March 24th, 2009
I’m finding a couple of core assumptions in this article just plain wrong. The first is this:
Twitter may be a cutting-edge technology, but it is thriving because it taps into primal forces. The ranks of its users rose about 900 percent last year because it increases that most cherished human value — freedom, both for information and individuals.
Sorry, but no. People don’t cherish freedom. They like to say they do, but they don’t. The most cherished human value is companionship. Society. Company. Community. Just being part of a larger group and having people to blether inane nonsense with. That’s all. That’s what people want. Most people would give up freedom without a second thought if they realised that accepting it would call their sense of belonging in a community into question. Humans are, after all, rather skitterish, fearful creatures.
Now, my little experiment with Twitter is all of a day and a half old, and so is extremely limited, but my early impression is that this community is precisely what Twitter provides. I mean, there’s a bloody good reason why the term “social network” was coined. It’s got nothing to bloody do with freedom and everything to do with acting out online the very same community-seeking behaviour we perform in the real world. And how many studies now have shown that regular internet users actually have more real-world social encounters? (I’m too lazy to google it right now) Isn’t that proof enough that what SNS users- be they facebookers, twitterers, kaixinwangers or whatever- are after? And after all, social networking is the stated goal of all of these websites, something they all advertise as a key function of the service they provide, whereas “freedom” is very rarely mentioned.
And reading on, no, I’m not convinced, not even close to it, that Twitter and its social networking brethren allow us that magic combo of narcissism and control or freedom from the unpredictability of direct interaction. Online communication, after all, is at least as unpredictable as face-to-face interaction. That’s not what these things are about. Social networking services are about precisely what they call themselves: Social networking. It’s about being part of a community. That’s all.
Now, allow me to get all preacherly (I am, it must be said, descended from a long and distinguished line of preachers): The beauty of all this SNS stuff is that we can now build communities that are no longer limited by borders, timezones, warzones, ethnic or national differences, or any of that nonsense. The only limits now are in our own linguistic abilities, and anybody can learn a new language or two. And that, friends, is an awesome thing. We can befriend and build communities with people scattered over the continents from a multitude of backgrounds, thereby expanding our horizons and deepening our understanding of the world.
Ok, that’s the way I see it. All this newfangled internet stuff, from email and blogs all the way through to whatever nonsense replaces Twitter as The Next Big Thing, is all about community. Nothing more, nothing less.