How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Twitter

I resisted for a long time, but in the end, I had to know why everyone has been Twittering this spring. It is an application in search of a purpose, I thought to myself, and invited a dozen friends to join me in finding that purpose.

I work in an Interactive department, so my work colleagues gave me a smaller amount of grief and signed up, two academic friends who moderate XML (for the Rossetti Archive) joined without giving me grief, and two whip-smart political friends embraced it and invited their colleagues. I was unable to convince either of my lovely sisters to join, but I learned after joining that quite a few c00l kids of digerati fame were still actively Twittering (a concern, as a late adopter), and I decided to
set it up on my phone and IM.

I’m thinking more and more about portability in apps these days. Perhaps because I’ve spent weekends in airports lately, it seems to me that the apps smaller than three ounces that can easily be placed into and plucked out of a transparent bag win. I want out with my small pieces loosely trailing me, thanks. Make it simple to join, simpler to add profile details and invite my friends, and, as Brian Oberkirch argues pervasively undo (and export). The 2.0 user in me wants, not an easter egg, but an ice cream, in the Cameron Crowe Elizabethtown sense (“Here’s a little something to make you happy. Something sweet that melts in five minutes”).

To clarify the reference, there is one reason why Elizabethtown merits renting, and that reason is Susan Sarandon‘s solo tap dance at her husband’s funeral. Sarandon’s character had never tapped before, and I never updated my Facebook status; we were both soft-shoeing our way toward life streaming.

Two weekends ago, I woke up to rain in Cambridge. Determined to explore before the MiT5 conference registration began, I walked down Memorial Drive without an umbrella,

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and was inspired by the message on this telephone pole. A good beginning to a weekend about media in transition, the full name of this conference started by Henry Jenkins,

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I paused to watch someone feed the ducks and thought about how fantastically garish bright flowers look in the rain.

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The English nerd in me thrilling to literally walk over and around bridges while metaphorically thinking about the fact that I had only one real link at the conference: Scott Rettberg, the digital scholar, Grand Text Auto blogger, and brother of a colleague of mine at the University of Virginia, Eric Rettberg (who grills a mean brat, as I blogged a few weeks ago).

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The first conference day passed quickly, and I was sitting in the Bartos Media Lab Auditorium before the second plenary session that night when, as I quickly checked my Facebook feed and noticed that Eric was now listed as friends with someone I didn’t know, I heard, “Is that Eric Rettberg who has a brother Scott?” asked by woman’s voice over my left shoulder.

I turned to meet Jill Walker, a blog researcher who lives in Norway. “Scott’s right here,” she said, and I turned to deliver Eric’s greeting. I was flattered when Jill twitterfriended me during the plenary and suggested that I friend one of her friends who was also at MiT5, Luca (he has also blogged about twittering at MiT5). Then one of his friends, Fabio Giglietto, also sitting behind me, friended me, and suddenly, I was in a small MiT5 Twitter circle.

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Though at times I was guilty of overTwittering (one Twitter defriending over the weekend), I used Twitter to take notes and carry on conversations with fellow attendees—my tweets had more “@”s, indicating they were directed at specific Twitter users. It was like being able to sit in on multiple panels at once, and reading back through the Twitters gives me a better sense of where I was (in a fuzzy intellectual sense) than the Gmail notes I was writing at the beginning of the conference. Jill was even liveblogging in addition to Twittering, a new goal for me. Maybe at MiT6.

The best and worst thing about Twitter is its shallowness. Tweets are 140-character moments that describe state, often emotional state, rather than plotted geographical location (the reason why I left Plazes and why Twittervision is a fascination tweet aggregation, not conversation).

That purpose I was looking for in Twitter? Emotive mapping through tweet self-tagging. Maybe emotagging follows geotagging. Cheer up, emo kid. Whiny tweets are tedious.

Thinking about my new circle of Twitterers, I hailed a cab on Friday night and asked the driver to go to Harvard Square. “Where in?” he asked, nodding when I named Charley’s Kitchen. “Great hamburgers,” he said, respecting my dive bar decision, and we proceeded to talk about energy healing as the cab raced through side streets. I did Twitter from Charley’s, but didn’t use Twitter as Dodgeball: “Chowhound never fails–magic hat and red sox at a dive bar.” I didn’t have enough characters to Twitter the double cheeseburger and double lobster roll; good beer on tap and sitting on a bar stool watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees with Boston locals took precedence.

Saturday afternoon the weather was beautiful, and I used the lunch break and a panel session to walk from MIT to Harvard Square along the Charles.

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I ordered an excellent bresaola salad and crispy half of a pizza at Cambridge1,

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and then walked to my ultimate destination, the Formaggio Kitchen, where I asked to see the cheese caves, the perfect ending to Grilled Cheese Month (more on those adventures in an upcoming blog post).

I felt it would be insulting to Twitter from the restaurant or on the way to the Formaggio Kitchen, under the assumption that my new Twitter friends would be sitting in panel sessions. I did Twitter as I was hailing a taxi back to MIT, though, to indicate that I was making every attempt to return in time for Jill and Scott’s panel (with Nick Montfort): “Was just in the cheese cave of formaggio kitchen so happy now to hail cab to mit”, forgoing punctuation, but giving a specific location, albeit on my way out.

A few days ago, danah posted a list of open Twitter questions, which prompted me to think harder about my Twitter habits and my Twitter friendships.

I have been too busy to blog, but constantly Twittering in the past few weeks, and my sister Katrina mentioned this weekend that she had read the tweets on to see how I was.

Adding the Twitter friend feed widget to the kthread sidebar (above right) has been an adjustment, as the Twitter widget publishes the status updates of friends (much more than a validating “I Was Here” MyBlogLog appearance). To know where I really am, though, means knowing what my friends are experiencing at the same time.

While I wrote this post tonight, I have also been upset along with Zadi that Griffith Park is burning, hoped the fire wasn’t near my friend Grant’s Santa Monica residence, looked up Loopt when danah twittered to ask if anyone was using it, raided the freezer when Zadi and Steve twittered from Cold Stone Creamery, and just now instant messaged with my friend Brian, who promised to join Twitter when he takes a break from babysitting virtual islands tonight at his night job. And the circle widens…

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