TwitterVoice3D: Creativity, Chaos, and Order in the Online World

A few weeks ago, I decided that rather than write words about a technology, I would write code using technology that would hopefully communicate in a way words cannot.

Twitter Voice 3D

TwitterVoice3D is an Adobe AIR app that shows all your friends’ tweets randomly strewn over a 3D world and reads the tweets to you using text-to-speech (it was built with Flash and Papervision3D)

Here is a screenshot and a video (sorry for the poor audio quality)

twittervoice3dscreenshot3

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Tools for Tech Thinking: Andy Crouch on Twitter

Culture Making by Andy CrouchIn the last post, we introduced McLuhan’s Four Laws of Media as a tool for understanding how technology affects us.

This time we’ll look at the questions Andy Crouch has developed in his book Culture Making. He suggests that we should distinguish between “cultural artifacts” (rituals or physical things we make) and the culture(s) that develop in and around them. On his website – www.culture-making.com – visitors apply his five questions to a variety of cultural artifacts, and we’ll apply them to Twitter to see what new things we can learn about it.

1. What does Twitter assume about the world?

  • Twitter – like many of today’s technologies – assumes a world that already has a lot of other technologies such as the internet and mobile phones.
  • More importantly, Twitter assumes that lots of people are constantly connected to some kind of internet enabled device, but are physically disconnected from their friends.

2. What does Twitter assume about the way the world should be?

Twitter wants to make the world better by connecting these physically disconnected people. As Twitter puts it on their home page,

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

In other words, Twitter assumes friends should “stay connected” throughout the day and that the vehicle for this should be “quick, frequent” status messages.

3. What does Twitter make possible?

  • Twitter makes it possible to know a lot about what people are thinking and doing without actually being around them. One interesting result is that friends who see each other infrequently can be up to speed about one another’s life when they meet, allowing them to move quickly into deeper conversation.
  • Twitter also makes it possible to send and receive breaking information extremely quickly. Recently, earthquakes in China, forest fires in California, and a plane crash in Denver were first reported on Twitter by those experiencing the event.
  • Twitter users occasionally use their status to ask their follower for quick help with certain kinds of problems (usually technical).
  • Twitter also makes it possible to quickly organize an event or movement of people (see question 5).

4. What does Twitter make impossible (or at least a lot more difficult)?

  • Theoretically, Twitter makes it impossible to be completely disconnected from one’s friends. However, if one were to follow a few hundred people and read every message that came in, Twitter would also make it impossible to do anything else. It would be impossible to do any meaningful activity (at work or in physically present relationships) while stopping to read a short message every few minutes. A quick Google search on “twitter overload” suggests is an all too common phenomenon.
  • Twitter users often find themselves thinking or saying, “I should so twitter about that.” In a way, Twitter makes it difficult to not consider every event as something worth mentioning on the Internet.
  • When a user has Twitter open for several hours and then closes it, it can be difficult not to wonder “What is everyone doing?” or “Did someone @reply me?” Much like the feeling of phantom waves after being in the ocean for a few hours, the waves of Twitter conversation can take time to die down.
  • Twitter also makes it impossible to share any more than 140 characters. Of course, one can still use other tools for more than 140 characters, but this limitation does shape the kinds of communication found on Twitter.

5. What new culture is created in response to Twitter?

Hundreds of new tools and websites (i.e. new “cultural artifacts”) have been created in response to Twitter, some to extend its functionality, others to help with the aforementioned “twitter overload,” and still others that copy its features.

In addition to new artifacts, a new kind of cultural/communal meeting called a Tweetup has been created by Twitter users. A recent example is Train Friday, an event organized in just a few days by Dallas-area Twitter, many of whom had never met in person.

Conclusions

Crouch’s five questions prove to be another useful tool for understanding not just “How can I use a technology?” but “What does it mean to use this technology?” and “How will this technology change me and the world?” Of course, this is not an exhaustive look at twitter or use of Crouch’s ideas, but I hope it gives you a good start.

Tools for Tech Thinking: McLuhan on Twitter

MarshallMcLuhan The first question we usually ask about technology is “How can this technology be used?” However, as stewards of creation the deeper questions that we should first ask are, “What does it mean to use this technology?” and “How will using this technology affect people?”

Thankfully, there are great thinkers out there than can have developed tools we can use to better understand the nature of a technology. In this first installment, we’ll look at Marshall McLuhan’s Four Laws of Media (also called the Tetrad) from his book Laws of Media and apply them to Twitter as an example.

1. What does Twitter extend?

Twitter-256x256 A car extends our feet and ability to travel. A phone extends our voice and ability to communicate.

  • Twitter also extends our voice, but in a very specific way. It  extends our ability stay “in conversation” about our daily activities and thoughts.

2. What does Twitter make obsolete?

On a technology level, the car made riding horses obsolete. On a human level, cars make walking to a destination obsolete.

  • Twitter makes obsolete older tools like a quick Budweiser “Waaas Up?” phone call, a blog post, or an email. On a human level, it can also make obsolete catching up conversations around a water cooler .

3. What does Twitter retrieve?

A few hundred years ago, when people lived in small communities and worked together regularly, everyone knew what everyone was up to. Today’s large cities take this away.

  • Twitter, along with a lot of social technologies, can retrieve this age-old sense of connectedness. For friends who live in different cities or work in distant offices, Twitter can retrieve the sense of knowing what one’s friends are doing and thinking.

image 4. What does Twitter reverse into if it is over-extended?

This is McLuhan’s “negative” question where he gives examples like the ability to project one’s voice is lost if the microphone is overused and the ability to walk long distances is lost when one relies on vehicles.

  • Twitter can connect physically distant individuals, but when overused it can also isolate a person from those who are physically near (like spouses) reversing into a state of more disconnectedness.
  • Twitter can also reverse into a level of shallowness, because communication is limited to 140 characters.
  • Twitter can also reverse into a mess of noise and distraction since so many voices are speaking  at the same time.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive understanding of Twitter (or McLuhan’s thoughts!), but just applying these four questions sheds a lot of light on what Twitter is.

In the comments, feel free to apply McLuhan’s questions to another technology!

Kid’s Opinions about Hyper-Connectivity

The Low-Tech Times, a fun Neo-Luddite blog on technology, linked to a blog post by Mr. Patty, an Ohio schoolteacher, who asked his students what they thought about the hyper-connectivity of today’s technology. His theory is that many technologies isolate us (texting, emailing, etc.) but that hyper-connectivity tools (twitter in particular) work to bring us back together and feel more connected. At the same time, they can make us into “connectivity addicts.” It’s certainly interesting to see a teacher talk about trade-offs with technology using a blog!

Selected Responses from Students

One positive aspect about being “hyperconnected” is you always can contact a person and know what they are up to. This allows you to keep tabs on all your friends and arrange plans much faster. … One negative factor about being “hyperconnected” is people are constantly on their phones, (me being one of them) and they don’t pay as much attention to the world around them.

There are so many awesome things about being hyper-connected!!! I mean when your bored and there’s nothing to do you can always just text or e-mail someone and have lots of fun. I mean you can’t hold on ten conversations on a phone, but you can hold up ten conversations in text message easy!! It’s a wonderful way to stay connected to old friends; I mean the only time I even talk to my childhood friend is on Myspace. I think its okay as long as it doesn’t get weirdly overboard … There are some down sides; people loose their lives doing this. I mean if you’re to the point where you don’t even go anywhere anymore than you have a problem. Or if you’ve gained ten pounds because all you do is lay around on the computer that’s bad…real bad. People still need to go outside, play some sports, and have contact with the outside world. That’s my opinion!!

The only problem with it is the fact that soon, if not already, we will become too reliant on technology.

Would You Do This in Church?

It’s interesting to see that kids who never experienced the world before hyper-connectivity are still able to see that there are pros and cons to these technologies. I hope Mr. Patty’s thoughtful exercise will not be the last, and that churches (youth groups, in particular) would also engage in this kind of thinking. If so, we might be able to prevent those cases where instead of us using technology, technology is using us.

Ways of Thinking About Technology

image Two recent blog posts, one from Paul and Timothy Bible Conference the other from Justin Buzzard’s Buzzard Blog
offer some helpful thoughts about social networking. The conclusions
and recommendations are excellent, and I think there is room for developing a model for getting to these kinds of conclusions.

(Similarly, there has been a recent discussion of the pros and cons of Twitter at Christ and Pop Culture and a response by Owen Strachan.)

“This Can Be Used for…” Thinking

The
main idea in both articles is that “Facebook can be bad but, if used
properly, Facebook can also be a force for good.” Both authors offer
helpful lists of possible good and bad uses of Facebook. Buzzard’s is
very practical while P&T seems to be more high level. I think these
are the kinds of excellent conclusions and recommendations that we need to be
talking about in the church.

However, somtimes this kind of discussion can be a bit misleading. It has the possibility of making someone assume that because something “can be used for good” it automatically should. That can leave a reader or listener to think that we should primarly evaluate
technology on the basis of morality and usefulness. Buzzard writes,

Technology
(most, not all) is neutral and can be used for good or ill… Internet …
Dispense truth or porn… Approach technology with this lens: neutral,
good or ill.

Here, he means that technology is morally neutral. Buzzard's full presentation goes beyond this idea though to say that facebook itself is not really neutral and that it can have some effects on us just by using it.

Facebook and online life can make you more distracted, changes how you think/attention span (Buzzard)

Buzzard recognizes that Facebook itself – not just how it is used, but that it is used – tends toward distraction. This means that while Facebook may be morally neutral, it is not inherently neutral. This is an excellent way of thinking about a technology like facebook, and I think Buzzard has made some major strides in that direction.

“How Will this Technology Change Me?” Thinking

Instead
of limiting our thinking about technology to the possible moral ends,
we need to think of technology in terms of what it
demands of us and how it will influence us whether it is used for good
or bad ends.

In other words, when we evaluate a technology we need to begin, not on moral grounds or with possible good or bad ends, but with its inherent effects on us. Then we need to compare those influences to our theology of Christian Spirituality and Mission.

A Model for Theological Reflection on Technology

  1. Nature of the Technology
    – Start by asking questions like, What does this technology inherently
    demand of me? What influence will it have on me? How does it affect my
    thinking, my relating, my day-to-day actions?
  2. Theological Grounding
    Ensure that you your theology is robust and well thought out in the
    following areas: What is a human? What is a human relationship? What is
    way of being and doing for which God has made us?
  3. Theological/Technological