June 5, 2009
By Steven Johnson
The article begins by asking “Why does the world need this, exactly?” and then explains not why we need it, but rather how we use it. It explains how it has changed the culture and how it has changed communication between people overall.
In the beginning, people were skeptical about the success of twitter because it is so limited. How can you say something of great importance with only 140 characters? Well, it seems that following someone on twitter gives you “a strangely satisfying glimpse of their daily routines”. This gives you insight as to how your friends, coworkers, and favorite teachers spend their day.
One way, Johnson states, that twitter will change the way we live is the open conversation. He attended a conference in Manhattan with 39 other people and had a six-hour conversation about the future of schools. In this conference they opened a conversation in twitter and therefore could also include others who were not at the conference and even keep the conversation that ensued going after they left the conference. The author states “[i]njecting twitter into that conversation changed the rules of engagement. It added a second layer of discussion and brought a wider audience into what would have been a private exchange”.
The second change he writes about is the “super-fresh web”. Through twitter, people get up-to-date relevant information from the people they are following. Many of these include celebrities and that makes the average person feel closer and more in tune to the celebrity they admire.
Twitter has also recently added a search box by where you can search for popular topics. This feature attempts to bring the tweets together by creating an avenue by which they can actually converse. Critics have long talked “about the demise of shared national experiences, like moon landings and “Who Shot J.R.” cliff hangers”, but twitter is actually bringing those same conversations back…only on the computer. We are again one united group of people experiencing the same thing and have an outlet to discuss it with each other in real time.
The third argument that the author makes is that twitter is turning “toasters to microwaves”. Twitter has designed a website that has grown beyond its initial purpose and has taken on a life of its own through its users. With the “hashtag” (#) and the reply (@), “its core features and applications,” twitter can be used in a different context than it was intended for. It has spawned numerous applications with the new PDAs and smartphones. And these innovations were created by its end user. “It's like inventing a toaster oven and then looking around a year later and seeing that your customers have of their own accord figured out a way to turn it into a microwave.”
Johnson then goes on to say how twitter changes our news and opinion. Because we are constantly linked to people, we read what they’re reading through posts and links and we have basically made our own customized newspaper.
He also states that twitter is changing the way we search for information. Google is a search engine monopoly that gives its user the most popular and relevant results, whereas twitter customizes and personalizes the experience for the end user. An example used in the article is that “if you're looking for advice on sibling rivalry, an article recommended by a friend of a friend might well be the best place to start”.
Twitter also changes the way advertisers attract customers. It gives people access to their favorite brands and at a moment’s notice, customer service. It increases impressions, the metrics which advertising is based on, and therefore increases brand awareness. It creates a personal connection with the brand or celebrity, increasing brand acceptance.
The last way that twitter is changing the way we live is end-user innovation. With twitter, users must be creative in order to get their message out the way they want it. I can’t say it any better than the author, so this direct quote surmises the idea.
“The speed with which users have extended Twitter's platform points to a larger truth about modern innovation. When we talk about innovation and global competitiveness, we tend to fall back on the easy metric of patents and Ph.D.s. It turns out the U.S. share of both has been in steady decline since peaking in the early '70s. (In 1970, more than 50% of the world's graduate degrees in science and engineering were issued by U.S. universities.) Since the mid-'80s, a long progression of doomsayers have warned that our declining market share in the patents-and-Ph.D.s business augurs dark times for American innovation. The specific threats have changed. It was the Japanese who would destroy us in the '80s; now it's China and India.
But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn't build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.”
And the best part about it all is this: we are in some dire economic times and it seems that the world is falling apart, and all we want to do is “[sit] around trying to invent new ways to talk to one another”.