Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Think, I Tweet

Social Media Blues - Funny Song About Social Media :)

So I fall in love to this new kid on social media block. Its avatar is cute, a blue bird with pouty beak that millions of netizens agreed to call as Twitter.

I started tweeting in the beginning of 2010 when I got bored of too many dramas I saw on Facebook. Yet I only started to tweet regularly after a friend of mine, Hoongling, took me to a New Year's day twit-up (that stands for "twitter meet up")in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. More than 200 tweeps (people who tweet) attended that gathering and I was impressed by the great human relations happening there, like people knew each other and looked very comfortable hanging out together. That was a kind of closeness that I only saw on Blogger gatherings. Later I learned that it was because of the openness they share on Twitter.

In that very night I met a great companion for a day trip to Malacca. A very nice, fun, and smart girl named Jerine and I was impressed to see how Twitter was an inseparable part of her life. :) Sitting at an old cafe in Malacca, I saw a vintage painting on the wall displaying two monks facing each other, lifting a box above their head. I was sure it meant something, and I was wishing that the Chinese characters written there could explain. I asked her, and she popped the question on Twitter. Poof. In less than three minutes she told me,
"It says, 'letting go and be free'."
Five tweeps answered her question immediately.
So that was it. I was impressed.

I followed news agencies and disaster information portals, and I started to check my twitter regularly. Soon I found the cool thing about it. I'm so quickly updated with new information. By then I realized that the journalist personality in me still crave for news and so much information. Twitter fulfills my craving.

By January 2011 I still had problem with Twitter's 140 characters limitation. 140 characters are too short to express an idea. However, just like in real life, eventually I learned to express my ideas using the language of Twitter world. I started to recall Marshall McLuhan's theory, saying that "the medium is the message". It's the medium that defines the way we think, perceive, and convey the message or information. So I learned to cramp my idea into 140 characters, and if I need more, I made it a series of tweet. This, in a way pushes me to convey only the main idea.

I think Twitter is unique for it can be both very personal and very impersonal. Its simple features allow many Tweeps to share their personal thoughts and stories in the simplest way possible. In Twitter I have seen many celebrities open up and speak up in the way that I don't see on TV or newspapers. Many people seems to have a common agreement that they can be free to be what they are in Twitter. Some celebrities I know even swear, argue, and exhchange some arguments with their annoying followers or friends. My most impressive moment so far was a morning when @wimar (Wimar Witoelar, a PR expert and the spokesperson of Abdurrahman Wahid, our ex President)tweeted me asking, "So, how do you do disaster risk reduction?", followed with an offer to interview me for his independent TV program. This could not happen without the openness of Twitter, that erases walls between people (or strangers).

Twitter is amazing for its openness allow a Justin Bieber to speak with its fans directly, Helen Clark of UNDP (@HelenClarkUNDP)to discuss with other Tweeps, Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) of CNN to greet a happy birthday to make his fan's day. The trending topics are even more interesting to watch. From social movement for Mobarak's resignation up to a joke of Frying Nemo, Nuclear Radiation issue up to mean words addressed to Selena Gomez, it's just amazing to see the scattered clouds of thoughts from people worldwide gather and form a universal, massive voice.

Unlike in Facebook, Twitter makes it easy to follow or unfollow a person, and there is again, some kind of common agreement that people should not make a great deal about following or not following, being followed or being unfollowed. The openness allow that kind of shallow, impersonal relationship to happen and thus a tweep who would like to 'unfollow' someone does not have to think as much as a Facebook user who needs to 'unfriend' his Facebook friend. See, even the word "unfollow" sounds mild and "unfriend" sounds very cruel? Really, I am a believer of linguistic relativity theory: the language used affects the way people think, feel, and behave.

As a social media, Twitter have created an environment in which people who socialize in it develops mutual understanding. One day one of my favorite Twitter celebrity, @SoDamnTrue wrote something like "I tweet because changing status 100 times a day is socially unacceptable in Facebook". This simple statement pinpointed a phenomena: both Twitter and Facebook have established social group with certain cultures, in which its members - who comes from every corner of the earth - accept some rules on what is acceptable and what is not and take those rules for granted simply because they "live" in it. This is unique because Facebook's terms and conditions had never stipulated any rules saying or advising the minimum or maximum number of status updates in a certain period of time. Neither had Twitter.

Even though Twitter asks "What's happening?" and Facebook asks "What's in your mind?", their users answered those questions alternately in both media. Many tweets are about what are in Tweeps' mind, and many Facebook statuses are about what happen to the Facebookers. The thing is, the culture in Twitter that I mentioned above gives more freedom to Tweeps to tweet multiple times without expecting people raising their eyebrows seeing the frequent updates.

In the beginning of Twitter trends, many users I know - including myself - felt uncomfortable to see the floods (not only streams) of tweets from the accounts we follow in our timelines. Really, some tweets are not fun to read, because they could be between, "sleepy." "tired". or "@xxxx oh. LOL.", or even some unpleasant jokes that I don't feel like reading. The easiness of unfollowing and the less worry of offending a person allow users to control certain kinds of information they want to see. And off course, it is a good thing.

Lately I think that the Narcissism Epidemic as concerned by Twenge and Campbell can be reduced by Twitter. Unlike Facebook that encourages people to be narcissistic by providing all features to display the best of a person; pictures, connections, schools, networks, and such, or MySpace that also provides a showcase to display the individuality or 'awesomeness', Twitter is like a very simple neighborhood where the biggest judgment point would be attributed to our written attitudes, not from the pictures or lists of schools that we display.

Twitter also allows people to create a character and hide their identity. It can be both good and bad because I have seen some account without real identity created to offend and annoy others. Like in real life, war in Twitter can be very harsh too. However, some good and creative people create those kinds of account to focus on a certain issue of interest. It can be their alter-personality which thoughts and ideas resonate to many others'.

This week I developed a new account called @DisasterIndo. This is out of my concern that so far there is no special Twitter account dedicated to share information of disaster issues, including the tips to cope with disasters and information on disaster risks, policies, and trends for Indonesian community. I hope it will be useful for many.

With the complexity and dynamics of human thoughts, I think that Twitter arrives just at the right time. It is not easy to find a friend in real life who can match all my interests 100%, but I can find some fillers to make my thinking process and opinion expressing more complete. Now many times I think then I tweet. Silly, smart, or critical, Twitter takes it. No wonder that many Indonesian friends I know often said they go "menyampah" (trashing/throwing trash) on Twitter. Trashing can clear up crowded minds. Even if it is just expressed in 140 characters.

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