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Twittering

“I Twatted,” Colbert said. That about sums up my view of the latest social networking phenomenon.

Twitter is a service that encourages friends to text maximum 140 character messages to each other answering the question: What Are You Doing? Or, if the activity is assumed: a play-by-play. Twitter, like Facebook and other status bar programs, such as Google’s gchat, encourage self- promotion and the sharing of tid-bits, often in the form of a link to a page or video. The latest version of FaceBook has reflected this new bite-sized bit competition for online attention. The old “status” bar is now the question: What’s On Your Mind? Even the layout of Facebook has changed to resemble Twitter’s more minimalist design.

Why do some people feel so open about sharing themselves online? And why do others recoil from that? I have a friend who deleted all his social networking sites before Twitter came online. He said, “I like my privacy. And besides, who has the time?” Certainly a special kind of person Twitters. You won’t see any folks without access to a computer—still at least 2 billion of the world’s population. You won’t see folks like my friend who values his privacy.

If you sign up for a Twitter account, you’ll have the option of “following” a list of well known Twitter users before you start to find your own friends. A lot of these are news companies and stars. Then you can add your friends and see what one-liners they put up, however often they do it. One could spend HOURS browsing Twitter. So you won’t find a lot of people on Twitter who are extremely busy. President Obama, for instance, or Treasury Secretary Geitner, won’t be posting: “About to go to a discussion with banks and cars to determine future of business.”

I wonder what happens with all that information that goes onto the web. Certainly it’s being copied by someone, and recorded. Every gmail email, for instance, we know is stored on Google’s server. That is what they use to determine what ads are best for you, which is clever and useful. But let’s not forget that the Internet was a Department of Defense project, and its infrastructure is based around a few main lines. The fiber-optics on the west coast, for instance, is connected like Interstate 5 is. At key points, massive bundles of broadband come together to form the “spine” of the system. If the Internet started as essentially a government project, why wouldn’t they have had at least one opportunity to create areas where the spine could be coupled, and copied? In this post-PATRIOT ACT America, is there anyone who seriously doubts that the federal government isn’t at least capable of making their own copy to look at if needed?
So, who cares? What’s the big deal?

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I love the Internet. It’s done a lot of wonderful things, and I think it’s a great place for things like Twitter to compete for our attention. Applications like Facebook and LinkedIn are very helpful to me. What happens fifty years from now, though? How much will we know about each other from online sources? If I keep blogging for 50 years, I’ll have committed millions of words to the web. And that will be just a drop in the ocean compared to everything else. There’s just going to be SO MUCH DATA. How is anyone ever going to be elected president, when there’s so much dirt to sift through? We think it’s a shame that many important appointments to the Obama cabinet are still vacant, in part because of the high standard of vetting, in part because Congress is focused on other things; how hard is it going to be in the future to find sparkling clean officers?

Let’s look at the sparkliest of officers, President Obama, as an example. The president wrote two memoirs before his campaign, in part to promote himself as a good guy, let’s be honest. Money and recognition is, was, and continues to be the number one reason to write memoirs. Yes, they are good transparency. Yes, future leaders might want to follow Obama’s example: it is good to know quite a bit more about you BEFORE you take office, than after. By the way, is anyone else excited about Bush’s memoirs? I am thrilled for them. What was going on in that man’s head? My god. One day it’s, “I’ve attained my father’s dream and am the highest office in the land,” the next, standing on a pile of rubble feeling like a cheerleader for the most important game EVER, and a bit of a shepherd to boot. And then to see it all go so terribly wrong… We knew so much more about Obama than we did Bush, largely because he had written such a lot about himself beforehand. What I really respect about President Obama is that rather than let someone else control the story, he did it himself. That was clever and appropriate. How else did he escape the Chicago Machine so squeaky clean? About the only sketchy thing I’ve read about him, is that he got involved with Rezko in a shady appraisal deal.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/oct/18/whistleblower-hits-obama-friends-appraisal/

As far as that goes, it seems to me that the Obamas wanted to live in a 1.68 million dollar home, rather than in the 1.3 million range. And who can blame them? Everyone was doing it. After reading Chicago Magazine’s feature on Michelle Obama, I wouldn’t be surprised if satisfying his wife’s expectations for an acceptable home was part of the motivation. I must say, I LOVE Michelle Obama in the white house. She is the most inspirational First Lady for me, and I’m so excited about her garden project. To be very clear here, absolutely no sarcasm, straight from the hip: Michelle Obama is flippin’ rad. I love how strict she seems to be with her girls, and how they are so obviously well-mannered when they need to be. They are the kind of family we want the First Family to be: spot-on. I love that they used a puppy as a reward to celebrate their father’s inauguration. (I bet if they had lost, they still would have got the puppy.) I am very okay with the Obamas being the model family for America. Politics aside.

I’ve heard a lot of people compare Obama to McCain as JFK to Nixon, regarding the whole radio generation vs. television generation. JFK just looked so GOOD on TV, apparently, and that was a deciding factor in tilting the vote his way at the end of the race. Obama looks so GOOD with his Blackberry. We like how Internet-savvy he and his team were. How YOUNG they all seemed to be. Time for a CHANGE. Woo-Hoo!

I think that’s pretty true: Obama was the Internet generation candidate, more so than any contender previous to Howard Dean. It’s such a new medium—we haven’t had presidents online for longer than, what, 30 years at the most? Al Gore was apparently with DARPA as far back as its inception. Maybe he’s the big wig with the oldest contact. Anyway. 50 years from now there’s going to be a TON of data to sift through about presidential candidates, and each other. It’s going to be wild to watch it all unfold. How much of that, do you think, will be sifting through the shelled relics of Twitter and Facebook?

2 Comments

  1. Ted C wrote:

    Actually, Roman, Obama IS on Twitter, or at least his GhostTweeters are.

    My Mom just joined Facebook, which made me think: how many photos of me will there be on Facebook when I am my Mom’s age? How many friends will I have?

    Good thing our capability to squeeze capacitors onto a chip is growing faster than out population…

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 3:47 am | Permalink
  2. Jim Sligh wrote:

    The notion I’ve read, and I think it’s true, is that in fifty years dirt won’t matter so much anymore in a candidate – at least not the kind of dirt heralded by, say, drunk facebook pictures or texted misstatements. I mean, Obama’s admitted to doing coke. Ten years ago, we couldn’t even get Clinton to admit he inhaled. (I forget whether Bush admitted to all the drugs he did while he was an alcoholic Yalie.) For instance.

    I’m less worried about dirt & more worried about the flood-of-data, especially as regards cultural production.

    Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

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