A Neural Net

Mellon Bank Building by Mark Henninger

To me, the most striking thing about the new medium (is it text? speech?) of Twitter is that every single user’s experience is different. Your personal audience and your personal broadcast are both completely unique.

This is a new dynamic. Information is passed in a public forum, yet each person experiences something exclusive. It’s (of course) not like TV, radio or print news (one to many). It’s not like an online forum or article with comments (many to one). It’s something other – maybe most like Second Life, but grounded in reality, in this life.

The comparison I usually make is that it’s like a never-ending, location-free, global cocktail party. But it’s more like each user is carrying their own party with them, see-through bubbles of private shindigs that drift through Platonic space and occasionally intersect.

Managing a few different Twitter accounts for clients has brought this into focus. With one, I’m totally immersed in the world of golf, which gets especially fun and exciting during one of the PGA Tour majors, like this weekend’s US Open, which Rory McIlroy ran away with in record-breaking fashion. On my personal account, I caught only very brief snippets of this happening, and probably wouldn’t have made note of it at all.

Mark's long exposure photo of Koresh Dance Company

Twitter has made it possible to jump into someone else’s shoes – at least from the broadcast side of things – by creating the “following” stream: swap any account into this URL string http://twitter.com/#!/stevesilberman/following and you will see what they see when they log in. There’s also a feature – more like a special attraction than a useful function – that allows you to jump to see what a random account you follow by clicking the arrows at the top right of any “following” page.

This ability to see through others’ eyes is fascinating. It adds to the world-wide connectivity we’re experiencing as a society, enabled by the internet. An analogy from Ray Kurzweil, expressed in the 2009 documentary Transcendent Man, seems apt: as industrial era individuals, we are like single-celled organisms, bacteria or amoebae, swimming along beside others of our kind. As we connect online, we become more and more like a multi-celled being, able to exploit the exponential power and control that comes from collaboration.

Fractal by Mark Henninger

Maybe each Twitter account is like a neuron, stretching out dendrites from a central axon, making many connections and forming pathways, sometimes for a purpose, and sometimes for a dream.

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