Dead famous: microblogging and morbidity

Paul Raven @ 20-08-2009

Another thought-provoking post from Joanne McNeil of Tomorrow Museum sees her musing on the way Twitter, the 24-hour news cycle and citizen journalism have escalated the death of minor celebrities to the status of the fashionable small-talk of the digerati:

Every day on Twitter, news of another death. Les Paul, John Hughes, Farrah Fawcett, those big names, but also the editor at this publication, the founder of this startup, the people who we might not all know, but someone you know knew them and they are using the space to remember them.

Sure, Maria Shriver’s euology made me sit up straighter and think I want to be like that. But, I mean, was I supposed to be shocked that Eunice Kennedy passed on? I guess it’s small talk of a darker sort. You could talk about the weather or whose heart stopped.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to sign on Twitter, precisely for that reason. What if David Cronenberg died? Or Bill Callahan? Sophia Coppola, Rachel Maddow, Tilda Swinton, anyone I like.

[…]

I still think the web has the capacity to bring out the best and the worst in us. We’re going to look back at the spectacle of Jade Goody’s wedding earlier this year and think how innocent it was, how damn near respectful people were to her and her family. It’s all downhill from here. Death is just something you think about until the next 140 character tweet appears.

I don’t think it’s going to get all that much worse – and if it does, we won’t be appalled by it, because the frog will be boiled slowly – but I’ve long been fascinated by the visceral sense of Zeitgeist that working all day on the web has given me, and there’s definitely a change in my attitudes to different sorts of news. (That said, my complete disinterest in manufactured minor celebrities remains strong, which I’m quite pleased about.)

It’s almost as if dying is the best way to get the whole world to take notice of you these days. But how much harder is it to disappear from view completely? In another of Wired’s more interesting journalistic projects of late, they’re sending off Evan Ratliff with instructions to drop “off the grid” for thirty days, and offering a prize of $5,000 to anyone who finds him using the publically available data trail that he’ll generate. I’ll not be surprised if someone snags him pretty quick  (unless he has some sort of ace in the hole for staying incognito), but the story promises to be interesting whatever the outcome, especially in light of other recent disappearances, successful, deliberate or otherwise.


What #amazonfail says about Twitter

Paul Raven @ 16-04-2009

amazonfail logoTwitter has definitely made the transition from inexplicable geek tool to mass-media buzz phenomenon (as indicated by the plethora of recent posts about it, both here and elsewhere).

The rapidity of Twitter’s rise (and, arguably, its seeming innocuousness) has allowed it to get the jump on organisations unprepared for its power, speed and influence – as demonstrated by the #Amazonfail debacle over the easter weekend.

Jeremiah Tolbert takes a look at #amazonfail, and determines that Twitter is almost the ideal medium for that sort of emergent protest, as well as a warning to organisations big and small that they need to learn to respond to criticism on microblogging networks as quickly as possible:

In the information void that existed on the weekend, many intentions were invented to explain. Right-wingers had collaborated to manipulate the system via tags. Amazon had capitulated to right-wingers and dropped the titles. It was a programming error. A massive conspiracy of internet pranksters manufactured it so that they could feed on the outraged tears of twitter users. And so on.

Much like Nature abhors a vaccum, the internet ahbors an absence of information.

Amazon’s lack of immediate response allowed the controversy to build to unprecedented levels. Rarely have I seen the internet move in one angry direction so effectively. It never would have moved this quickly in the time before Twitter. Email, texts, none of them had the perfect assembly of features and usability that Twitter does.

Much as we were discussing with respect to the Moldovan Twitter revolution, there’s no implicit morality in this system; it gets used to express the hopes, prejudices and fears of its users. Spiraltwist at grinding.be makes the point:

Forget the bot networks. Forget the viruses. All you need is a massive follower list (or enough people to cross pollinate their twitter streams with your message) and people clicking to take down or disrupt websites for a bit. Click. Click. Click.

There must be dozens of technothriller authors across the planet chewing their pencils in frustration at having been pipped to the post by reality on a particularly pertinent Zeitgest plot device…


Twitter – the newest addition to the terrorism toolbox?

Paul Raven @ 27-10-2008

Yes, folks, you read that correctly – Twitter is becoming the latest channel for the multipronged assault on Freedom as promulgated by nebulously defined ideologues everywhere! At least that’s what the US Army intelligence types reckon, ranking Twitter and other microblogging services alongside GPS maps and voice modulation software as the latest potential tools of terror.

I think the person who submitted the story to SlashDot summed it up best: “Just wait until the Army finds out about chat rooms and email!