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Twitter, Communication, and My Intermittent Inner Luddite

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At the risk of losing all cred with tech enthusiast readers, let me use a suggestion (from Dwight) as a point of departure:

I thought I would recommend that you both consider adopting Twitter as part of your blogging presence in 2009.

Twitter was organized in 2006 and hit 6 million registered users by the end of 2008 a 600% increase over the prior year. Facebook recently offerred to purchase Twitter for $500 million in stock but the offer was rejected. Google has also been thinking about Twitter [many examples of who is using it and why, with links]…

At a minimum, even if you choose not to tweet on Twitter, you can at least feed your blog posts to Twitter via Twitterfeed.

Now even though I probably in the end relent and wind up feeding posts on Twitter, I am deeply troubled by a communication medium that limits messages to 140 characters, and I’ll return to that shortly.

But before readers brand me as a hopeless Luddite, let me stress that I am fussy about technology. Compared to other mere mortals (as compared to developers and serious technologists), I tend to be either bleeding edge or late and reluctant. I had a NeXT computer as soon as it was out of beta, was using e-mail and the Internet in 1991. I tried cell phones and the Palm early, concluded I didn’t have much use for either. I was in Verizon’s New York DSL trial (the first broadband available here, and the one and only time I have ever seen Verizon show up for an appointment promptly and perform efficiently). I was one of Vonage’s (VOIP) very early customers and went through the brain damage of making it work from Australia.

So why do I hate Twitter? Twitter is troubling reminiscent of Newspeak, the language being developed by Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984 to control thought.

Orwell, in an appendix, describes the principles of Newspeak, and they are directed towards simplifying language so as to void it of inconvenient (for the power structure) propensities of thought:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.

Now what does that have to do with Twitter, one might ask? Well, while the main means by which Newspeak was implemented was simplifying and subtly changing the inference of words, another element was the extreme condensation of communication:

Regularity of grammar was always sacrificed to it when it seemed necessary. And rightly so, since what was required, above all for political purposes, was short clipped words of unmistakable meaning which could be uttered rapidly and which roused the minimum of echoes in the speaker’s mind…..So did the fact of having very few words to choose from. Relative to our own, the Newspeak vocabulary was tiny, and new ways of reducing it were constantly being devised. Newspeak, indeed, differed from most all other languages in that its vocabulary grew smaller instead of larger every year. Each reduction was a gain, since the smaller the area of choice, the smaller the temptation to take thought. Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all…..

And it was to be foreseen that with the passage of time the distinguishing characteristics of Newspeak would become more and more pronounced — its words growing fewer and fewer, their meanings more and more rigid, and the chance of putting them to improper uses always diminishing.

Now the idea that have people communicate often within 140 characters and thought control seems awfully remote, no? Particularly since this is voluntary, customer driven, right?

I am not at all certain. I notice in reactions to my blog posts, which are often pretty lengthy, that readers sometimes miss important nuance in what I or readers I have cited say, or (just as bad) project onto what I have written something I never said (as I noted earlier today, I have written often about growing unrest in China, and too often, I get comments arguing that I am all wet to be predicting that China will fall apart. Huh? I never said anything about violent overthrow of the government).

Now this could just be normal comprehension issues. But I notice how the Internet has affected how I read. I have become impatient with longer stories (unless I am on an airplane). I spend most of my time on the Internet, and the vast majority of what I read fits within the browser window. I find that has conditioned my expectations. When confronted with a longer piece (say Sunday New York Times magazine feature or New Yorker length) I find after the first page wondering if it really had to be this long, and often not finishing the piece. Five years ago, I never would have responded this way.

You can’t say anything complicated or nuanced in 140 characters. I am sure readers will provide some cute counterexamples, but try explaining Plato’s cave in those confines. Can’t be done. You might allude to it, but you could not present it to someone who didn’t know about it already. And Twitter encourages people to accept a medium that severely constrains communication, and calls a defect a virtue.

Marshall McLuhan was right.

I have a second issue with Twitter, and mobile communications generally, I can’t control how they are used, but I see them as having a corrosive effect on interpersonal relations.

It’s one thing to take calls, check texts tweets, or the news when out and about by yourself. But it has become the norm to take them when meeting with others. That reduces the quality of the interaction and sends a message that the person you are with is merely an option, other options are ever present and must be assessed, maybe exercised.

For those in high urgency professions (doctors, traders) I can see this being acceptable. And everyone has occasions when they need to be on the alert for news, a call, or a text. But this has become routine.

Humans are a social species, with very big limbic brains (the emotional center) and smaller cerebral cortexes (the seat of higher reasoning). I cannot prove the connection, and doubtless many factors are in play, but the US is a society where enormous numbers of people take anti-depressants and brain chemistry altering chemicals, either to elevate their mood or improve performance in some way (and those are the legal drug users. BTW, the most recent data I could find was 2005, that anti-depressants are the most widely prescribed drugs in the US, with 118 million prescriptions written that year). That says something is deeply amiss.

We have a lot of other factors contributing to the erosion of social structures: high divorce rates, short job tenure (and now high unemployment), rising demands for on-the-job productivity (computers and the Internet are a double-edged sword: you can do more, but expectations have risen accordingly). These are clearly the big drivers, but I have to think that the degrading of routine interactions and the expectation (in at least some circles) that people multi-task, when the evidence is that it does not increase productivity, has to play a role.

Twitter feeds that addiction, that false sense of urgency. Most things can wait. Indeed, a lot of things are better off waiting. But we are encouraged to be plugged in, overstimulated all the time, at the expense of higher quality human relations.

I don’t want to contribute to the problem by participating in this sort of thing, but I suspect I will give in to practical realities.

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80 comments

  1. Anonymous

    Yves, please don’t join the Twitter throngs. I felt the same way when aldaily.com was exploring embracing “social media”. Just write and let people come to you without mental spam! I’m 23 if that’s relevant.

  2. Anders

    L. E. Modesitt, Jr., a sf/fantasy author has some similar thoughts. If you are interested in a good (but sometimes lengthy) read, check out his books.

    He’s written some blog entries that are quite interesting – particularly for a young ‘un such as myself (29 this year):
    Reflecting Minds
    Over-Visual Communications

    It is intriguing that people choose to attempt to communicate with one repeatedly, despite indications that you are otherwise engaged. Even using the “busy” response on my phone seems only to encourage people – perhaps they value access to me higher when they believe that I talk to a lot of people!

  3. Anonymous

    Twitter is mainly so that the same 100 silicon valley has-beens can circle jerk about each other.

  4. purple

    It’s one thing to take calls, check texts tweets, or the news when out and about by yourself. But it has become the norm to take them when meeting with others. That reduces the quality of the interaction and sends a message that the person you are with is merely an option, other options are ever present and must be assessed, maybe exercised.

    Couldn’t agree more. I ‘ve stopped carrying my cell phone (or turned it off) in many situations where that might happen…
    And libraries, geez ! I’ve been researching in the local library and people yack on their phones all the time.

  5. Yves Smith

    Charles,

    Understood, and I failed to make the point: I think of SMS as being for short messages and conversations. I never thought of it as intended for anything very substantive. But Twitter (per the links supplied, which I omitted) appears to be trying to target more substantive info exchanges through a very constrained medium.

    That’s what I find disturbing.

  6. Anonymous

    Yves,

    As someone who helped embed a dimension lumber order processing application into an operating system in the late 60′s and then went on to study the future and macro economics, I appreciate your attitude toward the twitter technology. Don’t get me wrong. I know of a couple doing 15-30 messages a day or more as he drives truck around a couple of states in the West and she works in health care. It is not the technology that is bad here, it is the myopic marketing of the technology to address way more social interaction needs than exist in real life. Have we seen this sort of behavior before? How about if we kill all the marketing control over American consumption?

    White noise here….

  7. polizeros

    You can build traffic to here by using TwitterFeed to automatically pot anything here to Twitter (first 140 characters and it puts in a tinyurl)

    Many bloggers, myself included, get a steady stream of new readers that way.

    You can also use Friendfeed as an aggregator and that allows much longer posts as well as comments.

  8. Erick

    Do not give in! Express yourself to the fullest, desired extent possible.

    Thank you for all the wonderful posts.

  9. Anonymous

    One of HBO’s first large scale series, Oz, had a great monologue once about the one-way conversation that is television. While blogs have the advantage of giving a reader the chance to interact/influence content by commenting, it seems a weak trade off with the reduced degree of communication (absence of body language, intonation, etc.) Twitter just seems like the worst of both words — voyeurism dangling the appearance of engagement (they’re too busy to respond to little you, but they can see that you’re there!), and bad content. Twitter reminds me of a scene played out on high school and college campus opening days, where nervous freshman make a captive audience for posturing upperclassmen doling out intentionally limited advice rife with varied allusions.

  10. Anonymous

    All this ‘social network’ noise makes it hard for distance to do its work on the heart.

    Twitter just seems like a compulsive dependent’s dream come true.

  11. coldwhiteguy

    I thought Twitter was an idiotic way to communicate, and then read about a guy twittering while he was witnessing the attacks in Mumbai recently. Now I think it’s a technology that has it’s place and the only question is, how large.

  12. russell1200

    As we sit in the back of the cave we ponder where those shadows are coming from; and whatever can they mean?

  13. Erik Bowen

    “It’s one thing to take calls, check texts tweets, or the news when out and about by yourself. But it has become the norm to take them when meeting with others. That reduces the quality of the interaction and sends a message that the person you are with is merely an option, other options are ever present and must be assessed, maybe exercised.”

    What a profound statement. You put into words what has happened through technology. I think I may text less often now ;)

  14. fresno dan

    What I can never get over is why people think that the electronic communication is more important than the person in your presence.

  15. Kamal

    Information overload left, right n center -> Need to shorter telegraph system to convey thoughts precisely -> Twitter -> whats the big fuss??

  16. Anonymous

    Just one more form of point less efficacy to dumb us down by design or accident.

    Who here, still remembers the debates about societal/technological lag and is all technology beneficial to mankind.

    I my self have found e-mail useful to a point, but not for conversations where you need to flip ideas in real time.

    skippy

  17. Anonymous

    Charles,
    “The 140 character limit comes from SMS text messaging.”

    Are you sure that’s correct? SMS text messages have a character limit of 160, and for the better part of a decade most mobile phones (or cell phones if you prefer) have been able to send longer messages by combining several messages and displaying them as one.

  18. JP

    Well, as someone who has been using email since 1982, I think you have an excellent handle on matching new technology to its best use.

    Some people and thoughts were meant to fit into 140 characters. Others, less so.

  19. Jojo

    Excellent points Yves and I agree wholeheartedly.

    I especially like the reference to Newspeak. Teachers and business people are reporting that they are seeing formal papers, customer emails and other work from younger people that make frequent use of SMS abbreviations. Similarly in spoken language where people give directions as “go over to 4th Ave.” (not avenue) or the announcer on the classical radio station refers to the SF Phil (instead of saying Philharmonic). By shortening everything, whether in writing or speech, we are slowly losing the ability to think and to understand each other.

    Twitter can be useful for immediate news such as terrorism attacks or disasters such Mumbai, earthquakes, crashes, perhaps day trading and so forth. But for a blog, the only use I could see is to announce a new post.

    However, from what I’ve seen and read of Twitter (and also with IM’s), it seems to be most attractive to the young with attention disorders whose general messages are shall we say, banal at best. These technologies DO distract people and I believe, compromise people’s ability/desire to think in detail on a subject. They may in fact, be prime contributors to why we are in the quagmire we are in today as people consider important matters only superficially and make seemingly spontaneous decisions that often result in serious “unintended consequences”. One might point to the original bailout bill and capitulation of Congress to the FUD and NEED for immediate action planted by Paulson/Bernanke as a recent prime example.

    I certainly wouldn’t be a user of Twitter, so don’t really care if you choose to use it or not. Personally, I have found myself becoming more distracted and being pulled in too many directions by internet technology and need to react NOW. So as a new years resolution, I have cut back on the number of blogs I subscribe to in my RSS reader and also on the number of comments I post in blogs.

    @Anders – I found your links to L. E. Modesitt, Jr interesting. I read a lot of SF years ago and have recently gotten back into the genre (currently reading/rereading all of Ursala K. LeGuin’s work). Which books of L. E. Modesitt, Jr. would you recommend I look into first?

  20. datadave

    Much of refinement in art, writing, technology, whatever, is deletion. I recently had to dump my Windows program due to ‘worms’ and installed linux to keep the old bugger working (an 8 yr old ‘puter-) Not that I am happy about linux’s lack of apps. But One wonderful Loss or deletion was losing Instant Messaging. I told friends and family of my computer problems as an excuse of why I am not on IM anymore…but mostly I am not reinstalling it, like twitter, because I find it an annoying invasion on my privacy and also my ability to read something interesting and in depth like your posts.

    However, I’ll add my 16 y.o. son’s perspective “Book leads to decline in scrolls” where he responds to something written by Patricia Greenfield about ‘a decline in critical thinking and analysis?’. Admittedly, his ‘smack-down’ approach may be indicative of anger with his hippy-ish Luddite parents perhaps. Or more likely a reflection of them. I do find value in the youngin’s social networking and it’s amazing to see chums he’s never met writing into his macbook from korea or singapore. All in all, “Web 2.0″ has given him a greater perspective than I had at his age. However, some social skills could still be improved through face to face interaction but high school somewhat fills that gap.

  21. Charlie

    Ft had a piece on mba students taking dinner manner lessons. they run the same story ewvery five years, but i wonder how much of bad manners is a result of too many meals by yourself over a desk?

    i read this on my mobile, short is better. nothing is more dangerous than a well played epigram.

  22. Anonymous

    “But before readers brand me as a hopeless Luddite,”

    Anyone who doubts the overall benefits of Tech and Science is immediately branded and dismissed as a “Luddite” by the Techites. Most people have never read about Luddites and do not even know what Luddites believed.

    Here’s my challenge to the Scientists: “show proof that Science is more beneficial than it is harmful over the Long Term.” If it is true, as many know believe, that we will destroy or greatly damage ourselves through Technology, then Science will have been more harmful in the Long Term.

    As for our present Financial Disaster, how much of it can be attributed to uncontrolled Trading on thousands of supercomputers around the World? Sure seems to me that our Tech Driven Financial System has approached Chaos. How much of Tech is responsible for our crisis? No one even asks the question.

    Henry Thoreau: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

    Now if only we can get this Economy going faster……………….

  23. Namazu

    There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
    There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
    And there is no greater disaster than greed.
    [139 characters by my count, but Twitter would truncate many of the other chapters of the Tao. Clearly a piece of software written by barbarians.]

  24. DoctoRx

    Yves,

    Marvelous post.

    What you point out about limiting communication and IngSoc is directly related to how we choose Presidents-off of 20 second soundbites on the news and meaningless slogans.

    As a physician, I fully agree with the over-medication of mood “disorders”. If you read “November” by Gustave Flaubert, you will find melancholia has its uses!

    FYI I suspect that you left out the word “million” re number of anti-depressant prescriptions written. Typically 30 days worth of drug is written, so 118 million prescriptions come out to about 4 1/2 billion patient days. And that statistic would leave out tranquilizers and sleeping pills, most of which are more dangerous than anti-depressants.

    The U.S. has become a fat, drugged and over-indebted country. A far cry from Jeffersonian times.

  25. Anonymous

    fresno dan

    “What I can never get over is why people think that the electronic communication is more important than the person in your presence.”

    ditto for the telephone, “reach out and touch someone.”

    “Have a good day” smile smile

  26. Anonymous

    My favourite blogs are Willem Buiter, Calculated Risk and yourself. Could you imagine Willem Buiter or Tanta (RIP) using twitter?

    Thank heavens for full, reasoned explanations. I learn so much, which is why you are my favourites.

  27. backerman

    Twitter seems like the natural internet expression of the problem of concision that Chomsky talked about in relation to the ever-shrinking soundbite on television news. Concise expression limits the range of thought to those which are simply accepted truths and consensus notions– because there is no opportunity to establish new frames of reference or defend an idea out of the mainstream. A genuinely new or unconventional idea literally sounds odd. So the demand for a concise expression becomes a structural constraint on the range of expression which will naturally evolve in a discussion.

    I think have every reason to be wary of twitter. It goes against what’s truly beautiful and special about this blog for example: it’s range, it’s depth, it’s willingness to explore ideas at great length, and the sheer scope of unconventional ideas that are given life on these pages. That’s something precious, not something to throw overboard in a crazy effort at maximum speed of communication.

  28. Bob

    Yves,

    Technology is a means, not an end.
    Orwell was right and so are you.
    Please don’t do it.

    (From someone who makes his living at the pointy end of tech….)

  29. JP


    Here’s my challenge to the Scientists: “show proof that Science is more beneficial than it is harmful over the Long Term.”

    Naturally, you’d have a stronger position if you weren’t typing your challenge on a keyboard, into a computer composed of ICs, that networks through a set of fibers sending light pulses at 40 Gb/s.

  30. Andy

    Amen to this post. Twitter is very much over rated and like you said -most things can wait. We live in a sociey of instant gratification that Twitter just feeds from an information perspective. As a blogger I thought I would give twitter a shot, as a different channel, and found it came up short. From an IM perspective, it is okay, but if you are looking to use if from a business/revenue sense then it is limited (see why Twitter will not help your blog revenue: http://www.savingtoinvest.com/2008/12/why-twitter-will-not-help-your-blog.html). As long as you realize it is not going to change the world, it is a “fun” application to chat on. Thats it.

  31. Andy

    Amen to this post. Twitter is very much over rated and like you said -most things can wait. We live in a sociey of instant gratification that Twitter just feeds from an information perspective. As a blogger I thought I would give twitter a shot, as a different channel, and found it came up short. From an IM perspective, it is okay, but if you are looking to use if from a business/revenue sense then it is limited (see why Twitter will not help your blog revenue: http://www.savingtoinvest.com/2008/12/why-twitter-will-not-help-your-blog.html . As long as you realize it is not going to change the world, it is a “fun” application to chat on. Thats it.

  32. AndrewBW

    I couoldn’t agree more on the matter of reading online. I too find anything very long difficult to read online, and have taken to printing things out and reading them on paper. I don’t like the excess paper and toner useage, but it’s much less stressful and easier on the eyes.

  33. Anonymous

    wonderful post on language and its limits, as well as information control, deliberate and ‘naturally’ evolved, please continue as a twitter holdout, every day – a victory.

    Relent not, let them have the sabot!

  34. Anonymous

    Interesting post, enjoy your site and especially the antidote du jour …

    At their essence language and technology are evolutionary tools of dominance. As such they are used to control share of pie on the individual level and on the group level. That was at the heart of what Orwell and McLuhan were saying.

    Dominance requires the forming of alliances. How one reacts to and uses the current tools of dominance to form alliances (and what tools of dominance are available to an individual to do so), determines how well one will fare in gaining share of pie. Many tools are redundant or have overlapping capabilities. All tools, and their application, have within them a deceptive component that will be harmful to the individual and an integrity component that will be beneficial to the individual. Available tool selection and use is a function of one’s discernment. Discernment of deception or integrity is the highest attribute of any living organism.

    I believe you show good discernment when you reject Twitter. The deceptive components in it are; distraction from reality, increased atomization of the individual by ‘privatizing’ the means for social interaction, and constraining of language skills (for some that forced succinctness can be beneficial), which are far outweighed by Twitter’s integrity components which are available in other similar less constraining tools.

    Another thought … I suspect your disdain for twitter may also be colored by the fact that evolution is not linear and we live in an age of accelerated evolution. New tools of dominance are being created at such a rapid rate that it is impossible to fully learn about all of them or use them all and so we reject them out of hand or express “hate“ for them. It is like the little old lady sitting in front of her TV that suddenly realizes on some level that she has so many tapes and DVDs in her collection that she will not be able to live long enough to see them all again, and worse, that watching them has been a mainstay substance of her life, so she goes into a hissy fit and hates them all … a bit of a rage at the machine … sometimes life’s a bitch …

    I don’t have a cell phone by choice and diss people that use them in my presence.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    i on the ball patriot

  35. Anonymous

    I agree, of course, with the general drift of Yves’ argument. It’s a subtle application of the Newspeak analogy — more nefarious than the outright machinations of IngSoc…

    The question partly tilts on the way Twitter is used. Updating your status for your social network isn’t as bad as being fed a constant stream of pith, or worse, sound bites (the modern realization of Newspeak). I read a piece on the terminology for Twitter-esque services. The writer noted micromessaging, microblogging and microsharing but felt that a neologism was warranted, so coined “microstreaming.” It’s horrible really, but it does capture a subtle point about the services that Yves is turned off by: that the recipient is the target of too much debased information. There’s no substance, but your attention is diverted constantly, diminishing cognitive resources. I don’t mind dipping my toe into facebook periodically to “catch up” because it’s more of a repository of out-of-time activity. It’s a bit like correspondence chess in that way.

    I can’t tell you how often I’ll be talking to someone, or in a meeting, and people are checking their Crackberries. It’s insulting.

  36. Anonymous

    Seems like every few months, there’s a new must have way to network. You can waste energy joining every single one of them just to keep up – or you can write thoughtful blog posts.

  37. Anders

    @Jojo:
    I’d recommend that you check out Flash, The Parafaith War or Adiamante.

    A note about Modesitt – his protagonist often is extraordinary in many ways – mostly skills or abilities (somewhat of a Heinleinian protagonist in that sense) but forestall ascent into a caricature by being quite human in their emotions.

    I would not recommend the Ecolitan Matter series for a first time reader living in the US – the protagonistsw of those books perform acts that are, strictly speaking, terrorist acts. For the greater good, of course, and from a lack of other avenues of action, but still the content may overshadow the presentation and the context.

    You can read more about the specific books on wikipedia – the Adiamante entry in particular is well detailed.

  38. tfitz

    I completely agree with your insights about Twitter. There are too many ‘social’ networking tools and they diminish communication rather than enhance it. It’s distracting and counter to any tendency to seriously ponder, think about and digest issues. Frankly, it’s a bad nervous habit and leads one to the illusion that what you are doing at the moment is actually important. Mostly not.

  39. Anonymous

    There are so many people missing the point here! Twitter isn’t intended to replace long form writing with haiku. Twitter’s good for several things, including a form of electronic small talk that may not to be the taste of some.

    Here’s how I could see Yves using twitter. The link section of this blog is wonderful. When Yves comes across a story during the day, she could tweet the link. When readers come across links that might interest Yves, they could reply to her.

    Readers who want can get tasty links throughout the day. Yves can assemble the links into a daily collection as usual. Readers who prefer links as a morning dish can read at the usual time.

    Adina

  40. Philip Crawford

    Hi Yves, Nice post. I like the reference to Newspeak.

    However, most of the comments completely miss the mark on Twitter and blog posts. Twitter in this scenario is not meant to contain the content, it is meant as bait to lure potential readers into the blog. Keep in mind that most people have never heard of this blog. The more people that read Naked Capitalism as well as CR, Big Picture, Mish, and others, the better chance our country has at not making some of the terrible mistakes we are headed toward.

    To recap. Twitter is a pointer to content, a lure, an ad. You utilize the same ideas from SEO to generate traffic to your blog using Twitter. It isn’t the container of the content.

    The funny thing is these comments are very similar to comments about blogs some years back. And here they are, on a blog.

    Keep up the great writing!

  41. Yves Smith

    Adina,

    That is a nice line of thought, but it is not how I work. I put together my links (and the vast majority of my posts) in the evening starting after 8:00 PM, some nights later.

    And I would find tweets during the day to be a huge intrusion. I get plenty of good e-mails as it is, I prefer that medium for getting blog input. I have dedicated windows to work on the blog. Getting tidbits on mobile devices would increase my stress level, and not add to my productivity.

  42. bg

    As a technologist who has devoted myself to media, I can attest that technology has shortened attention spans. Technology is not the problem, it is an enabler. There are technologies that lend themselves to long form reading. Kindle. But twitter serves a different purpose.

    I found this blog through a blog aggregator. Twitter is almost a search engine.

  43. doc holiday

    There are about 50 comments on a topic about adding more noise to chaos. Fragmentation is the obvious best way to devolve towards a state of entropy. Blogging takes the concept of yesterdays news to a higher level, where minutes and seconds count in terms of wondering what some nitwit added to a string of retarded comments about a story that originates on a newswire, which then feeds into a million blogs that copy and paste shit that then becomes a matter of split-second debate and the random thoughts of off topic, off color additional noise like this here garbage from me, which sort of makes the point that blogging is so friggn boring already and thus if you continue to add in more noise, it will be a source of food for many mindless people that will believe they are part of something other than chaos.

    God bless us all Tiny Tim and Merry XMAS to all the pudding heads!

    As for me, I’m going to communicate with a stick on a beach and draw the letters, SOS

  44. Joe

    Oh Yves,
    I suppose you will have to give in to the “practical reality” of participating in the accelerating decline of society. But you can still do it in your way (and encourage those whose interest you pique to follow more extensive writings and conversations).

  45. Hu Flung Pu

    “Twitter feeds that addiction, that false sense of urgency. Most things can wait. Indeed, a lot of things are better off waiting. But we are encouraged to be plugged in, overstimulated all the time, at the expense of higher quality human relations.”

    This was exactly my point of a week ago (from the thread on Citi’s private plane):

    *****************************
    Hu Flung Pu said…

    Part of the problem with the whole corporate jet mentality is reflected in a smaller way through the use of blackberrys and similar devices.

    “We have to get to LA quickly or the deal will be held up!! Time is money!! Off to the corporate jet!!”

    Likewise, “I MUST answer this email or the deal will be held up!! Time is money!! Where’s my damn blackberry?!”

    My point is this: Speeding up the time allocated to make business decisions has not served anyone well. I manage a small PE partnership and when I tell people that I may not get back to them for a couple of days on an issue because I’m traveling, they’re perplexed. And I tell them, “My answer to any decision/deal that MUST be made REALLY quickly is: No.” NOTHING except for illness or some other tragedy needs to be addressed immediately. Part of reason that folks have made such shitty decisions in recent years is because they’ve been convinced otherwise. It’s a big lie.

    Basically, slow the fuck down, folks. If it’s business/finance, it ain’t THAT urgent. We somehow managed to make equally crappy decisions before blackberrys and corporate jets.

    January 26, 2009 10:36 PM
    ***************************

    Thus, I reiterate: Slow the fuck down, folks.

  46. Anonymous

    I have nothing to add that has not already been stated, but this is a wonderful post. And one that I can identify with – I am not a luddite, but considering Twitter as a means to all ends seems to reflect a basal reflex to a herding behavior. There, bet that is more than 140 characters!!

  47. Carlosjii

    LET IT RIP who are we to say there is no usefulness to Naked posts on Twitter?

    Send your posts to Twitter and let the technology and the users decide on the accessibility and use. If there is some limit let the system limit it as limits change as technology advances. OK – maybe scrutableize the headings a bit

    For example I am constantly checking my email and watching and bidding on eBay stuff and checking the markets and selected stocks while walking thru the Santa Monica mountains way above the LA basin. There is tons I can do with just the cell phone I have now. There are probably phones I could get now that would allow me to read an entire Naked post but a lot of the information I need is that someone just sent me a text message – not necessarily the content itself.

    In a tight market situation I might, for example, use my cell to check the markets, carry my 12” laptop with an AirCard allowing me broadband Internet access via the cell network, and make some adjustments wherever I am.

  48. Anonymous

    Twitter is a a great service for self absorbed people. It’s funny how people complained about the Bush administrations clampdown on privacy yet thousands of people are broadcasting important personal details like, “hey, I’m having a bowel movement.” Yeah, yeah you argue, “But I control the broadcast.” And I say, who cares and get a life. Twitter should take the money and run.

  49. Anonymous

    How about a Facebook page for Naked Capitalism? Then your blog can have “fans” and spread the word.

  50. Anonymous

    “How about a Facebook page for Naked Capitalism? Then your blog can have “fans” and spread the word.”

    I’m not sure what’s she’s spreading. Would she benefit from ten million twenty something fans? Since she’s alluded to the fact she doesn’t make much money from this thing it seems to be a hobby and marketing tool for her consultant biz.

    Quite frankly, I tune in for the animal pictures. I liked the story about the hawk. I want to know MORE about these animals. Why is the Koala in the tub? Is this punishment or reward? And just what does a Koala do all day?

  51. Anonymous

    Miss the inflections in voice contact huh?

    Text would never reveal a stutter unless a writer meant to imply it, still doesn’t make it a reality.

    Deciphering smoke signals or Morse Code has it purpose. It’s all in the mind unless your under aged then it’s all in the skin contact to induce mental stimulation.

  52. Eric L. Prentis

    Dear Yves Smith:

    Your Orwellian literary link to Twitter character constraints is apt, insightful and liberating. Restrict reader response, NO! Yves, you have very good judgment.

  53. donna

    Been on the Internet since it was Arpanet, and can’t stand twitter, facebook, et al.

    The worst thing we ever did was opening the net up to the unwashed masses. I think we need an IQ test for entry, like the height signs at the carnival rides. “You must be this smart to use the Internets…” ;^)

  54. Markel

    Twitter is just an extreme case of technology that trivializes the important, overstates the importance of the trivial, and, oh yeah, obliterates the distinction between the objective and the subjective.

    Only a true solipsist imagines the world needs real-time updates about his bathroom habits, afternoon snacks, cab rides, and massage appointments. But a lot of debate on the Internet isn’t so far off from that. Assertion without evidence, so common in political discourse, especially from the right, is really just someone mistaking their subjective feelings for objective reality, and assuming wrongly that such feelings are of grave importance to others.

    Taking the time to learn nuance? Why? I already have opinions.

  55. Anonymous

    Having run construction sites from industrial to residential, I for one can say how difficult it is to police ALL staff when it comes to mobile phones.

    Exsample of common conversation; Whatcha doing (other end of conversation), nuthin/ whatcha doin, reply nuthin. This conversation can go on for extended perionds, which boggle the mind and all on company pay.

    Twitter should be cost adjusted for performance/productivity decline in the work place and in personal life.

    skippy

  56. Pete Warden

    Interesting that you jump off from Orwell. I was just having a conversation about politicians on Twitter and his classic essay “Politics and the English Language”. My argument was that brevity make it a lot harder to pull a lot of the rhetorical tricks that people use to obscure the reality of what they are talking about. You don’t get many “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” in a tweet, but “Torture” fits just fine.

    If Twitter had been here first, and long-form emails and blogs were the newcomers, we’d all be arguing that they encouraged waffling and sloppy writing.

    Or to put it another way, the best tweets are like haiku poetry, every word apt and perfectly placed to clearly communicate a single thought. Of course most messages are more mundane, but the same is true for every other medium too.

  57. Anonymous

    I’m not sure that it is valid to harbor the grandiose idea that Twitter users expect to be able to say something complicated or nuanced in 140 characters.

    Useful Tweets from people I follow lately include links to articles with a 15 word summary of the article, Tweets from friends or acquaintances in my town who are at or going to events that interest me but which I might not have otherwise known about in a timely manner.

    Also quick answers to personalized questions that I posed to the social network at large, but which Google would have a hard time answering such as “Where can I eat at 2am in X neighborhood?” I might get results from Google, but how trustworthy would they be? And could I query Google back for more info?

    None of these are a sign of the decline of attention spans or the ability to carry on a nuanced or complicated conversation.

    And many of the above were written by people who have regular blogs in which they frequently post lengthy and elegant expositions of their more complicated thoughts.

    None of the above examples would be served well by posting to WordPress or Blogger.

    Just as the inane rantings I can find on WordPress or Blogger aren’t a result of either of those mediums, but rather of the users who create the content.

  58. Juan

    backerman,

    it is also another instance of ‘overcoming’ alienation through still greater alienation such as Debord wrote about in his 1967 Society of the Spectacle which perspectives you, others, might find of interest.

  59. Anonymous

    Twitter is just a way of exchanging headlines. Headline writers are constrained to brevity, perhaps this is the same. Sometimes, “form liberates”. Sometimes people write haiku, for instance.

    How often do you find yourself merely skimming the headlines on some newspaper website, because if you click and go to read the story, you won’t really learn anything more? The “newspaper stories” of most people’s personal lives are even more information content-free.

    The Twitter tweet will be the official currency of the attention economy.

  60. Dave Raithel

    Twitter is a product. It exists to make somebody money, somehow. Whatever good comes from it is accidental, unintended, a gift. Its very name dismisses what birds actually do – communicate with their kind.

  61. Anonymous

    I thought I was the only one who felt this way.. it is very refreshing to see so many others sharing my disdain for the anti-intellectual trends that are gripping our society. Yves, I do not always agree with your views but your blog is amazing, and I admire your passion for what you are doing.

  62. Anonymous

    Also, if you have the inclination to do so, I would love to see more posts like this, as well-honed analytical skills don’t have to just be used on economics ;)

  63. jesse

    thank you thank you thank you. I fear our descent into oceania far more regularly then I would like… my hope however, resides in the fact that indeed we are social beings – and as such, we will push back against the technnological devolution of our collective life…

    … i hope…

  64. Beth

    You all need to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. There is a wonderful argument about the difference between Classicists (I think? It’s been a while, I’ll admit) and Romantics, which appears to be the problem between the Twitter-ers and non-Twitter-ers. The problem here isn’t technology or science, but the differing opinions we all have about their relative benefits and harm.

    Everything in moderation, people.

  65. Greg

    Right on, Beth. Moderation is the key to a long life…in moderation of course.

    I use Twitter and agree whole-heartedly that Twitterspeak and inappropriate cell phone usage are corrosive to interpersonal relations.

    However, using Twitter as a headline grabber, blog gateway, advice forum and quote-feed is lots of fun.

    Twitter is a great complement to other communication channels and should not be seen as a replacement.

    It can even help you practice concise writing!

    Excellent post!

  66. Michael Higgs

    I’ve taken the Twitter 140 character limit and applied it email. I use a script in Entourage that counts characters. My goal is to keep emails under 300 characters. That has helped me be more concise in my emails. It’s helped my colleagues keep there emails to the point as well. As for Twitter, 95% of the tweets between users seem to be the act of link links. That I find it to be a weapon of mass distraction.

  67. Molly

    I googled “Twitter and Orwell’s 1984″ because I wondered if anyone else felt like twitter reminded them of the concept behind Newspeak. I’m so glad I’m not alone. I really enjoyed this post and it echoed a lot of what is in my head regarding emerging social networking technology.

    My biggest problem with Twitter is that I don’t think I have ever read a single post on it that wasn’t self-indulgent and navel-gazing. I don’t care that you love salt bagels, even if you’re my dearest friend.

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