Put Yourself to the Test: with Twitter, 24/7 (23/40)

March 15, 2007 at 7:48 am | Posted in Digital Culture, Lent, Tagging, Web 2.0 | 8 Comments
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Thank God the twitter craze, which has already found its antithesis in the Twitter hater, has not yet made it to (non-English speaking) European shores – or if it has, I am blissfully unaware of it. It is another more or less Web 2.0 social platform, describing itself in its own words as

A global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: What are you doing? Answer on your phone, IM, or right here on the web!

Today I signed up to see what the fuss was all about, and tell Twitter what I was doing I did:


While this might sound like a rather pointless activity to some, it seems to be warmly embraced by those digital, decentred PoMo subjects out there who hardly have a sense of themselves anywayr. Twitter won’t help them to find the way back to a more integrated self, but console them with the illusion that, if their self is scattered all over the place, at least they might have an idea where they can retrieve the bits and pieces. For a brief moment, they can inscribe themselves on the surface of the simulations that surround them. The whole thing gets a (little) bit more interesting by the fact that twitter allows you to notify your friends to tell them what you are doing and to get notifications about them. Hmm.

The twitter homepage gives you an idea of the things those desperate souls are up to:


Not convinced? Ha! In a way it was useful that Baudrillard ‘died’, otherwise I wouldn’t have dug him up from the sediments of my memory nor have been receptive to other folks’ writing about him. If you look at the phenomenology of Twitter, you’ll soon find out that it takes on the form of what Baudrillard has described as ‘the test’:

This regulation on the model of the genetic code is not at all limited to laboratory effects or to the exalted visions of theoreticians. Banal, everyday life is invested by these models. Digitality is with us. It is that which haunts all the messages, all the signs of our societies. The most concrete form you see it in is that of the test, of the question/answer, of the stimulus/response. All content is neutralized by a continual procedure of directed interrogation, of verdicts and ultimatums to decode, which no longer arise this time from the depths of the genetic code but that have the same tactical indeterminacy – the cycle of sense being infinitely shortened into that of question/answer, of bit or minute quantity of energy/information coming back to its beginning, the cycle only describing the perpetual reactualization of the same models. The equivalent of the total neutralization of the signified by the code is the instantaneousness of the verdict of fashion, or of any advertising or media message. Any place where the offer swallows up the demand, where the question assimilates the answer, or absorbs and regurgitates it in a decodable form, or invents and anticipates it in a predictible form. Everywhere the same “scenario,” the scenario of “trial and error” (guinea pigs in laboratory experiments), the scenario of the breadth of choice offered everywhere (“the personality test”) – everywhere the test functions as a fundamental form of control, by means of the infinite divisibility of practices and responses.

We live by the mode of referendum precisely because there is no longer any referential. Every sign, every message (objects of “functional” use as well as any item of fashion or televised news, poll or electoral consultation) is presented to us as question/answer. The entire system of communication has passed from that of a syntactically complex language structure to a binary sign system of question/answer – of perpetual test. Now tests and referenda are, we know, perfect forms of simulation: the answer is called forth by the question, it is designated in advance. The referendum is always an ultimatum: the unilateral nature of the question, that is no longer exactly an interrogation, but the immediate imposition of a sense whereby the cycle is suddenly completed. Every message is a verdict, just like the one that comes from polling statistics. The simulacrum of distance (or even of contradiction between the two poles) is only – like the effect of the real the sign seems to emit – a tactical hallucination. (The Tactile and the Digital in: Simulations. The Order of Simulacra)

Twitter’s perpetual question ‘What are you doing?’ is precisely such a litmus test of the twitters’ contained form of existence. The content of their messages, denoting what they seem to be doing, is completely irrelevant, but in answering, they’re integrated into the system of production. Who would ever have thought in the 1970s, when the first data security officers had to be hired by governments and companies alike, that people would one day crave to be controlled in this way!

More posts regarding twitter:
RIP Twitter (2007-2007) (con)
Could Advertising Pollute Twitter? (pro-ish)
RIP Twitter – A Rebuttal (pro)

P.S.: I have myself taken up a new hobby: tagging my images on flickr with tags that don’t make sense in order to shift the signal/noise ratio a bit more to the incomprehensible. For my twitter screens, I chose ‘twatter’. But I am not a real revolutionary, as you can see if you look at my vast array of WordPress tags – I have to admit that it’s basically copyright issues that I want to circumvent in doing so. Garbage in, garbage out!

P.P.S.: Another thing I am trying to understand for the third time now are trackback links. Is my blog trackback enabled? Yes/No? What do I need to do with someone else’s trackback URL? I am going to incorporate the trackback URL to the Twitter hater post, but I don’t really think that that’s the way to do it? Must I maybe click on it later? EDIT: I did, but nothing of what happened seemed to make sense.

P.P.S.: The final countdown: 17 more days to go until the end of Lent!


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  1. I didn’t know about twitter. Perhaps this will spare some of the strictly local tagging of restroom walls and stalls keeping friends and strangers informed? The thing that will keep me away from twitter (though I really appreciate knowing it exists, and your analysis!) is my own perpetual question: what aren’t I doing right now?.

    I’m a rather poor Pomo subject. I enjoy blogging, but can’t help having to force down feeling overexposed from time to time. The idea of sharing what I’m doing throughout the day seems radically uninteresting for the most part. Do my friends want to know that I’m yawning right now? Scratching my arm?

    Either way, as you note, it doesn’t really matter what I’m doing–it’s all integrated into the system of production. The commodification of autotelic undergraduate chatter is what it looks like a bit. “Banal everyday life is invested by these models,” Baudrillard says. What is the return on this investment? A reply to one’s digital message in a bottle? The examples you capture are equally interchangeable. In other words, nothing is lost by switching statements from Vlu77 and rorakay. It’s just noise–except to the person making it. I worry about the way that this test (and maybe virtual signification as such) is not just less than enough to appreciate the radical otherness and sepcificity of other human beings (such appreciation being always a failed project from the outset–I guess I’m thinking of Levinas), but in fact the interchangeablility of twitters becomes the interchangeability of other people, dismissible, perhaps, in toto.

    That’s dangerous, and unethical. Other people are knowable it tells us, and there’s not a lot to know. Therefore, as they lack the rich textual representation of a full consciousness for others to see, they always appear less than the person viewing their twitter. Any logic enabling people to be viewed as less results in a kind of violence to those persons.

    Sure, it’s a problem with signification generally, but it seems that the short form of a twitter perforce restricts any sustained engagement with another person’s thought. “What am I doing” is less interesting than “What are we doing?” Maybe the blog enables more of a we?

    It’s inteeresting that twitter has not made it to non-english shores. I’d like to believe that other people are less alienated and self-absorbed.

  2. Maybe twitter will indeed keep the restrooms clean, as delayed communication seems to gradually come out of fashion.

    Mmh. I do believe that there is a certain disposition that makes you immune towards some of those trends, but couldn’t say exactly what it is. For one: The self-imposed solitary confinement of completing a PhD certainly helps, as time really means something, namely within the continuum of your expanding horizons.

    If I were a 9 to 8 office slave (like I once was) I’d probably be easy prey for twitter, because it might give me the illusion of winning back some of the personal time that I sold to my employer. Islands of time with me, though not exactly quality time in the educational sense.

    I’ve never used any IM or Skype software in the way that one is apparently supposed to use it: log onto your computer and switch that damn thing own. I don’t like being interrupted while I work on something (although I am great at interrupting myself), but that’s not the actual reason. I don’t like people to see that I am online right now, or to appear to be approachable (email is different, thanks to the delay – no realtime) – although I am probably 6-12 hours online per day. I also prefer to have my cell phone set on mute – if somebody calls me, I can still call them back. That also means that I am not one of the ‘well-integrated’ individuals who have their cellphone glued to their ear most of their time, or who get an awful lot of phone calls.

    The return on investment is a sense of integration – generally into the system of production, furthermore, cognitively, into a social network – quantity rules. I remember my boyfriend telling me about one of his US classmates (he went there for an exchange semester) who killed himself. He was the one who has the fewest friends on facebook. Have probably mentioned that before.

    I can also remember that – when cellphones first came into fashion – I used to feel a bit embarrassed when I was at a café with a friend who was repeatedly being called by other, absent people on his/her phone, repeatedly interrupting our actual conversation. I hardly ever got a phone call, as the last person to whom I had talked over the phone was most likely the one sitting opposite me. So quantity can be seductive and induce envy if you are in a position where you are prone to be impressed by it – and most people are. Content is relatively irrelevant.

    Regarding the lack of a rich textual representation – I guess the hierarchy is annulled in a twitter-to-twitter relationship. Furthermore, the twitter unravels over time – me screenshot is certainly a diminishing form of representation, because it omits the narrative that will inevitably unfold across several post, even if an individual post is characterized by a lack.

    Main reason why Twitter isn’t here (in Austria, for instance) yet is probably only that they haven’t yet been able to make a deal with mobile communication providers – if the business model pays off, it’ll soon be here.

  3. I hadn’t heard of twitter either, but the Guardian has now picked up on it, which means I’ll look into it to see what it’s all about. Oh, I love my feeds 😛


  4. FGS, why am I in premod when I’ve only included _one_ URL 👿

  5. Spammers have changed their strategy as off lately – I had a couple of spam posts from fake bloggers with just one link.

  6. I’ve now signed up to twitter, if only to protect my name (lenina) from being taken by someone else 🙂

    I doubt I’ll start using it though. http://twitter.com/lenina

  7. Ok, let’s see what it’s all about. I don#T have an IM account and therefor cannot link it to it. But I’ll see what the webversion can do – I posted three updates so far, but that didn’t get me anyway nearer to understanding what it is about. I suppose it needs a group of people to start with.

  8. […] is twitter which I joined the other day after reading about it on the Guardian Technology blog and anaj’s site. So far, so useless 😛   — I’ll stick with it though, if only to see whether it can […]

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