Liminal Existence

On Twitter

Kathy Sierra has a great post, talking about Continuous Partial Attention and Twitter. Before you read my response, go read Kellan’s excellent post on the matter.

Twitter is really nothing new, it’s just new to the web (and IM/SMS). IRC has been around for ages, and functions in much the same way. Campfire, 37signals’ group chat application is a similar application, but more task-focused. So to say that 2006 is the year of the singularity is probably too much of an exaggeration.

I held off on using Twitter for a long time, even though I work at Obvious, because it was too much of an attention drain for me. I have a 5 year old Nokia cell phone, and the SMS experience is one of mind-numbing pain when you receive 15 or 20 SMSes per day (not to mention expensive!). IM, on the other hand, is seamless. Like Kellan, I have verging-on-sub-conscious Growl notifications for IM, and as such I spend less than a second processing each incoming Twitter message.

A phone call, on the other hand, can easily eat half an hour for me, because I don’t “do” the phone very often. I find it intimidating, because most of the time the interactions involve long hold times, anti-human menus, horrible bureaucracy, etc. Email is more distracting than IM or Twitter, and so on. Calling friends and family is also a major time commitment, especially if we haven’t talked in a while.

I’m more than willing to put up with certain levels of interruption in order to have that sense that I “know” what’s going on around me. I have friends who live far away, and whom I don’t speak to on the phone, email, or see regularly. Twitter perfectly fills the gap, and allows us to keep each-other “in the loop”, bringing us closer overall.

Sure, I could close myself off, and just work all day - but I feel like all these emerging (emergent?) “ambient” communication technologies actually help to make me happier, and feel less alone in our highly abstract and disconnected world. Having “community” is extremely important; far more so than our productivity. Maybe it’s just sad that we allow ourselves to live in this paradoxically disconnected online world, “cyberspace” as it were. I like to think of it as just another progression of human adaptation. To say that people are lonelier or happier, more or less fulfilled, busier, or more productive than they were 10, 50, 100, or 500 years ago is a falsehood. We’re different, and we’re all just trying to make the best of where we find ourselves.