Tweeting the future

A quick post in the morning before going off to school/work. There’s nothing like a little freewrite-ish post in the morning to prepare the morning for a day of hard work ahead. I keep on meaning to do one of the more ‘serious’ posts on this blog but for some reason my fingers stop typing whenever the topic gets a little too professional in any way. When I do a spur-of-the moment writing, however, I can write and write for hours on end, on all sorts of topics from personal to somewhat more academic themes, something that’s really beginning to piss me off. I can write when I want to but I can’t write when I should be writing.

Most of you have heard of twitter by now. I’ve been on it a lot lately jotting down little notes and thoughts via SMS and sometimes even having a small conversation on it time to time. The amount of theme-specific information I can get from twitter, from topics on android development to synthetic biology, is second only to the friendfeed except that twitter has the added benefit of being mobile and more active (I can’t remember the last time someone actually used the physicist room on friendfeed. What gives?). Most of all, twitter provides a tool to create a constant thought-stream from my brain to the net that can be indexed and searched later on by myself or others. Twitter is one of those things that doesn’t sound like much on paper but turns out to be really handy once you figure out how to use it properly. I’m willing to bet that if some sort of ubiquitous connection to the net is implemented in human beings sometime in the future (like the Clatter system imagined by Warren Ellis), it will be in form of twitter rather than IM protocols.

The real life examples of twitter being put into good use are too numerous to write here in its entirety. Lot of people heard about the Mumbai bombing the moment it happened from people standing in the actual ground zero, streaming messages to the net as the events came to pass. I’ve heard about the Russian/US satellite collision incident in the space faster than the local news through twitter. Now these examples are at best gonzo journalism that may or may not appeal to some people out there. How about this? It’s a PLoS article on the benefits of microblogging tool like the twitter in conference reporting. Twitter provides an access for enthusiastic public of scientific bent to gather insight into major academic events and the concise key points that might have been lost in bustle of person-to-person conference. I myself tried to do a little bit of microblogging during the synthetic biology 4.0 in Hong Kong, something I didn’t get to do much due to the difficulty I had with my laptop during the event (like trying to find a suitable power converter). My understanding was that lot of people were still very interested in the venue, both from the professional and hobbyist sector of the public. Twitter provides an efficient networking tool between fellow professionals so that they can share information and insight over the net and beyond.

All of this means nothing. The medium of twitter is new. The very nomenclature of microblogging is quite new to most of us and the bubble we are experiencing may someday die out, perhaps even with the twitter itself. However I do suspect that the very format of microblogging itself will only mature as the time goes on doing what it does best. Providing a human-to-network interface, where everyone becomes a broadcasting center with all their stream of thoughts encoded into digital information regardless of their physical location, accessible by the net as a whole. There will be set backs, and most of the content on the thought-streams will be useless. I mean, who really cares if someone in Brussels had pizza for lunch or not? We must keep in mind, however, that in any form of media any worthwhile content is a mere fraction of the total output of the said media (I think someone came up with a math for this, but can’t quite recall it in the morning rush). There are probably thousands of new books published per day. How many of them are actually worth reading? How many do you actually get to read during your lifetime? The same can be said for movies, or even, academic papers on printed journals.

People are still looking for ways to define what microblogging is and how to use it properly, in both its physical usage and integration of the results of microblogging into conventional infosphere. Like data mining for information within the thought-stream provided by people all over the place. This isn’t some random text cloud we are talking about. This is the kind of information already filtered once or more by living thinking human beings according to their interests. Google and other such information based corporations are probably eyeing the twitter-verse and other potential microblogging services as if they were goldmines.

The potential of twitter and twitter-like microblogging services as a sort of radio station of the future present is really interesting for me. The information people stream into twitter can be channeled through cellphone SMS providing ubiquitous access to information. Say you like works by Bruce Sterling and are interested in hearing more of his thoughts. You can set your twitter account so that you can receive his twitter updates via SMS, wherever you are. That’s basically a radio station isn’t it? It’s only that twitter isn’t censored or regulated by the conventional authority like it is the case with normal or pirate radio station. Twitter, it turns out, is the result of the abstraction of modern technology and infrastructure into simple little pieces that can be integrated into each other.

The question of how to best use twitter still remains a great unknown for me. I do admit that I am a moderate twitter user, doing everything from complaining about some daily event to jotting down notes or thoughts on artificial life and such when I am on the move. I even set my cellphone up so that I can receive updates from some of the more eccentric personalities across the globe on the convenience of my cellphone. What I can’t figure out at the moment is how to use all this ‘properly.’ Every time I use twitter I am surprised by its potential, and at the same time I am enveloped by certain uneasy feeling that I still do not understand twitter, and that there must be some way of using it properly. I feel as though there is some arcane method for twitter that escapes my notice every time I send or receive an SMS update on my cellphone to/from the twitter. And that empty feeling make it impossible for me to predict the future of twitter, and the future of the world with microblogging.

Microblogging is a natural evolution of blogging for people who don’t like to write much. Such statement might sound like a bad thing but it isn’t. Some people don’t want to write stories. They just want to write down ‘something’ without spending a large portion of their life doing it. Not everyone can end up writing ‘In Search of Lost Time.’ Microblogging combined with ubiquitous communications technology give people an output for something to do whenever they feel like doing something. It plays on the basic human instinct to be doing something all the time instead of lying on their backs with dead fish eyes. And the result of the medium of ubiquitous microblogging is a continuous stream of thought posted on the net that numbers in the millions and counting. All of them mine-able for information, all of them capable of being broadcast into any cellphone and any machine with internet access, instantaneously. This makes nomenclatures of web 2.0 look old and grumpy. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of future this picture will evolve into, because I don’t understand what’s happening. I don’t think anyone has a clear picture of what’s happening at this moment.
I guess I should tweet more for the time being.


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