In my recent comments about Facebook and other aspects of the digital revolution, I argued that social networking sites blur the distinction between public and private life because people tend to post intimate details of their lives.
This trend struck me as somewhat worrying and hinted at narcissism and shallowness.I wasn’t suggesting that social networking was bad - that would be absurd and probably hypocritical considering I have a Facebook account.
My point was that certain aspects of our digital immersion did not bode well for our emotional and cultural well-being. However, my negative approach to social networking has changed.
Thanks to Twitter, a more recent social networking site which already has millions of users. Twitter enables its users to publish their thoughts in less than 140 characters. It is like blogging, but on a much smaller scale.
Twitter’s credibility was enhanced by the post-election upheaval in Iran where protestors used twitter to let the world know what was going on after the state blocked the media.
There was talk that we could be witnessing the first ‘twitter revolution’ although sadly, brute force won and the protests were suppressed.
I was of course aware of twitter, but, as just another news item and even its role in the Iran protests did not change my mind.
In fact, I’d thought that it took the worst aspects of Facebook and founded itself on them. I regarded twitter as insubstantial as Facebook and other similar internet crazes.
However, two weeks ago, my nine-year-old brother joined twitter and sent me an invite. I was stunned. He was a child and yet in many ways he was digitally ‘in the loop’ more than I was.
I wondered whether some of my views on emerging digital media were afflicted by the ‘grumpy old man syndrome’. Although, at 26, I’m hardly what you would call an old man.
Shamed into action, I began to explore twitter and what I found gave me plenty of food for thought.
It turns out that twitter is actually great. I haven’t been inspired enough to start twittering myself, but I’ve taken the plunge to see what others are doing.
One of the crucial mistakes I had made is assuming that the brevity of twitter would inevitably block any profundity, wit or coherence.
I was wrong. The Iranian twitters showed that even the in-built limitations of twitter were no barrier to effective communication.
Twitter also provides an interesting take on communication. It freezes moments in time and in the future will undoubtedly provide important reference points for historians and sociologists alike.
It is also an intriguing experiment. Most of our modes of communication are geared towards saying more. Twitter gets people to say less while maintaining the same level of meaning, thus creating a certain kind of ingenuity. It’s amazing how much insight and humour can be squeezed into 140 characters.
I also discovered that my views on Facebook softened. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with being bombarded with mundane details of people’s lives.
After all, isn’t it simply the art of communication taken to its logical conclusion?
Maybe this openness creates emotional maturity rather than stagnation. Rather than change us for the worse, it might reflect who we are.
The aspects of the digital revolution are fascinating. It is not always easy to fully appreciate social upheavals if you are living through them and it’s easy to get cynical.
However, social networking is a significant and enriching experience. Engaging with it is certainly worthwhile.