Twitter is a curious beast, a nest of contradictions. To the one it is annoying and inane. To the other, it is fascinating and transformative. And, really, it depends on who you pay attention to. That is to say, sure my favorite novelist likes to tell the world what and when he’s drinking, or what he thinks the dog thinks, or the latest idea for a band name. But I like his sense of humor, so it’s hardly as annoying as a high school friend who constantly shares coupons and sale prices from various online and brick-and-mortar retailers via Facebook; my own Facebook page, incidentally, is littered with bad jokes about news, and updates on what beer I’m drinking. To the other, you can get important news updates, or find out what rock Curiosity is drilling, or even how far away the Voyager probes are. And, of course, there are the constant updates of who has posted what on the internet. (NovSci does not currently have a Facebook page or Twitter feed, but we are considering the merits.)
Enter Tweetping, which might actually be more interesting than Twitter itself. The site allows you to watch Twitter in realtime, and is strangely hypnotic.
Will Fernia notes:
The data loads (or streams?) too quickly to be able to read much, so the real information is in the accumulated glow of global tweeting hotspots. Surprisingly, even at this hour the eastern half of the United States is blazing away.
But what else is hard not to notice is where there are no blinking lights of technochattiness.
And he’s right. While Jakarta, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and other metropolitan areas glow angelically, there are places on the map where there just isn’t anyone tweeting. In some cases, this is understandable; large swaths of the Sahara don’t have anyone there to tweet. But Fernia also points to Emily Badger’s article for The Atlantic Cities, about how the internet reflects and reinforces inequality around the globe. As Fernia notes:
Unlike the hardware- or service-based digital divide that is usually the focus of technological inequality discussions, in this case the concern is that there are some places (actually, some people) who aren’t generating local information at the rate of other places ….
…. Maybe the more valuable reminder is that while the internet with all of its data can often give the impression that we have the world at our finger tips, we’re often looking through a lens of largely self-selected data, and we should be mindful of the composition of that lens.
Put simply, we might care more about what happened at Applebee’s more than human crisis and atrocity in Africa because there’s someone there to tweet about it, or post to Facebook and Reddit, or blog the story.
Of course, reality is far more subtle than such simplifications.