Blog Post

happy birthday twitter!: some reflections

As reported on NPR, Twitter Turns Five: #happybirthday!"

Twitter co-founder Isaac "Biz" Stone was on call to answer questions about Twitter, the social networking site that "boasts 200 million users, who send more than 100 million tweets each day." The short interview, covers  the origins of Twitter, to why 140 characters, and questions of the impact of Twitter on revolutions--in Egypt and all over the world. 

I love Stone's answer and insight, which I'll repost here:

"Tools like Twitter are just that: they're tools," he says. "I'd be the first to admit that forwarding an email, or sending a text message, or writing a tweet isn't exactly the same as true activism, but it's in support of activism, and it helps."

In particular, I'm interested in the changes of social activism on college campuses.  At UC Berkeley protests on the CA budget cuts, in particular, Twitter served as a 'tool' to help facilitate organizing and activism (Student activists knew where to go, what to do, where to stay away from: informed) The UC administration on the other hand, also utilized digital tools, primarily sending emails like this: 

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From:  "Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor" <>
Subject:  Latest Update on Wheeler
Date:  Fri, November 20, 2009 6:19 pm
To:  "Academic Senate Faculty, Staff, All Academic Titles, Other Members of the Campus Community, Students," <>

Since 3:00 p.m. today a group of senior administrators, faculty, and student leaders
have been reaching out to the protestors inside Wheeler Hall.  Attempts to engage in
a conversation with the 15 to 30 protestors estimated to be in the building have
been refused.  The protestors are demanding reinstatement of 38 AFSCME custodial
staff who were recently laid off and amnesty and the dropping of charges against any
of the protestors.  Today's takeover of Wheeler Hall has affected 3800 students who
were not able to attend classes in Wheeler Hall, as well as many others who have
offices and work in the building.  Activities in many other campus buildings were
disrupted by falsely activating fire alarms. We continue to attempt to resolve the
situation and encourage the protestors to leave the building of their own accord.

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I joined Twitter in 2010, just after the winter break. I was visiting my old work and life before graduate school (the very awesome actors trade magazine Back Stage) where I talked with the journalist and writer Sarah Kuhn, who told me about her active Twitter. Thought it would be a good way to stay in touch.  Since then, I had posted a few tweets, but have to admit, Im better on email, and I haven't been the best tweeter,

def not like the Americas Tweethearts featured on Vanity Fair in 2010) Tweethearts

"From left to right: social strategist Julia Roy (31,000 followers), publicist Sarah Evans (33,000 followers), travel journalist Stefanie Michaels (1.4 million followers), actress Felicia Day (1.6 million followers), lifecaster Sarah Austin (24,000 followers), and marketer Amy Jo Martin (1.2 million followers). Photograph by Michael Halsband." (Vanity Fair) 



even though Im not the best tweeter, only 7 thus far, I have been a consumer of twitter, and a follower in terms of Twitter's social impact on culture, activism as well as literature. (How could we not?) Even if I'm hesitant, I've assimilated and Im ready to try again...soon! As my first 2 tweets cautioned and foretold:

  1. revised: my first *tweet* ...the assimilation is not painful yet, but is this a good thing?12:49 PM Feb 8th, 2010 via web
  2. my first twitter post(?) hopefully my twitter name is hip enough for this cloud space. i hope assimilation wont be too painful!12:44 PM Feb 8th, 2010 via web
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The book Twitterature was published by Penguin in 2009. Upon a visit to the local bookstore, I picked up the book and was intrigued.... Written by two authors Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin, both bios begin, "....was born in 1990." Twitterature offers: 

"Here you will find over eighty of the greatest works of western literature from Beowulf to Bronte, from Kafka to Kerouac, and from Dostoevsky to Dickens each distilled through the voice of Twitter to its purest, pithiest essence. Including a full glossary of online acronyms and Twitterary terms to aid the amateur, Twitterature provides everything you need to master the literature of the civilized world, while relieving you of the burdensome task of reading it." 

Like a cliff notes/poetry/sardonic literature, 'Twitterature' goes through several great works of art, primarily novels, as the authors, "...present their most essential elements, distilled into the voice of Twitter--and give you everything you need to master the literature of the civilized world." (xv) 

As the authors continue to write in their foreword: "What exactly is Hamlet trying to tell me? ....Such questions are no doubt troubling -- and we believe they would have been resolved were the Prince of Denmark a registered user on, well versed in the idiosyncrasies and idioms of the modern day. And this, in essence, is what we have done. We have liberated poor Hamlet from the rigorous literary constraints of the sixteenth century and made him --without losing an ounce of wisdom, beauty, wit, or angst--a happening youngster. Just like you dear reader." 

I'm not "a happening youngster," but its interesting to think how "a happening younger" reviews and interprets the classic novels. 

Upon a read, obviously, the series of 10 imagined tweets can't do 'Moby Dick' justice, and the pleasure in reading the tweets comes from having read the novels themselves. Like the cultural references on 'The Simpsons.' Mostly, I think about how the exercise in writing imagined tweets from classic novels, could serve as fantastic constructionist learning for students. Those who may have difficulty entering classics like Anna Karenina, through traditional literary analysis.

But in any case, who would've thought Romeo would tweet: "Mercutio, you horse dropping. Why'd you have to die? @PrinceofCats: One of us is joining him.....NOT IT!" or Humbert Humbert would tweet on his last day of freedom, "Can you imagine me in jail? Not for pedophilia, but for murder. You're never in for what you deserve. Sigh. So let me tell you a story." 

And these two 'tweets' from Waiting for Gogot: 

"Still waiting. Trying not to think of this awful, frustrating situational metaphor we've found ourselves stuck in." 

"Shit, I just lost the Game." 

What would Beckett tweet @? I wonder?

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In any case, much to celebrate for Twitter. In particular, I'm looking forward to a new book


twitter revolution egypt 300x140 Tweets from Egypts revolution to be compiled into a book

"The Twitter accounts of the activists who brought heady days of revolution to Egypt in January and February this year paint an exhilarating picture of an uprising in real-time. Thousands of young people documented on cell phones every stage of their revolution, as it happened. This book brings together a selection of key tweets in a compelling, fast-paced narrative, allowing the story of the uprising to be told directly by the people in Cairos Tahrir Square." 

Tweets from Tahrir from OR Books on Vimeo.

Happy Belated Birthday Dear Twitter


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