TWITTER AS A SOCIAL PHENOMENON
In our generation, we have seen Twitter become a phenomenon. But what was behind it? And why the sudden interest in minutia?
I have an idea of what lay behind it. Let me say, right at the get-go that I’m not a historian. Yet, I’ll be talking history for just a moment like I’m an expert, and I’ll be leaving myself open to your censure. At 78, I’ve lived long enough to have experienced my tenure of “history” on my own gut level.
And on the gut level, doggone it, I think we are all very much alike.
So, let’s have a go at it.
Sing along: America, Invincible, God Shed His grace … A little over sixteen years ago, the foundations of our belief system, that America was invincible, crumbled before our eyes. Those great ideas that had been deeply programmed in most Americans over the centuries—the notion that ours was sacred soil—collapsed with the Twin Towers. That was a signal event in our collective feelings. (I won’t apologize for the invalidated use of “feelings” here. To the writer and poet in me, feelings are powerful forces, however fluid, and not always pin-down-able.)
We had enemies in the past, but they were always “over there”. In fact, at the beginning of WWI, George M Cohen penned the famous song “Over there”:
Over there, over there
Send the word, send the word
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums are rum-tumming everywhere.”
We fought for democracy “over there”. American soil, to the mind of the average American, was consecrated ground; it was sacred and inviolable
So after Nine-Eleven, did America need a war “over there”? Don’t expect my stance on this question to be political. Whether we needed an enemy for our national sanity, I’ll not say, but we got one with our invasion of Iraq and the subsequent capture of Saddam Hussein.
Anyone more than 10-years old at the time of the invasion can attest to the overwhelming feeling of patriotism our nation manifested in the early months of 2003.
Oh, to be a flag salesman back then!
Yes, it’s safe to say that on the emotional level the nation needed a war to win.
We live in a messy world. Did the end of the Iraq invasion and Hussein’s capture and execution mean the world was once again safe for democracy?
Did we, all of a sudden, feel safe on our own shores—and more importantly—in our own skin?
Hardly! To both questions!
With our economy in a shambles and unemployment rampant, the media reminded Americans almost daily of the quandary between our need for more airport security vs. the violation of individual civil rights.
Meanwhile, there were several close calls, the shoe-bomber being the most notable. And … all this occurring during a period when we were seemingly impotent in rooting out and capturing the Kingpin of Terrorism: Osama bin Laden.
The result was—if you were to examine your own feelings at the time—a kind of generalized, free-floating fear, or at least dread, of what lay ahead.
I wonder if you remember, a few pages back, my saying (and I really, REALLY do hate quoting myself), but it’s important in this context: “There’s an honesty and innocence there [on Twitter] that really shouldn’t be decried. I’ll go a step further. If we lose that human element even (and especially) while we are trying to promote our causes or hock our wares, we’ll run the risk of losing our Twitter innocence. Individually and collectively we can become all too dry and humorless.”
The Birth of Twitter: Okay, so zoom ahead a couple of years to July, 2006. That was the month Jack Dorsey launched Twitter, and in a remarkably short period of time it became a worldwide phenomenon! To get a hint of why this came to be perhaps we need go no further than the founder’s words:
“ …we came across the word ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”
“Inconsequential information” What could be more reflective of an emotionally fragmented social structure, unconsciously (or in some cases consciously) seeking a mosaic wholeness out of the shards that had been the under-girding of our emotional well-being?
“Chirps from birds”: What better expresses the innate need of a community to bind, each to the other, in the spirit of social interaction? We are flocks. We are herds. When the foundation crumbles at our feet, instinctively we reach out—and within each other’s arms we express our humanity.
Does this mean Jack Dorsey knew he was creating a process that would fill a profound need in the world’s collective psyche, casting its shadow before it, right up to the present day? Of Course not!
Does the new Twitter subscriber have in the forefront of his mind an overpowering desire to throw himself, body and soul, into the warm, fluffy security of the flock?
Certainly not in the forefront of his mind. While he is still, perhaps, a bio-less “egg” (even as I say this, I see the “egg” has been replaced with a circle, and something—I suppose—representing a person inside), and his flock of followers are too sparse to share their own body heat, let along that of the new tweep’s, the process of acquiring those feeling may not occur until after he starts accumulating a sizeable feathery flock of followers.
… Which will be the subject of subsequent chapters.