I keep hearing people hating on the Twitter. Maureen Dowd wrote a nasty little interview with the founders (parodied here to genius levels), and my friend Mark is convinced that Twitter is the event horizon of the coming Idiocracy.
I tend to side with the cautiously optimistic. I can see the potential for a vast wasteland of irrelevancies broadcast amongst the foolish, and I can also see the value in knowing what my friends and heroes are up to in something approximating real time. Living in New York, it’s uniquely fantastic when someone like Imogen Heap tweets that she’s headed to Apple Store, so that I might have a chance to bump into her (I missed her), or when my friend Tom tells everybody the admission price to his latest show dropped to ten bucks. It’s also nice to be entertained by John Mayer, who clearly wishes he were a standup comedian.
On the other end of the spectrum, though, there’s Ashton Kutcher. He really thinks Twitter is the logical evolution of radio to telephone to TV to web to tweet, and that its founders are to be enshrined alongside the names Marconi, Farnsworth, and Bell.
Maybe. One thing I’ve noticed, though, about life-changing inventions in my lifetime is that almost none of them have individual inventors. No one person can be credited with inventing the Internet, the cell phone or the personal computer as we know it. As the Master Control Program says in Tron, “No one User wrote me. I’m worth millions of their man-years.” The real lasting value of something like Twitter will take a decade or two to determine. After all, what is Twitter but a MySpace or Facebook status update? And what will come along in 5 more years that might replace it? The Internet makes so much collaboration possible that I wonder if the next hundred years of inventions will be defined by networked team efforts rather than individual genius.
For now, we have Twitter to play with. Maybe it will go away as people get bored with it, but it seems to be of enough value that it will never truly die. Like MySpace, which nearly everyone I know as all but abandoned, persists because its vast musical platform continues to provide value for musicians. As long as it provides a service people enjoy, it will continue to exist in some shape.
Video never really killed radio. So why should MySpace or Twitter be any different?