commercial use.]

Megan Messinger
1. thumbelinablues
horrible things that Sherlock Holmes fanfiction pastiche writers get up to when they Cross the Streams with Science Fiction.
I think I love you.

I'm a new convert to Twitter, and I have to say, I'm really loving it. I described it to my parents as a whole site of Facebook status updates (and then had to explain Facebook; big mistake), but people are pushing those 140 characters pretty far. I feel like it's more fun when you know a couple little clusters of people who use it to talk to each other, though.
2. Alasdair
I have struggled for a while now to view Twitter as anything more than a mechanism for a whole bunch of people already convinced they and they alone sit on the cool kids table to reinforce that belief.

I stand corrected.

Fantastic piece, one of the best I've seen since the site opened. I'm a convert. Thank you:)
Jamie Grove
3. jamiegrove
I Twitter because I drink too much coffee. I follow you because you don't, or at least not as much as I do. :)

Awesome post!
4. Giant
Read a book. Or, even better, read a graphic novel. Draw. Post. Just don't sit around an eTable and circle-jerk each other to death and call it being in touch. Maybe you should try being more evasive with your friends and avoiding more people. Or host an actual circle-jerk. Either would be fine.
Pablo Defendini
5. pablodefendini
@ Giant #4

...and should we get off your lawn, too?
Ben HM3
6. BenHM3
You know, except for the Giant's coarse speech, I'd almost have agreed. In fact, if I'd seen that post first, I would not have bothered with the blog.

But now PabloD's well reasoned article is motivating me to take a look at Twitter.

Sure, it's a wide pond that's not too deep, but goodness gracious, it's DATA Giant: capture it and mine it, you'll find what you're looking for.

Thanks Pablo, you made me think about Twitter from a completely different angle.
Torie Atkinson
7. Torie
@ 4 Giant

Thanks for the lovely image, but it lacks a certain punch. Can you express that in 140 characters or less?
Arachne Jericho
8. arachnejericho
@thumbelinablues #1 - I am a bit of a Sherlock Holmes junkie. *grin*

I alternate between circle of friends and watching aggregations of the public timeline (aka Twitscoop). Twitter actually is used as a communication mechanism between folks who can text much cheaper than call. Plus it's great for coordinating gatherings (and also updating where said gatherings have moved to, now that we discover that the museum restaurant has closed early, for instance).

@Alasdair #2 - glad I could make the case for Twitter!

@jamiegrove #3 - thanks!

@Giant #4 - *sprinkles tiny attention sprinkles on Giant's head and moves on*

@BenHM3 #6 - actually I wrote the article :) but Pablo did invite me on over. Glad you got something out of it!
Dawn OBryan Lamb
9. Dawno
I didn't have one good reason (or much need one) to join Twitter, I just like to check out the latest shiny thing on the internet. I am glad that I did join, though. There are times when a number of folk just start chatting via Tweets spontaneously and it's completely independent of whether you're at your computer or walking along, cell phone in hand. I avoid chat rooms, so real time chat has to be on IM, where you basically intrude on someone with a request for their time, in real-time and usually, one at a time (yes, I know you can do conference chats).

With Twitter if it happens, it happens and it's amazing fun. One evening we had a person from Sri Lanka, another from the mid-west, others from I don't recall where. Not everyone in that conversation would have been able to do it via IM.

There are probably a lot of reasons Twitter might succeed, but that spontaneous convergence of people joking around with each other that night is one reason why I'll keep using it.
Carl Rigney
10. cdr
Two excellent recent books about Twitter and similar sea changes in the way people are organizing themselves are Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody and Seth Godin's just-released Tribes, about leadership in self-selected communities of interest.

"now we can do things for strangers who do things for us, and at a low enough cost to make that kind of behavior attractive, and these effects can last well beyond our original contribution." -- Clay Shirky
11. Robert Hutchinson
I mainly Twitter to let out all the tiny thoughts that aren't really worth journaling. Well, that, and to follow the Twitters of various webcartoonists.

(I'm ertchin, in case anyone likes following people randomly.)
12. Giant
@pablodefendini # 5

Listen man, you have every right to enable the screen-based lives you live if it gives you a place in the world and a sense of purpose, but personally, the people that twitter, and I know a few, are people that foster a certain "cool for you, but I don't care" within me. It's not like I'm some gun-toting MCcain-Palin enthusiast, I just believe technology is served best by mediums that are more than FACEBOOK-AIM-TEXTING love children.

@arachnejericho # 8

Good article. I'm sorry I don't quite understand your post: *sprinkles tiny attention sprinkles on Giant's head and moves on* but it doesn't matter. Twitter is fine. I just invest my time in other activities. I'm glad other people were able to look past my personal sarcasm and enjoy the article. Playing devil's advocate is a necessary role in a discussion like this. That was my role and I enjoy it, because if everyone loves it than its not a discussion, its a bunch of twitter-enthused yes men. And no, I am unable to put that into 140 chatacters...so it seems my point is self-defeating. Oh well.
Blue Tyson
13. BlueTyson

What the hell are you doing commenting on a blog then you silly thing? :)
Arachne Jericho
14. arachnejericho
@Giant #12

Well, you seemed to want a bit of attention, but the comment didn't warrant very much. There's no discussion that can happen with respect to your comments thus far, which are basically: people who use social media are jerks.

Not much I can do there.
15. Darryl Parker
I didn't see a mention of the emerging trend of 140 character short stories called by a variety of names like twiterature, twitery, tlit, and twisters. Of course this is February and this article was last October, so the trend was probably very small then ;)

My particular focus is science fiction and can be found at http://twitter.com/twirledview


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