The Absurdity of Twitter

Only something this tasteless could truly capture the frivolity of the compulsive Twittering that afflicts me and many of the people I know. Deep-down, we all know we could never get away with this level of self-important blather in any other communication medium (well, other than lifecasting, of course). But as long as others keep “listening” (following != really listening) and retaliating with their own narcissistic brain-farts, we continue to groupthink ourselves into the delusion that the emperor is wearing some skivvies and it’s completely acceptable behavior to broadcast an announcement of your recovery from a hangover, random facts you learn from reading the pamphlets you get at jury duty, or a poll on how you should waste away your afternoon to everyone you know and even more people you don’t (just, whatever you do, *never* *ever* update people on your flight delays at the airport — sheesh!). My personal favorites are the recursive loops of self-importance (better known to the self-important as “meta-tweets”), like announcing on Twitter that you’re blogging about how stupid Twitter is. But, if the Nielsen TV ratings ponzi scheme can last as long as it has, I, for one, will not be dissuaded from spewing the mindless ephemera of my life out into the ether by a little incisive snark from a couple of “professional” bloggers. Enjoy 😀

In writing all of that, I did get to thinking a little bit about why (relatively) intelligent and well-adjusted people are totally comfortable with our behavior on Twitter (at least until its absurdity is temporarily called out, as above). The answer may be that it isn’t, in fact, that absurd after all. For people who live their lives at the leading edge of consumer technology, our signal:noise ratio in daily life is rapidly approaching Infinity. Is it possible that the human condition demands some degree of noise to have a balanced life — think about it, a life in which nothing is random or serendipitous (i.e. all signal) doesn’t sound too fun. Eliminating the noise in meatspace can practically only go so far, but in cyberspace, where our kind now spends most of our time, the vast majority of products and services have been designed to give you nothing but signal. Twitter (and to a certain degree other social software, like the Facebook newsfeed) can theoretically be adjusted to be all signal, but the entropy of its design tends towards providing you with noise, be it noise of your choosing. Maybe Twitter is the cyberspace equivalent of one of those sleep machines that emits white noise to help you sleep at night.

4 thoughts on “The Absurdity of Twitter”

  1. While I wouldn’t exactly say that Twitter helps me go to sleep, I think that the serendipitous nature of the communications that occur there are super helpful. Take, for example, the time you Twittered that you were at SFO and then I did as well, which enabled us to share a cab back to the city. Or the numerous times where we’ve used it to figure out who was out in the city we were in, without having to text message specific friends in search of activity. I don’t think that Twitter has built the tools that are necessary to really modulate the signal:noise ratio, but I am betting there’s a lot of opportunity there. The more control we have over that, the more likely other people are to use the services, because they can turn the ratio way down and then experiment with ratcheting it up.

  2. @ Robi Ganguly: There are definitely many useful practical use-cases that come out of Twitter’s serendipitous nature. But, there are arguably more appropriate solutions specifically targeted at those use-cases (e.g. Loopt for figuring out when you’re near a friend; Dopplr for letting people know when you’re coming to town). Yes, you can say that Twitter’s power is in its flexibility to serve these use-cases (and others), though not as well as the more specific services, without one needing to sign up for all of them. But, I rarely find myself compulsively checking what’s going on in my Twitterverse to find those specific use-cases — I’m primarily looking to find what’s going on with my little personal Techmeme, any practical use-cases that come out of that are secondary.

  3. That video of hitler literally gave me faith in Hitler jokes again. I mean, I have seen so many bad hitler jokes over the years, That I had forgotten how awesome a good one could be!
    Thank you,
    a) for sharing this, and more importantly,
    b) thank you people who build time machines for not going back and preventing hitler from existing, because if they did, I wouldn’t have just gotten that awesome laugh I totally just got!

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