The Power Of Ambient Awareness

08 Sep
Michael Masnick via Techdirt shared by 5 people

When I first heard of Twitter I didn't get it. I saw some friends using it, and tested it out for a bit, but again concluded that it just didn't make sense to me to be able to write short, 140-character, explanations of what I was doing -- or to read similar blurbs from other people. But about a year ago, I started using it again, and quickly discovered that it was much more useful and interesting than I had ever expected -- often in totally unexpected ways. Since then, I've run into a bunch of folks who seem to feel exactly the same way. They absolutely did not understand Twitter until they actually started using it, and then suddenly found it incredibly useful in totally unexpected ways. So, I can absolutely understand the many, many people who continue to mock Twitter as being useless -- I felt exactly the same way -- but haven't been able to explain why it is actually useful.

However, Clive Thompson has done an excellent job with his latest piece for the NY Times Magazine, explaining the concept of "ambient awareness" that describes Twitter and things like Facebook's news feed. It's not so much about telling everyone everything you're doing, or knowing everything that everyone is doing, but it does give you an amazing ambient view into what's going on in the lives of whoever you follow, and in an odd way makes you feel much more connected to them than you might otherwise. I know that I've become much closer friends with some folks entirely due to Twitter just because I'm more aware of what they're up to on a regular basis, rather than only talking to them infrequently.

I think the problem is that many people, myself included, originally think of Twitter in similar terms to email or instant messaging, where you're really expected to provide your undivided attention and to respond to what is sent to you. But Twitter doesn't work that way. It really is an "ambient" flow of information about what's happening with lots of different people, which makes you feel much more connected with them. It's great to see Thompson do such a good job explaining why, because despite experiencing it, I couldn't have put the concept into words like he did.

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