The same life in 140 characters

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 29 October 2010

The news of the week came through Twitter. The US social media company had just hired its 300th full-time employee. This was, of course, ‘tweeted’ on Twitter’s very own account and immediately ‘retweeted’ by hundreds of other users. Which probably means that this seminal event is something the whole world needs to be aware of.

Now that Twitter has more than twice as many employees than the number of characters it allows per message, perhaps it’s time to reflect on this latest Internet phenomenon. Preferably, though, the reflection should take place somewhere else since even this paragraph is more than twice as long as the maximum tweet length of 140 characters including spaces.

It’s easy to ridicule those users who need a global stage to share their daily chores. Dozens of people tweet every minute what they had for breakfast – as if anyone cared.

More interestingly, Twitter now seems to be turning into an oracle. Asking that someone ‘throw a shoe at this guy NOW’ was broadcast on ABC TV’s Q&A program only moments before an audience member did just that to former Prime Minister John Howard. The rest is Twitter history (although the ABC claims the studio audience couldn’t read the tweets).

What started off as a tool to revolutionise the way we communicate is looking more and more like the old world we knew, just a tad shorter. Poets are publishing their works (verse by verse, as expected), graphics designers are presenting their ‘text art’ pictures, and politicians are spreading their messages.

And where there’s the opportunity to preach, religion cannot be far, either. Having said that, God’s word sounds very different when condensed into something like ‘Ascension Sunday: Jesus has left the building.’ (Luke 24:46-53)

To round off the picture, celebrities have begun selling product endorsements on their Twitter feeds. To have actress Lindsay Lohan tweet how wonderful she finds your new bath salts or how much she loves your brand of pizza, just pay her US$2,985.80.

The hopes of tech aficionados that the new world of social media would completely change the way we think, talk and work turns out to be a mirage.

People remain people. They are still interested in the same things, talk about the same subjects, and they still have breakfast. Technology may be easier to upgrade than human nature.

Now that’s a thought. I better tell my 89 followers on Twitter.

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