Twittering Around Bryant Park

I’m watching with interest, as well as participating in, Bryant Park Project’s fun little experiment with Twitter. Or, as they call it: the twitter-lution.

Others have written about the potential here, as old media (no offense, NPR radio people…) mixes with new. What’s most interesting to me is to see how it’s actually playing out, how both the folks at BPP and the fans are all trying to get a sense of this interesting community of real-time, 140-characters-or-less virtual beings in cyberspace. The somewhat inevitable cocktail party metaphor has been used, and as well the somewhat more intriguing “coffee at the local diner.” The latter, in fact, was the inspiration for BPPDiner, a Twitter account that scoops up any and all tweets containing the expression “bpp” — a neat way, once you’re following the account, to find other BPP fans who are talking about the show.

For those folks who still don’t get it, if the cocktail party and diner metaphors just aren’t enough, the most insightful description of Twitter I’ve come across is in Wired, in this post by Clive Thompson, who finds all this tweeting something much more experiential and sensory-driven than anything else:

When I see that my friend Misha is “waiting at Genius Bar to send my MacBook to the shop,” that’s not much information. But when I get such granular updates every day for a month, I know a lot more about her. And when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.

It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

He calls this a “social sixth sense,” and I think that’s exactly right. Once you begin to use Twitter, and find a few interesting people to follow, you really do get a sense of “knowing,” at least to the extent you can know someone else you only know virtually.

This, therefore, leads us away from the web as something textual, to something more like what Erik Davis described in the late 1990s as “acoustic cyberspace.” A kind of “space” that’s much more immersive, much more experiential, at least as much “body” as it is “mind.”

And it’s this acoustic space that’s created with Twitter, as conversations happen in real-time (perhaps the cocktail party metaphor is entirely appropriate?), that makes this particular space “oral,” just as much as it is written. And this orality, in turn, brings people together, and creates exactly the kind of community that BPP’s twitter-lutionary experiment is creating within their audience.


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