Monday, June 29, 2009

The Twitter conspiracy.

Two professors and one friend have asked that I start blogging- of course, none of them meant that I ought to maintain a site all my own. I registered this URL ages ago, though. I might as well put it to use.

I'll cut to the chase: Twitter is a conspiracy. I'll be the first to say that it doesn't look like one. In my short stint, Twitter has shown itself to be a weird rippling pool of public spectacles. Lately it's been nothing but a parade of celebrity obituaries, a kind of weird cathartic online funeral. Otherwise it is a mixture of political scandals, reality TV recaps, and running commentary on sporting competitions.

It doesn't take much to see the pattern there- Will saw it, though I suspect he got it just a bit wrong: "The Ayatollah is having celebrities killed to take Iran off Twitter’s ‘Trending Topics.’” Clever, but he's only slightly missed the mark. The truth is even more sinister: Twitter is a conspiracy to make people care about old media.

Think about it: Between Hulu, Netflix, and BitTorrent, owning a TV is kind of quaint and outdated. Sure, you could pay for cable, premium channels, and a DVR- or you could just download a whole season of Lost overnight. Aside from catching up on a friend's favorite show, though, these venues are missing a crucial part of the spectacle: A kibbitzing audience. I remember listening to radio DJs talk about The Sopranos' finale, for example, but just imagine if the Twitterverse were privvy!

Twitter provides the perfect audience for any spectacle. With a 140-character cap and no temporal moorings, any new television show can- and does- build up steam in the Twitiverse. An old-fashioned marketing campaign can help, but Twitter amplifies the impact of even the cheesiest reality program.

That's the dirty secret: As much as Twitter has been heralded for enabling acts of real-world, offline heroism exemplified by Iranian protesters, most Twitter updates come from web users, sedentary between TV and computer screens. We sit, we watch, we say "aw" and "hell naw" and no one listens, but we are legion. This is the most sinister part of all: None of the cogs can see to what foul end they work.

The question then, as with any good conspiracy theory, is "Who does this benefit?" I humbly submit two sets of likely candidates, and trust you to draw your own conclusions.

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