Twitter’s purpose is still widely misunderstood, and many people think they have no need for it. But it has great potential to enlighten us. Here’s how:
We are a specialized species. Each of us lives a different life with unique passions, intellectual pursuits and hobbies. We choose a path and along the way amass a distinct collection knowledge. But what if we could peek into each other’s minds to gain insight from the roads we’ll never travel? Well, we can. That’s the magic of Twitter.
It’s inherently flexible. Twitter is a skeleton its users bring to life. Yes, we can share what we’re having for breakfast or what we watch on TV. But at its best, Twitter is a tool for distilling understanding of the world into the most digestible format possible.
Imagine a scientist on the other side of the planet. They read and research all day, spending time the rest of us don’t have. Then they filter through all the noise and esoteric details, choosing the most important things they’ve learned. The scientist condenses these complex concepts into simple, widely comprehensible 140-character slices of information, and tweets them.
In essence, the author has done a ton of “server-side processing” — work on their end to make their output as rich and efficient as possible. The goal is to maximize the ease of consuming the information. If they succeed, we, by reading their tweets, effectively gain a great deal of their insight without putting in much effort. Rather than doing all that reading and research, and pouring a lifetime into specializing in that field to be able to make sense of it, we just get the reward. Knowledge.
By following the right people on Twitter, we could see the world like a quantum physicist, movie critic, artist, explorer or entrepreneur. Even “normal” people have something special to say about how they interpret existence, and there is joy in more vividly seeing our friends’ perspectives.
Reading tweets won’t make us experts in all these areas. But our mortal lives are short. There’s not enough time to grasp the intricacies of everything. Twitter is a shortcut to the next best alternative – understanding through the help of those who truly understand.
Teaching us to refine our life experience into precise words — to transform coal to diamond — will be one of Twitter’s greatest challenges. It’s a skill in and of itself, and Twitter must convince us that aiding others is worth the trouble.
Even tougher may be leading us to follow the right people…and unfollow the wrong people. Twitter’s uncensored stream of information is vulnerable to blatherers more interested in self-promotion and hearing themselves talk than educating their audience. If these challenges can’t be beat, the value of Twitter falls apart.
While humankind has long sought to pool its knowledge, never has the process been so efficient, portable and accessible. We don’t have to buy, lug around, and read through hundreds of pages of a book to learn. We needn’t lock ourselves in a library or laboratory. And we don’t need a personal friendship or private meeting with someone to hear their thoughts. In fact, Twitter opens a two-way street between us all, ideally creating a conversation, not a broadcast.
The Internet gave everyone a way to share. But Twitter’s character limit and real-time nature delivers us condensed, pre-filtered, ready-to-consume intelligence rather than making us hunt for it.
Twitter could spawn communities where there were once just scattered aficionados who thought they were alone. Its distribution of information could empower the repressed, giving a voice to those some sought to silence.
So if you’re asked why Twitter matters, you can tell people that, at its heart, Twitter is about leveraging the specialization of our species. So even if we each take a different road, we all reach the destination of wisdom together.
[Images Via Fail Whale designer Yiying Lu]