Had I never met the Champagne Socialist, I may have dismissed him out of hand. On February 16th, he wrote:
I used to doubt the usefulness of Twitter because all it really does is replicate one feature of Facebook — the status update. But that’s exactly the difference. Because that’s all Twitter is, and because it’s much more open, it changes the way people use it. [emphasis added]
I can’t stand the comparison between Facebook and Twitter. A truly interesting phenomenon is that people tend to conceptualize the internet in terms of how they use it, rather than as a concrete entity. If I ever do write a thesis, it would certainly be on Internet Philosophy, how each person uses it completely differently and adapts it to their own world view. But the internet, unlike reality, has an accessible actuality. Twitter isn’t just a Facebook status update. Facebook wants your friends to know “what’s on your mind”; Twitter wants to know “what’s happening”. Twitter was intended to reach a wide audience of people you both knew and didn’t know, to be a realtime communication tool. Facebook was intended to let you friends and family, your (non-publicly accessible) peer group, have a glimpse at what you were up to during your day. They are separate websites with separate goals, although they are functionally similar from a user standpoint.
The author of the Champagne Socialist blog is, in his own words, a “recent but enthusiastic convert” to twitter, whereas I am what some would call an early adopter. On the other hand, I came late to Facebook. I had been on Twitter, Blogger, Livejournal, Diaryland, Wordpress, Tumblr, Delicious, etc., etc. … I didn’t see the point of Facebook, and felt that Myspace and Friendster (which I had tried) were lackluster services. I didn’t see why Facebook would succeed where they had failed, and didn’t sign up until some point in 2007. I’m still not a huge fan of Facebook, whereas most people today are what you would call Facebook Fanatics. For me, Twitter came first, and Facebook status updates “imitated” Twitter. For most others, Facebook came first. For the average internet user today, Facebook is where the internet starts and ends. For the average user, then, to say Twitter “replicates” the Facebook status is not only fair, but entirely accurate.
(The rest of that article is good, by the way. It emphasizes the importance of Twitter in the political sphere, something I have only recently come to appreciate. You should read it.)
The point to all of this is that people use the internet in vastly different ways, a fact that has always fascinated me. Moreover, the way each person uses the internet is the way they consider “correct”; I myself am guilty of this, so that when someone says something I disagree with my first reaction is to write a long, rambling blog post.
One thing I have never really been into on the internet is streaming media. I am aware of radio on the internet, but podcasts, livestreaming, and even things like ustream have never really interested me. Youtube only holds my attention for a few minutes a day, compared to the hours I’ll spend reading Thought Catalog. But a few weeks ago this blogger/ tweeter / colleague in law school introduced me to CBC Radio 3 online, and it became not only the soundtrack for my exam study period, but a staple of my morning routine. Now I wake up and turn on the CBC, to hear amazing, independent music which I would never have heard anywhere else.
So now I see the validity in the statement that Twitter imitates Facebook. The CBC was always there, always broadcasting, but for me it didn’t exist until someone forwarded me the link. For most there was no Twitter until they’d already shared with 240 of their closest Facebook friends how they rocked their Psych 101 final. The Internet exists on its own, but it also changes with you, opens and adapts to your purposes. My Internet is different now than it was a few weeks ago. My use of Twitter has changed from following comedians and other things internet to tracking the upcoming election, the progress of my hockey team, and things happening in real life. The first tab I open in the morning is no longer my carefully crafted collection of Google Reader feeds; now I head straight to the Globe and Mail and CBC Radio 3, a window into things that are actually happening.
My internet changed when I was living in a library basement for 13 hours a day. I lost touch with what was going on in the outside world. I didn’t have time to sift through a hundred comics and blogs for entertainment. My iTunes catalogue became a veritable wasteland of uninteresting, overplayed music. When I had to abandon the Internet as I knew it to work harder than I’ve ever worked, live music streaming, news sites, and an adapted purpose for Twitter kept me going. Whether you get there early, late, or with the rest of the pack, the internet meets you where you are in life. As I finished my first year of law school, I turned on the CBC.