Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Couple Of Related Thoughts

Most of you will know that FLG has been ardently anti-Twitter for as long as Twitter has been around. Well, yesterday, Bill Keller wrote:
Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from . . . from . . . wait, what was I saying?

My mistrust of social media is intensified by the ephemeral nature of these communications. They are the epitome of in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, which was my mother’s trope for a failure to connect.

On the other hand, FLG doesn't agree with this:
I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, and I don’t think I’m a Luddite. I edit a newspaper that has embraced new media with creative, prizewinning gusto. I get that the Web reaches and engages a vast, global audience, that it invites participation and facilitates — up to a point — newsgathering.

FLG thinks the Web facilitates newgathering immensely. And in particular, as much as FLG hates to admit it, Twitter probably facilitates it most. Or rather will facilitate it most.

Look, being an economics major, FLG is the last person to think that information can be easily gathered, ordered, prioritized, and analyzed. Instead of doing that, at least in free markets, we rely upon countless people making countless decisions with their countless little bits of information, which is then consolidated into a tremendously powerful metric known as price.

Why should economic information be any different than other information? If we consider that consequential knowledge is extremely diffuse in nature, then price mechanisms and many-to-many technologies, like Twitter, are the best ways to gather information. (See OBL death story.) FLG just doesn't think anybody has found a way to aggregate Twitter data into a price mechanism though.

On the other hand, as somebody superawesome wrote over a year ago:
Communication technology has become more powerful, but its increasing power is almost indirectly proportional to its conduciveness to contemplation. Although blogs are not limited technologically to short length, unlike Twitter or text messages, both Crystal and Sullivan use words like ‘ephemeral’ and ‘impermanent’ to describe the content distributed via these new communication media. The speed and volume of communication renders each individual message correspondingly less meaningful. The communication provided by these technologies is therefore less conducive to contemplation and leisure than printed books. Indeed, it is comical to think of a scholar putting down his books to retire in contemplation with his cell phone or Twitter account.

Postman articulates the fundamental problem technology presents:
Technology increases the available supply of information. As the supply is increased, control mechanisms are strained. Additional control mechanisms are needed to cope with new information. When additional control mechanisms are themselves technical, they in turn further increase the supply of information. When the supply of information is no longer controllable, a general breakdown in psychic tranquility and social purpose occurs. Without defenses, people have no way of finding meaning in their experiences, lose their capacity to remember, and have difficult imagining reasonable futures.

Communication technology deluges individuals with information and data. Each technological development increases the amount and speed of data and information, but also provides less context for how that data relates to human beings. Moreover, the flood of information dehumanizes communication. People interact more with a disembodied and seemingly never-ending queue of tasks represented by their email inbox, Blackberry, or voicemail, and with less of a sense that people are sending them those messages.

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