The hypothesis of my haunted cyberculture project is that once we come up with a medium, we create stories describing it as a fearsome thing. These stories occur in fiction, nonfiction, and the slippery boundary in between the two. Today's case in point: an Alternet story about Twitter and social collapse.
The question is, how can a city of limited resources (water, gas, optical fiber) sustain an exponential growth in technology, innovation, and wealth?
In other words, will maintaining ourselves in Twitter time -- constantly growing the population, constantly using resources -- kill us? [Luis] Bettencourt and his colleagues say that's a very real possibility.(emphasis added)
Newitz suggests "Twitter time" is a form of destructive social singularity. Optimistically, a necrotic singularity mhich might be followed by a recovery period:
urban cultures [could] go through phases of Twitter time, then slow down again for a while, essentially "resetting" the model.
Newitz bases her discussion on a reading of a recent paper about urbanism, "Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities" (a direct link would have helped, Alternet, or even a clear citation! welcome to the Web). That Bettencourt, Lobo, Helbing et al article is, in turn, based in part on this 2004 study of patents and cities, which finds cities to be excellent innovation centers, beyond expectations and the rural world. This is really the core of her article. As such, turning to other, powerful drivers and dynamics, such as peak oil or globalism would have helped the piece.
Ultimately, Newitz isn't blaming Twitter for urban problems, but seeing it as a sign of them. Yet the article's presentation and rhetoric play that structure, at best using Twitter as a draw to bring readers into the broader questions of urbanism. Unfortunately, this means glancing off of Twitter, dismissing it as part of "the nerd loop" (ouch), and not seeing it as already being discussed (!): "I wasn't sure how to explain Twitter's bizarre popularity..." Annalee Newitz, please check the blogosphere. We've been explaining this for months. Heck, a technology manager just told me he misses the older days of Twitter.
Beyond this article, we haven't yet seen stories about Twitter in classic cyberfear patterns, like expressing forbidden sexuality, enabling copyright infringement, being used by terrorists, leading to murder and suicide, etc. If Twitter lasts, and/or its imitators grow, we should expect such accounts to arrive presently. We should expect a murderer's tweets to appear. Infocult is always looking for such stories - send 'em on!
(via Jon Lebkowsky)