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Opening Arguments


I once knew a woman who asked me, I swear, every five minutes, "What are you thinking?" That question asked occasionally is not too annoying, especially if I might have stopped listening to the other person's conversation and am staring off into space. The content of my mind at the moment is fair game. But, over and over and over? That results from a deep insecurity, which is undersandable. But it deeply invades my privacy, which is intolerable. Half the time, I'm thinking nothing in particular; the other half, it's not something I want to share.

I thought about her I read this story about Twitter, the new Internet phenomenon for people who think even email and instant messaging are just too slow:

Twitter works by hypercharging social networks such as those on MySpace or Friendster. A new Twitter user creates a very basic profile and then creates a mini-network by linking to his or her friends, family, acquaintances and pretty faces found through browsing the site. Then, whenever the mood strikes, the user logs in to Twitter.com (or sends it a note via text or instant messenger), answering the "What're you doing" question in 150 characters or fewer. Once you chime in with your latest activity or pondering, your message is then radiated out to all the members of your circle, who can check in at their webpage to see what their friends are up to, or better still, receive flashing updates on their cellphones or instant messengers whenever a friend checks in.

The result, according to Jack Dorsey, the force behind Twitter, "brings you closer to everyone, because you know what everyone is doing, things you would never imagine."

On a typical Sunday evening, a glance at Twitter's public page, where its users' collective messages are posted, does indeed reveal a cross section of what might be a moment in the life of the Information Generation. Among the updates posted within a one-hour period:

"watching cat videos on youtube"

"Trying to finish my senior thesis. Or start it."

"Our guests have just leaved. They were all danes, who were over for a drink and danish cakes. Yummy :D"

"watching HOME ALONE with the Chris Columbus/Macauley Culklin commentary track."

"making venison spaghetti. :)"

"shrieks at just receiving her dreaded student loan bill, which is larger than what she was expecting. Much larger"

"At Sushi Roku in Pasadena"

So, all these Twitter users -- these Twits -- are going to spend all their time, no matter what else they're doing, constantly asking and telling each other what they are doing at the moment. A lot has been written lately about the disappearance of privacy in this new digital age. This is even worse, I think, the overwhelming of the capacity for real intimacy with superficial nonsense, inane chit-chat as a 24-hour obsession.


Larry Morris
Wed, 01/03/2007 - 5:52am

Leo: We disagree on a lot of things, but, yes, TWIT is the correct term here, ...

Bob G.
Wed, 01/03/2007 - 7:43am

Seems like we may have to dig out that old Monty Python sketch:

" TWIT of the year Contest"

...just for a bit of a giggle.



Steve Towsley
Wed, 01/03/2007 - 11:30am

Agreed on all the above comments.

The closest thing to a useful version of this might be suggested in something that happened to me last year. The U.S. Senate was considering the bill to reduce gun industry harrassment, and the Democrat gun control crowd was there in force trying to hang all their favorite amendments on it.

In order to help out all my Article-II-supporting friends on a certain web forum who couldn't access C-SPAN one day, I typed continual updates about the action every few minutes. For example: "Kennedy just tried to ban all rifle ammunition!" "Senator Craig just urged voting against his own bill with these amendments attached!" And so on. It was fun for me and appreciated very much by those wishing to follow the Senate action.

I guess if one were in that kind of position, relating something actually significant in real time, such a software might be useful. One might imagine a reporter in court firing simultaneous updates to a pool of outside co-workers on his or her web phone perhaps, with a bit more speed, but there are alternative tools for the same task.

Otherwise, updates on the mundane seem like watching paint dry. I can't imagine most users of Twitter will be filing updates too often while seriously occupied, even with the capability of rapid fire, because of the constant interruptions and accumulation of delays all those typed notes will require.

But then, most young people have a whole different mind-set on staying constantly connected to their friends. They already seem to be able to stay on the phone hours without a break. Teens & tweens totally twitter 'twixt twelve to twilight, twilight 'til twelve.