Posts Tagged ‘twitter’

The Enemy of Contemplation

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

From Bill Keller’s NY Times op-ed The Twitter Trap:

Basically, we are outsourcing our brains to the cloud. The upside is that this frees a lot of gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and “Real Housewives.” But my inner worrywart wonders whether the new technologies overtaking us may be eroding characteristics that are essentially human: our ability to reflect, our pursuit of meaning, genuine empathy, a sense of community connected by something deeper than snark or political affinity.

The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. […]

I’m not even sure these new instruments are genuinely “social.” There is something decidedly faux about the camaraderie of Facebook, something illusory about the connectedness of Twitter. Eavesdrop on a conversation as it surges through the digital crowd, and more often than not it is reductive and redundant.

I’m inclined to agree with the central thesis of Keller’s column, but at the same time my (dramatically reduced) usage of apps like Twitter still yield real benefits. For example, were it not for Twitter, I would not have known that my friend Humberto happened to be in NYC at the same time as me last month.

This sort of criticism applies to many technologies, but I wonder if there are technologies that could work in the opposite direction and make contemplation easier. Something like interruption filtering could do this. I find that single-purpose devices are easier to concentrate on, too. For example, it’s easier for me to concentrate on my kindle than it is with an iPad. Books are tough to beat in that regard, though.

Maybe this question is nonsense, I’m not sure, but it’s a bit depressing to think that the technologies that we adopt will inexorably lead us down this path of fleeting superficial interactions.

(and to those of you who have recommended that I read “The Shallows”- it’s on my list, but I haven’t got around to it yet)


Monday, November 8th, 2010

In the last couple of months, I’ve been making an effort to avoid filling my spare moments with the distracting micro-tasks that have become so prevalent in the last few years. These are things like reading twitter messages while waiting in a line, checking in to foursquare when getting lunch with a friend or checking my email despite having just left my desk at work. I no longer have twitter and foursquare installed on my phone right now, though my email compulsion still needs work. My facebook usage has been quite rare for a while.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to start working on this. There are certainly plenty of studies that have shown little distractions like these to be unhealthy, but I think it was mostly just that I didn’t really like it when other people distracted themselves a lot around me, so I figured it was unreasonable of me to continue to act like that. If, for example, I go out to eat with a friend and sit down and tweet that I’m eating somewhere remotely interesting, the time I spend doing that is essentially a time in which I’ve decided that some group of people who aren’t present (and likely aren’t interested) is more deserving of my time than the person I’m sitting in front of.

Additionally, I’ve been working to switch to longer-form works (see my previous post on reading) and improve my signal-to-noise ratio. I’m still reading blogs, but I have pruned my subscriptions and I no longer make a strong effort to empty the queue regularly.

Making these changes wasn’t easy: I couldn’t help but wonder “what if I miss out on something valuable?” This was the same thing I wondered when I stopped using facebook regularly. Thinking a bit more about this, the thought seemed identical to that of a compulsive hoarder (I recently read Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things ). Hoarders often collect newspapers because they worry that the newspaper might have something of interest to them, so they must hold on to it in order to avoid missing out. They see the potential value without seeing the very real costs of this behavior. While I certainly don’t claim to have this compulsion, I can see some measure of commonality between their behavior and the fear of disconnecting online.

I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and I think it’s been a positive change. It’s a bit hard for the first few days, but I think it was worthwhile. It’s hard to really gauge the positive effects, though.

Patrick Stewart on Technology

Monday, February 8th, 2010

I, too, have major problems with twitter’s character limit and generally prefer email to phone calls. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.

The millionth stupid thing written about Twitter

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

From a TechCrunch post about a novel ‘released on twitter’:

Who says 140 characters isn’t enough to say something constructive? Matt Stewart is writing an entire novel that way.

OK, where to begin.

First, I don’t think anyone said that 140 chars isn’t enough to say anything constructive, it’s just not enough to say most things constructive. Second, by “writing an entire novel that way”, they mean writing a novel the regular way, then using a script to chop it up into tweet-sized chunks and pipe it out in pieces to twitter. So really, you could have done this with any book. Also, you could have done this with any character-length restriction. It’s meaningless.

Some have written that twitter makes you a better writer by forcing you to be concise. I disagree. Twitter can make you a more concise writer, but that’s not synonymous with a better writer. If you wanted to be an even better writer, why not just restrict yourself to 100 characters? How about 80? I’m not arguing against the utility of the character limit, but I think its usefulness is for the readers, to allow for easy skimming.

Things the West *has* done to help

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

While I believe that Obama shouldn’t be doing much to “help” the Iranian demonstrators, there are plenty of meaningful things that have been done:

  • Foreign embassies in Tehran (Australia, UK, and others) are providing care for demonstrators. It’s been widely reported that demonstrators going to hospitals have been arrested by the Basij EDIT: the part about the embassies is a rumor, and has been denied by the UK and possibly others.
  • As was widely reported, Twitter rescheduled its downtime to avoid being down while Iranians were awake (at the request of the state department, too)
  • Facebook released a Farsi translation of the site.
  • Google added Farsi to its translation tools.
  • YouTube relaxed its guidelines for violence in videos coming from Iran in recognition of the media situation

Phase 3

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

It looks like Twitter is entering phase 3 of the hype cycle:


Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Slate’s parody Twitter competitor: