An interesting challenge for Twitter and Facebook

As mentioned in two previous Lexical Geekery entries, I’ve been reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget which is a refreshing manifesto about preserving individual voices in the mishmash of online culture where identity has become something like an endangered phenomenon. Lanier claims with some good justification that computing, networks, and specifically the Internet have accidentally succeeded where Marxists and Fascists both had previously failed: in sublimating the human experience and individual identity into a collective mishmash where everyone plays some small, largely anonymous role in endeavors where the groupthink is more important than individual reason.

Lanier has a set of suggestions for preserving individuality early on in the book, which I’ll paraphrase here:

  • Refrain from anonymous posting unless there is good reason
  • Let your personal expression outside of wikis exceed the effort you put into creating wiki content
  • Make a website from your personal point of view which will not fit into the confines of social media sites
  • Occasionally post a video which took one hundred times longer to make than to watch1
  • Write blog posts that are the result of extended reflection
  • If you twitter, describe your internal experience rather than the trivial external details of your life

It is this last item that really piqued my interest. I’ve experimented with microblogging both on Twitter and on StatusNet sites. I’ve even hosted my own StatusNet sites. StatusNet avoids one of the problems with Twitter—being a «walled garden2»—and potentially solves another: people failing to own and control their own content. While I’ve occasionally found Twitter (and Facebook and Google+ for that matter) to be interesting, I’ve never found any of the social media sites to be particularly compelling.

Lanier provides an interesting challenge, one that is particularly difficult in Twitter’s 140-character environment. So I’m considering rising to that challenge. For the next week or so I’ll start posting to Twitter again with the following rule: I have to restrict myself to expressing a feeling, opinion, or belief from my own subjective experience.

Is it possible to have deeply personal and subjective expression in 140 characters at a time? I’m not certain, but the experiment is a worthwhile one. I ought to apply this rule to Facebook and Google+ as well, but I rarely post in either of those places anyhow. Most likely I’ll just crosspost whatever goes to Twitter. The challenge here is to stay personal in a small amount of space, so Twitter is the best target. The limits are built in there.

Of course I don’t plan to stop posting announcements of any blog posts to Twitter—I think letting people know when I have more than 140 characters’ worth to say on my own website is worthy of continuing. And I don’t mean to be antisocial in social media. If someone responds to me, I’ll reply in whatever manner is appropriate to the question or comment. But I will begin posting to Twitter for at least a week, and I will do so in purely subjective terms.

It is probably a good idea now that I’ve made this declaration of intent to add the Twitter widget back to the front page here at Monochromatic Outlook. Probably it will go on the pane where book reports currently reside. It’s a temporary experiment so I may as well give it some visibility.

  1. Personally I think this should apply to more than just videos. ↩︎

  2. See What Google+ gets right for more about the «walled garden» idea. ↩︎