Zen 516: In defence of Twitter

Twitter has been lambasted for many things. Being trivial, silly, parochial and self-regarding. I'd agree that it can be all of these and more.

But when critics trot out that hoary old chestnut that people who spend their time tweeting are "not living in the real world", I'm inclined to disagree. I think Twitter has actually restored a very human and much missed facet of the "real world".

Consider that for most of our existence, human beings have lived in very close knit social groups, often being hatched, matched and dispatched within the same 10 mile radius. With industrialisation, universal education, massively increased social and geographical mobility, rapid transport between far-flung places and instantaneous face-to-face communications across vast distances, these very immediate and enduring social groups that have been the bedrock of our species for pretty much all but the last hundred years have gradually dispersed, becoming instead occasional and fractured.

Whether we realised it or not, I think at some fundamental level we need this village-level social interaction, for all its triviality, silliness, parochialism and self-regard. By losing it, we've lost something that we evolved for a reason*. There's a good argument to be made that Twitter, Facebook and all the other social networking malarky that old media types so heartily despise are actually tapping into something ancient and required.

So the next time you feel the need to defend tweeting where you went for coffee, or updating your status with how shitfaced you are, or sharing some YouChoob video of funny cats, don't fall back on the usual high-falutin' arguments about social media being a revolution in citizen journalism, or how it represents the ultimate exercise in freedom of expression, or how it is a liberating force in world gone mad for proprietary controls over creativity.

What you're actually doing is indulging a primal need to shoot the shit and catch up with the neighbours. Whether or not what you're saying actually matters, or indeed if anyone is actually listening, is rather missing the point.

* I have no clear idea of what that reason might be, but there's a really interesting PhD in here somewhere.

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