New Technology: Exploration versus Utility (Microblogging and Its Discontents)

August 24th, 2007 | Category: Marginalia

As much as I think it’s cool that I can update a tiny piece of text on my website from my phone (that little speech bubble on the right side), I’m still wondering and exploring what kind of utility Twitter and its ilk are really offering. I often find my friends’ posts mildly interesting — especially when viewed over time — but “mildly interesting” does not a useful communication tool make.As in many other strata of communication, microblogging is often self-referential. That is, people in the community of practice quickest to adopt such a technology (e.g., the users of AdvOp) post about using the tool or the tool itself. While useful in spreading the word, this practice’s utility runs thin very quickly (especially when the tool in question allows less than 200 characters per communiqué).

But, not everything has to be useful in an overt, productive, workplace kind of way to have import in our lives, right? It’s not like microblogging is going to save us from an overall increase in global temperatures or make our jobs so easy that we don’t have to show up anymore, but neither do DVDs, cellphones, or Slayer CDs, and I certainly don’t want any of those to go away.

The point of many technological advances — and the point of adopting them — is not necessarily to get work done. A lot of the time, they’re developed and we try them out just to explore the possibilities.

I can’t think of a long-term use for microblogging, and I’d certainly love to see one, but I’m currently seduced by the system in spite of myself: I like posting whatever mental ephemera to Twitter I can think of — just because it’s there.

Further Posting:


  • Ryan said:

    Micro blogging has helped me post about the most ridiculous stuff. It’s sort of like when I first figured out that taking as many pictures as I wanted with a digital camera didn’t cost any more. I was so used to being away of the price per photo before that I spent more time planning out my shots. Then I went through a phase of shooting anything and everything. I’ve refined my skills a bit with digital photography, now I just need to with micro blogging.

  • Roy Christopher (author) said:

    Great analogy, Ryan. I’m anxious to see the “good pictures” that come from microblogging.

    In my stream so far, Steven Shaviro‘s micro-reviews are great (he’s using the medium in an interesting way, as opposed to just posting whatever), Warren Ellis is always great, and Xeni Jardin‘s posts are consistently fun. I guess interesting writers remain interesting in single servings.

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