Friday, October 25, 2013

Twitter may be the greatest communication platform in human history to-date

As we make our way through 2013, I continue to find people who dismiss Twitter, saying "I'm not interested in hearing what someone had for lunch." Like any technology, uses for Twitter run the spectrum from useful to useless, from meaningful to banal, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

However, I think more people would benefit from Twitter if they understood what it represents. I find Twitter to be one of the greatest communication platforms ever invented. I think it takes a rightful place at the top of an august assembly of the most significant paradigm-shifting communication platforms in human history.

Any chance I get to have that conversation with a friend, they arrive at that "wow, I never looked at it that way, I'll have to check it out."

And sure, as each telecommunications platform extends from the capabilities of that which came before, there are new platforms that do similar things or provide interpretations of things that Twitter does. And I surely have friends utterly bemused by my lack of understanding Pinterest or Instagram or other social media platforms. I am ever learning.

In the meantime, I have previously mentioned what I feel makes Twitter so remarkable, the ability to reach out and connect with real people "right now"; and talked about the critical importance of the pillars of a free press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly - the ability for people to get together, communicate ideas, and be aware of what's really happening, as much as possible, with state censorship.

Let's now set Twitter within the pantheon of telecommunications heavyweights.

Here are the tests I'm applying to significant telecommunications platforms (click to enlarge):

And here are the platforms and how I scored them:

It's important to state, with no ambiguity, that each platform above was significant, and for very good reasons. They were game-changers; they were the means by which society advanced. Each one of them, in their own right, were the biggest thing up to the point at which they arrived. We wouldn't live in the world we live in today without any of them –understanding their respective significance is paramount.

Standing on the shoulders of all of these, Twitter facilitates real-time, two-way, open communication like no other platform before it. It allows any number of people who don't otherwise previously know each other, to engage a real-time, two-way conversation across the globe.

100 years ago, in order to speak and have 5,000 people hear you, you had to be "somebody" like a nation's president or some such station. And those 5,000 certainly couldn't respond to you; it would not be an open, two-way conversation at all.

Think about the 20th century heavyweights - telegraph, radio, telephone and television. Each of them has strengths Twitter has, and weaknesses Twitter does not have.

Today, Twitter is like having a megaphone and earphone with which you can share a thought, or get a thought from someone else, and have millions of people get your thought and respond to you, or allow you to respond to someone's thought, in real time, with a tool as small as a handheld device in the palm of our hands. And you don't have to be a celebrity or prelate or icon – "anyone" can connect with "anyone."

At this point in my life, the conversation I had with Spike Lee would not have occurred via telephone, or even email, due to the nature of how we relate to these various modes of communication. Inherent in Twitter is an openness that has been made comfortable (remember when it became fashionable to request your telephone number be removed from the phone book? An unlisted number became the thing...what would be the value of an unlisted Twitter account?! It simply wouldn't make sense because of what Twitter is).

Twitter really is a big deal - yes, bigger than what kind of sandwich I had for lunch.