butt sniffing
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While I would like to take credit for the title of this blog, I am quoting @NeilTyson from the StarTalk podcast in which Twitter’s impact on society is explored. Definately, definately worth a listen!

In this podcast, Neil Degrasse Tyson and crew discuss all things Twitter from how it started to its key role in today’s media. It originated when a couple of guys noticed that the old AOL messenger allowed users to provide status updates that others could read whether the provider of the status update was online or not. You could find out how all of your friends were feeling or what they were doing in a moment without having to even talk to them. Therefore, status updates are analogous to a dog sniffing another dog’s butt…you can find out a lot about that person from a distance.

We are inherently interested in others. There’s a reason we can sit in a mall and watch people for extended periods of time. Twitter also allows users to follow others without the need for reciprocity, unlike Facebook requiring users to be ‘friends’. The simplicity of Twitter, gaining quick infobits about whoever you want, is at the heart of it’s appeal.

Another appeal of Twitter and the use of hashtags is it can quickly connect us to others in the world interested in discussing the same things, whether it be popular topics discussed the world over or the most obscure topic that you might think no one else has an interest in. The reality is there are always people scattered throughout the world who share similar interests as you; Twitter can connect those people instantly.

Twitter has often been the first media source to report key news such as Michael Jackson’s death or the discovery of ice water on Mars. It was the first tool that people were able to grab onto to start revolutions in the Arab Spring. Biz Stone, one of the creators of Twitter, first knew of it’s potential when it was in it’s infancy and at the conference South by SouthWest an attendee tweeted that, due to the congestion of people at one location where conversation became all but impossible, people should move to a close by pub so that they could talk and when he arrived 800 people were already there from having read his tweet.

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When society had lost interest in the space program, Chris Hadfield utilized the tool to connect to us stuck on Earth and make us feel that we were in space. It became personal. It became somehow more human. We were able to experience what was going on in the ISS in real time, and how those experiences made him feel. Hadfield now has almost 1.5 million followers on Twitter. He’s no longer just an astronaut. We have experienced things with him. He feels like a friend. His video of singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity is an example of him using digital media to take us to a place we could otherwise not go.

This podcast changed my views about Twitter. Listening to Chris Hadfield talk last year at the Conexus Arts Center changed my views about Twitter. It’s not just superficial. The human experience matters. Connecting with people matter. I was critical of this medium before as I felt I had little interest in what people had just eaten. This podcast highlighted for me the power this medium possesses, and that it can be utilized in a variety of ways depending on the type of digital presence you choose to possess.

Marc Prensky proposed the idea of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants which is discussed and critiqued in the following video.

Another idea is proposed by David White that instead of using the terms ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ we should be using the terms ‘resident’ and ‘visitor’.

The idea behind digital natives and immigrants is that those born before 1980 are digital immigrants and those born after are the natives, having grown up with the technology and are therefore natives of the language, culture, etc and as such, can navigate and use the technologies much more easily than those that have to immigrant to this daring new world.

David White’s terminology defines visitors as those who use the tools but leave no social trace. These people would go online to google information for example and leave, whereas residents present themselves very openly in virtual spaces and leave much more of their ‘being’ behind. He presents these terms as a spectrum, where each of us can exist in a space somewhere between the two. When reading Ashley Dew’s blog I found myself in a position similar to hers. Born post-1980, so technically a ‘native’, but more of a visitor in that I don’t leave much of a presence behind. Like Jenn Mitchell in her blog, I prefer the visitor and resident classification as I am technically a native, and Alec Couros is not which makes little sense to me. When we look at me as being more of a visitor and Alec being more of a resident, that seems to be more fitting.

Tools like Twitter and Facebook allow us to be online in a fashion that we are comfortable with. We can leave as much of our social presence online as we wish and divulge as much about ourselves as we wish. Being more of a visitor, I use these tools to ‘people watch’ and to learn about what is going on in the world and in people’s lives. I seldom post on facebook, but check it several times a day. I want to know about others, but I don’t want them to know about me!

Finally, Nathan Jurgenson discusses in his article The IRL Fetish the idea of digital dualism, that being that the online/offline worlds are two separate realms. Genna discusses this idea in regards to the two classes she is taking this semester, one being about the online realm and the other about disconnecting from the online world and reconnecting with ‘the real world’. While canoeing the other day, they were asked to leave their phone behind and she found herself wanting to take a picture of the amazing experience she was having. Do we have to be completely offline to enjoy the real world? I mostly thought so, and I think I still do…but I need to think on this more. Nathan brought up some good points though about how we now fetishize the offline world. We used to be bored when we had nothing to do, now we pat ourselves on the back for being in the moment or getting off our technology. I think I need to start looking at it as technology has now given me a new appreciation for downtime and slower paces. Yet, I don’t want to give up the online world either. I feel out of sorts when I haven’t been on facebook in many hours as I feel that I have all sorts of catching up to do about events going on in other peoples lives.

So what does it all mean for me? To be honest, I don’t really know yet. I’ve been judgy about others being online too much, only because I feel at my best when I am offline and I feel that others only need to experience what I have and they would disconnect more themselves. Perhaps since I am more of a visitor, I have simply missed out on genuine connections in the online realm and I have yet to experience this powerful moment. There’s definately no plans in my future to ditch my technology. I think as an educator I feel concern for the new generations who have grown up with social media and haven’t experienced life without it. In Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk, there are many thought provoking statements in regards to social media such as the fact that it provides, “The illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship”. Social media is easier than being social in person, and perhaps we are losing some important skills that we can only gain from more interactions in the offline realm.

We all need to find the right balance that fits for ourselves. The thing that has changed the most for me though is that I previously underestimated the power that is the human experience. I love space and know a lot about it. Yet Chris Hadfield’s use of the Twitter medium made me feel connected to space in a way no book has yet made me feel.

Live long and prosper