February 3, 2010 | Leave a Comment
An article in the November 9 NY Times, “Refining the Twitter Explosion“, described changes that Twitter programmers are making to Twitter, changes that are taking steps toward a dramatic realignment of our society.
The article noted that in January 2009, daily traffic was 2.4 million transmissions, but it grew to 26 million tweets by October. Then, the writer Noam Cohen noted the importance of geographic location to high quality information: “Improvements like geolocation have the potential to make the Internet suddenly relevant to society as it is lived, not just relevant to what happens online.”
Twitter at present offers uncannily high quality information, if presented in 140 characters, in real time. A major issue is access to information, which is stymied by Twitter’s present inability to control other variables. That is changing. The NY Times article suggests that Twitter is considering initiating a management tool that allows searchers for content to focus on both time (as long as the time is recent) and place. The article describes the ability to then monitor individuals’ responses to, for example, the Ft. Hood horror, while it’s happening.
I’ve been writing about the growth of these communication tools for two years in the context of evolutionary theory and the tracking of lineage across time and space in a political action context. My focus has been on exploring the birth and distribution of ideas in the way that individuals and species evolve in the context of the environment exerting constant influence. This began with programmer Dave Larson and me. We instituted social networking software that allowed the tracking of multiple degrees of separation in a fashion that permitted a tracing of speed, geographic span and number of participants in the context of political action. That software is up and operating at PJEP.org. I realized that the power of this model and its ability to track transmissions over time, over space, number of users and depth of degree of separation, offered a unique ability to monitor idea gestation, birth, growth and reproduction through communications technologies. Dave suggested cell phone technology made more sense than use through a laptop. Then, I realized that Twitter is already evolving in this direction.
With the news that Twitter is adding on a geographic element to its platform, it is clear that Twitter is exhibiting the kind of flexibility necessary to cooperate with the wisdom of the crowd. What Twitter users are requesting is high quality information. The kind of information becoming available with these tools is only beginning to be understood. An individual is now less than a generation away from access to the evolution of ideas in real time, over time, with an ability to make comparisons over time of varying ideas. At this point, Twitter does not offer much in the way of archived information that can be searched for patterns over time. It is inevitable that the crowd will be seeking to understand information not only in the now, but over time. When time, space, degrees of separation and the numbers of individuals associated with particular ideas are all searchable and then available through reports that offer unique, high quality, interpreted and interpretable information, an unfathomable new zeitgeist emerges.
For example, a poor child in India asks, on her cell phone, the following question: How much faster would the local economy grow if 100,000 cell phones were made available to the poorest people at $1 a month, and how specifically could those phones be used to achieve that goal? The child’s friends start coming up with ideas. The technology would track the evolution of those ideas, including information about which individuals are coming up with the ideas most attended to and which individuals are most involved in the distribution of those ideas. The application would track the speed, geographic span, degrees of separation and number of participants in the discussion. Those results of the discussion evoking the most powerful response would be available to all interested in those results.
A transformation of society featuring the horizontalization of institutions, transparency, diversity and the use of microblogging to trace the evolution of ideas offers a profound shift in the way that individuals relate to their environment. If the kind of access described here is accompanied by the ability of any individual to create a report that offers insight into the patterns now observable by the application, a major shift occurs, with the ability for any person with a cell phone to ask a question that can be answered. Moreover, it is a question that was unanswerable in the past. In other words, the kind of information that the environment can offer shifts to reveal depth of pattern or structure not even conceivable in human history. Regarding ideas, idea origins, distribution, synthesis and reemergence–the stuff that our minds are made of–anyone with a cell phone can go exploring.
I recently attended a conference of local Chicago-area radical and liberal alternative-media specialists, about 75 people, who were seeking a better understanding of how to initiate social change by using new media tools. More than one speaker got up to describe frustration with recent Right Wing successes at marshalling together large numbers of people to behave in specific ways at particular times and places. Clearly, large chunks of the Left do not understand the milieu that we are entering. The forces of change are not taking top-down orders from a single, well financed leader. The evolutionary current is horizontal. Individuals are seeking information, not orders.
This change in technology is reflected in a dramatically changing society. The Left is often unaware of the relationship between a technology that offers high quality information instantaneously and a population that feels empowered to achieve goals. The more features that Twitter acquires and the deeper an individual can dig to discover underlying patterns, the freer a society becomes. A result of that freedom will be a complete redefinition or reevaluation of what freedom and individuality really are. If every individual has access to the same high quality information, then individuality becomes less characterized by how each of us is different than by how each of us uniquely manifests what is the same. Society informed by stratification gives way to an aesthetic society concerned with an appreciation of nuance, not denial.
The direction that Twitter is headed is good. The crowd wisdom informing Twitter’s adjustments is a deep wisdom. It is a wisdom that presupposes we are all connected. Little is hidden. And, each is entitled to understand.