On Twitter, cyborgs, Mark Growden, and tentacles

Kottke’s defense of Twitter has it right, as far it goes. Things people say on Twitter are no more or less interesting than what they say on the street, or on the phone, or at home. It is like standing next to a conversing couple on the subway platform, but it isn’t just that.

I can only be on one subway platform at a time, but with Twitter and the emerging category of similar and related services oriented towards realtime, perishable information, I can, whenever and to whatever extent I choose, be on as many subway platforms as I can handle all at once. Or I can tesseract from one platform to another. We can even write our own tools to slice and dice the time and space of conversation any way it suits us.

Twitter and its ilk are technologies, no more and no less. Just as telescopes allow us to see farther than we could with the unaided eye, Twitter enhances our ability to pick up on ambient conversations. It makes us all a little bit more cyborg, and a little bit more Sookie Stackhouse too.

I’m a big fan of Mark Growden and his music. I met him at a party in Oakland almost four years ago, and since then I’ve seen him at a handful of events. With the combined magic technologies of foursquare and Twitter, I have a good chance of being able to tell you exactly where he is at any given time. Does that mean that if I know he’s buying groceries at Bi-Rite I’m going to rush down there to say hello? Not necessarily. But the fact that I could — or even more to the point, the fact that I have this invisible tentacle with a Growden-sensor on the end of it that I can tune into whenever I like — takes that much more of the edge off the alienation, or rather, the disconnection, of modern life.

The main things

The main things which seem to me important on their own account, and not merely as means to other things, are knowledge, art, instinctive happiness, and relations of friendship or affection.

— Bertrand Russell