Today’s Easter and I was lucky enough to have friends, good weather and other pleasantness to fill my morning. On the way back, however, discussion suddenly turned to technology and I wound up in an argument with a good friend.
It began when I pulled out my phone to put it in my pocket during the bike ride home. One of my friends exploded: “You’re not doing that stupid Twitter thing again are you? Ugh, why are you doing that again? I don’t understand it!” (Side note: I was not Twittering.) From this my other friend picked up the thread and proceeded to have it out with me over around two miles. While eventually we got too out of breath to continue, for around fifteen minutes we covered lot of ground.
One of the biggest points that come out of the discussion wasn’t actually something that was said, but a theme I drew out of it afterward, which is this: New communications formats often appear to be useless and stupid until you yourself find a use for them. Or to put it another way, you stop making fun of a form of technology the minute you use it and personally benefit. Sometimes it takes multiple exposures to reach the point of benefit, but once it’s reached, a light seems to dawn and you realize that there is indeed a “point” to the technology.
To use a concrete example, I’ll use blogging. Back in the day, I considered blogging pointless and self-indulgent. Who did it benefit but your own ego? My friend, with whom I had the argument today, felt the same. However, eventually we both made the leap to blogging, as well as well as reading blogs and participating in blogging communities, and once it was no longer a theoretical experience, we found there were many benefits: logging memories and experiences, keeping in touch with friends, posting and sharing photos, taking part in topic-specific discussions, expressing opinions, connecting with others with similar interests and obsessions, etc. What once seemed to us like a waste of time for self-indulgent losers eventually became an ingrained part of our lives, a vital communications lifeline. Stupid? No way!
Twitter, which ignited today’s argument, is a technology that is still being stigmatized by a lot of people, many of whom either don’t understand it or, more to the point at hand, have not personally used or benefited from it. A lot of the people most interested in Twitter are those who strongly engaged in the worlds of communications, information technology or both. When news and information is currency, Twitter makes a lot of sense. If your industry or interests have nothing to do with those things or if you don’t know where to follow them on Twitter, there’s no reason it would be attractive. However, if you’re like me and need and want to spread and receive news, receive on-spot reports, and share technological developments, Twitter is a gold mine.
For my friends, and non-Twitter people, to embrace Twitter, or other technologies and forms of communications, there has to be something about the use that brings actual value. My friend is an opera nut, so I suppose one day opera gossip and news could go on Twitter — it probably is already! — and he could come to view it differently. Or maybe the big corporation he works for will switch to a system where the on-site repair people Twitter their locations and activities in real time, making it easier for him to track them, either via Twitter or a third-party application that uses GPS or sorts out individual workers or ties into the company system. This would cut out the phone calls and necessity of logging things into the system, since it would all be captured via Twitter, with time and GPS stamps. To my friend, this would be something useful.
There are many forms of communications that have come and gone and with the arrival of each, it’s taken people time to adjust. Telegrams, telephones, radio, faxes, television, email, etc., ad nauseum, have been resisted and eventually embraced (even if later to go by the wayside). Perhaps right now, with so many new forms emergencing and evolving so quickly, some people are adapting at a pace that’s normal but seemingly slow compared with the technology. And as more and more forms comes out, people get more and more behind and start to get frustrated, even start to reject the changes outright. I would argue, however, that in many cases people will hop on board once they have the motivation and interest to do so.