Twittering The Machine

imageI’ve never been a phone guy.  My voicemail recording advises people to e-mail me rather than wait for me to remember to check my messages. 

Around 2004, I told a class of students that I didn’t use instant messager because I would have nobody to talk to.  I got a generous “awww!” of pity from the class. 

I didn’t mean to imply that I had no friends; rather, for years I had already been keeping up with
friends and family via e-mail and telephone, and with professional
contacts through e-mail, blogs, and Usenet.  I had no personal or professional need to hang out in chat rooms, so I’ve never done it (just as I have never gone para-sailing, or owned a ferret).

If you spread my handheld computer investment across the 12 years I’ve used a PDA, I’ve spent a very reasonable $4/month.  I will probably want my next PDA to have WiFi, but I’m never more than a few steps from a computer when I’m at work or home.  I just don’t feel obligated to pay the phone company so that, if I’m out on an errand or playing with the kids in the backyard, I will be available to high school students with grammar questions or SEO prospectors asking me for reciprocal links.

While liveblogging a talk at Computers and Writing 2009, I overheard people talking about the back-channel discussion that was occurring on Twitter.  In the registration room, there was a projection stream displaying the Twitter feed for #cw09. 

For the first time, I found a reason to tweet. 

I opened up an account during a break between sessions, quickly learned how to link my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and tried to figure out the genre conventions (such as @username and #keyword).  

I’ve only posted a few tweets, but already I feel the pull — one or two new people offer to “follow” me after each tweet that I publish, which is a gentle, insidious kind of unpredictable (and therefore, scientists tell us, more effective) positive reinforcement.

A couple years ago, my introduction to Facebook was more like an avalanche — people started friending me left and right the first few minutes I was online. Right away, I decided that I would never install any applet unless I had a very good reason (though I confess I do sometimes feel like a fuddy-duddy when I decline an invitation to pelt a student with a snowball or hurl an octopus at a colleague).

I don’t know that Twitter will revolutionize my thinking about
anything, but I do appreciate its open nature — it’s very convenient that I can update Twitter and Facebook at the same time.

I’ve long thought about adding a sideblog where I could post quick links (very much like Jorn Barger was doing on Robot Wisdom, when he coined the term “weblog”).  I recently helped Mike Arnzen find the code to let him do this very thing with his Twitter feed on Pedablogue (lower right column), so I’ve really got no excuse.

Twitter’s real power is its suitability to a mobile phone culture. I prefer to sit at a keyboard and revise my thoughts before posting them, but it’s a good thing that a cyberspace that was once very prose-centric is now open to people who communicate in different wasy. 

Amanda L. French quotes from a 1962 Asimov story in which “a mother invents Twitter,” or at least, proposes a solution to the 12-hour communication delay between Earth and Pluto.  “You talk all the time and they talk all the time. You have someone listening all the time and they do, too. If either one of you says anything that needs an answer, you can slip one in at your end, but chances are, you’ll get all you need without asking.”
I’ll close with a passage from the E.M. Forster novella, The Machine Stops, which imagines a peer-to-peer world of instant, perpetual connectivity. Here, a woman living in a mechanized, womb-like cubicle has momentarily disabled all her communications with the outside world, in order to listen (impatiently) to her son’s description of the unfamiliar sight of stars twinkling in the night sky.

Vashanti’s next move was to turn off the isolation switch, and all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her. The room was filled with the noise of bells, and speaking-tubes. What was the new food like? Could she recommend it? Has she had any ideas lately? Might one tell her one’s own ideas? Would she make an engagement to visit the public nurseries at an early date? – say this day month.

To most of these questions she replied with irritation – a growing quality in that accelerated age. She said that the new food was horrible. That she could not visit the public nurseries through press of engagements. That she had no ideas of her own but had just been told one-that four stars and three in the middle were like a man: she doubted there was much in it. Then she switched off her correspondents, for it was time to deliver her lecture on Australian music.

By the way, the Forster story was written in 1909.

Should I revise my blogging portfolio rubric in order to account for the students who would prefer to contribute in many small bursts.  But then there’s the whole question of colonizing Twitter and turning it
into another creepy treehouse

I’ve got plenty of thinking to do.  I’d ractually rather be doing it at Digital Humanities 09, instead of spending it at home with a bad cold (getting slightly better, but I’m still in no shape to drive for 6 hours and wrestle with DC traffic).

3 thoughts on “Twittering The Machine

  1. Glad you’re exploring this medium. I am now your ‘follower’ on the site and will look forward to seeing where it leads you (and where you lead it).
    When I saw that writers I admire were twittering I felt it was time to jump on board and see what the big deal was. I joined a short while before the Iran stories started to take fire on the site, so that was (and still continues to be) an interesting cultural experience. I joined, though, for it’s ‘microblogging’ potential and to learn more about web 2.0 from the inside, because the import of that all felt a little foreign to me. I think we need to have more web2.0 on the SHU site, generally (why isn’t the front page news available in RSS??) and also, perhaps, even in the nmj program/blogosphere.
    Uses? It’s mostly been a way to incorporate feeds quickly to my blogs as a sort of sideblog — to share links with only the briefest of comments — and the bonus effect of that is that my blog posts are now more substantive and considered, I think, since twitter is catching all my impulses to just post links.
    I’m also finding people in my discourse community who don’t blog or read blogs much. Good side effect. I’m learning things from links that people are sharing. And it’s often just plumb funny. I like the challenge of constructing a pithy or direct post in so few characters.
    There is still a LOT of garbage on twitter, and I have a palpable sense that spammers and hackers are using it to experiment in ways that twitter can’t respond to or deal with. Not sure — maybe I’m just paranoid.
    I still refuse to join Facebook. That will be my own last holdout. I feel like I’m everywhere else online already.
    I set up a google reader account to accept my twitter feed so I’d have an archive saved. Recommended trick!
    — Mike

  2. I’ve thought about it, Amanda, but I get so few phone messages that I just haven’t bothered. (Maybe my voice mail recording discourages people from making calls? It’s possible.)

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