Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense
Twitter is the app that everyone loves to hate. Odds are you’ve noticed people — probably much younger than you — manically using Twitter, a tool that lets you post brief updates about your everyday thoughts and activities to the Web via browser, cell phone, or IM. The messages are limited to 140 characters, so they lean toward pithy, haiku-like utterances. When I dropped by the main Twitter page, people had posted notes like “Doing lunch and picking up father-in-law from senior center.” Or “Checking out Ghost Whisperer” or simply “Thinking I’m old.” (Most users are between 18 and 27.)
I’m not a convert – but I understand the appeal, as I’ve got the same must-have-friends-updates-addiction but from Facebook.
So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends. (Monitoring the lives of total strangers is fun but doesn’t have the same addictive effect.) Critics sneer at Twitter and Dodgeball as hipster narcissism, but the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.
Mind you, quick-ping media can be a massive time-suck. You also may not want more information pecking at your frayed attention span. And who knows? Twitter’s rabid fans (their numbers are doubling every three weeks) may well abandon it for a shinier new toy. It happened to Friendster.
But here’s my bet: The animating genius behind Twitter will live on in future apps. That tactile sense of your community is simply too much fun, too useful — and it makes the group more than the sum of its parts.
Clive Thompson (Wired) is awesome.