I’ve recently started using Twitter and since I have made a few observations, I decided to compile them briefly as “seven hypotheses.” Unless you write down your ideas while these are still fresh in your mind, your thoughts quickly turn into everyday stuff that you “take for granted.” That is why I have decided to write down my ideas now. The content may be pretty conventional to all of you, so please skip through it as if you were reading a sort of long “tweet.”
Hypothesis 1: As IT progresses, the quality of discussions goes down.
I have been deeply involved in cyberspace networking since the age of PC communications via Nifty. I often posted stuff on FBINC, the Nifty bulletin board. I still remember a so-called “cyberspace interview” when I invited questions during one week on FBINC back in 1996 when I was raising venture capital. I stayed up all night and worked very hard to answer all of the questions. During this time, I met Mr. Makino from Works Applications in cyberspace. Looking at what I said in my posts, he felt that “with this person, I can get along and talk frankly.”
Since then I have migrated to the Internet environment and evolved with blogs, social networking services and Twitter. But when I think about it, it seems to me that the quality of discussions was higher in the age of the Nifty bulletin board. When there is a 140-character limit like the one on Twitter, it is no longer possible to have discussions. Well, to start with, I don’t think there are many people who expect quality discussion on Twitter anyway.
Hypotheses 2: On the other hand, the power of appeal and the sense of realtime are outstanding. By combining Twitter (social networking), blogs and moving images, the individual has a more powerful tool for communication.
On Twitter, there is a sense of realtime and there is a sense of potential in boosting the number of followers to a great extent. On the other hand, as I have stated in Hypothesis 1, the quality of the discussion deteriorates. However, there is a dramatic rise in a capacity for announcements and viral communication. In addition, it is possible to compensate for the weakness of the 140-character limit by combining Twitter with blogs, social networking and moving images. If you have a million followers, you have more power than a newspaper with a million subscribers. Rather than newspaper subscribers, you “gather together a tribe of the likeminded and address countless avatars,” who have a relationship with you (posting at the Davos Conference). This communication can spread infinitely.
Hypotheses 3: When there is less time for intellectual input, it is easier to agitate people.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I access Twitter about 30 minutes a day. This means that I need to cross out 30 minutes of my life. So, what would I cross out? For modern people, there is an enormous increase in time spent on communication. Proportionate with the increase in time spent on mobile emails, Internet and phone calls, there is naturally less time for the input of information. We have the techniques to obtain staggering volumes of information from the general public but going at this rate, isn’t there a decrease in time spent on reading books or thinking? This makes people more suggestible to knowledge perceived through communication. People are driven by perceptions of knowledge rather than the facts. Unless we educate people to probe themselves and think about what’s right in their own heads, based on the facts, I think that there may be many instances where society is mobilized through agitation on Twitter. This is probably the reason why Iran, China and other totalitarian states feel threatened by the acceleration in free communication across the Internet.
Hypothesis 4: Personal information outrivals the mass media.
On the other hand, if people are driven by perceived knowledge, the importance of communication will increase even more in the future. With the increase in Twitter and other grassroots communications, information sharing and transmission is “democratized” with countless opinions discharged in abundance. As a result, the gap between facts and perceived knowledge should be narrowing. However, as I just mentioned, this is on condition that there is an increase in the number of people with “the ability to think with your own head.”
At the Davos Conference, someone asked the following question. “How many journalists are present here?” The next question was “How many people here use blogs, social networking and Twitter?” Basically, personal communication is increasing faster than communication provided by the mass media. There will probably be a time in future when saying “According to Mr. or Ms. So-and-so” will carry more credibility than saying “According to the Nikkei newspaper.” I have one example, the Nikkei newspaper coverage of the Davos Conference was biased towards macro politics and the economy, but the readers may have wanted notes from personal experiences and firsthand information of the Davos Conference. I appreciate being able to access other information than what is presented by the mass media through personal communication.
Hypothesis 5: As communication addiction (junkie) increases, there are fewer opportunities for physical exchange.
Is it not the case that the phrase “communication addiction (junkie)” has come into use with the increase in Internet communication using mobile phones, PCs and other gadgets? Similar to alcoholism and drug addiction, cases of “communication addiction” are on the rise. (Recently, sexual addiction has also emerged. I first learnt about this addiction through the Tiger Woods case.)
The withdrawal symptoms appear if you are deprived of an environment where you can access the Internet for about an hour. If you are cut off from the Internet for a day, you become consumed by feelings of uneasiness (incidentally, I may have already reached this level).
Meanwhile, it is only natural that physical (face-to-face) exchange of information decreases proportionately to the increase in exchange via the Internet. Social withdrawal also increases. Recently, there has been a rise in films like Avatar or Surrogates on the theme of controlling one’s own avatar (one’s other self) or surrogate (a substitute robot) from home or from a capsule. It seems that this is the future path we have set out for ourselves..
Just as we have “days to give the liver a rest,” in the future, it will be important to create “days to give the net a rest.” Unless you take some time off, you become addicted.
Hypothesis 6: Followers on Twitter are in search of sympathy, information, knowledge or something of interest in the whole personality (entertainment).
After all, following or not is down to whether someone is interesting in the subject of discussion or not. You don’t follow unless there is some kind of merit for you. However, the same applies in the real world. The people you want to meet in the real world have some sort of merit to you, whether that may be new information or knowledge, or they make you feel good about yourself and happy, or they shower you with dreams, courage and love.
On Twitter, the hurdles for a follower are lower than in the real world. But, basically, I believe that personal attractiveness in the real world is reflected in cyberspace. In other words, your whole personality is expressed behind those 140 character messages in cyberspace. However, the quality of communication and the number of followers are not always in proportion. In short, it is not always true that numbers necessarily result with the same power as that of voice. More important is who is following you. Just because there is an explosive growth in followers in the short term, long-term popularity does not automatically follow. In the short term, posts that are about the live coverage of the NHK Taiga dramas may be interesting, but in the long term, you lose interest.
Hypothesis 7: At the end of the day, even Twitter will be ousted.
After all, just as things have evolved (devolved) from PC communication to blogs, social networking services and Twitter, there will be a next wave. Sooner or later, people will lose interest in Twitter. I also used to be into social networking, but all the same, I lost interest. Perhaps evolution (devolution) happens through this process of losing interest. Well, fundamentally, all things in the world are transitory.
On that note, I will take it easy with the tweets and not get too headstrong.(^^)
February 13, 2010
In a hut in the mountains