The Background Hum of Friends

Lately, I have thought a little on how public and private people would choose to be, on average, if they did not need worry about intruding on others.

Previously, most aspects of a person’s life— especially their day-to-day activities —were de facto private, as there was simply no way to expose them without significant intrusion upon others. The internet is becoming ubiquitous meaning this is no longer necessarily the case. Why? Because the internet provides a perfect asynchronous medium allowing new modes of communication.

I’ve been harping on for a while about Twitter. I do believe there is something truly different about twitter; the communication pattern it allows is different from any before available. I dislike snappy sound bites, but I’ve been taken somewhat by the phrase “background hum”. Twitter allows me a more ambient view of the lives my friends lead than explicit discussion does. More a feeling for their moods, a less explicit interaction pattern.

Explaining Twitter is difficult; as with anything new. Why do small details engross one so? Because they are from friends; people for whom one cares about little things. About how Jason found green tea milkshake odd or that Des is enjoying Cut Copy.

Less frivolously, my parents found out my flight back from Seattle was cancelled via my tweets as I found out and rebooked my flights. (Still waiting on BA’s compensation offer, distinctly underwhelmed). It wasn’t something I considered worth telling them explicitly, preferring not to worry them, but the non-intrusive posts to twitter kept them (somewhat) informed.

This leads back to my question of public and private aspects to one’s life. There are, in reality, relatively few things we would prefer to keep private. Until services such as Twitter, providing a non-intrusive method of publicly detailing small items, it has been untenable to project small, but somehow meaningful, aspects of life. Following from this the question becomes not, “why would you wish to publish this”, but, “what’s stopping you publishing it”?

Twitter, though technically public, is not public in the sense a blog is. A blog has the feel of being intended for the world at large. Tweets are intended for the people who choose to follow you; people who have expressed an interest in you personally. The short format encourages little snippets of life. For a reader, Twitter’s non-intrusive, drop-in format makes a five minute tea break into a glance into your friends’ highs and lows. More intimate than Facebook or MySpace, with their projected personas and considered posturing. Twitter encourages off the cuff remarks, posting of trivialities and curios. It’s something new and different; a quiet revolution as much as blogging or emailing ever was.

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