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. 

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