[notes in search of an essay]
The lifecycle of the twitterer:
(This may also be the lifecycle of Twitter itself.)
Every communication medium has formal qualities and social qualities. The uniqueness of each medium lies in the tension between the formal qualities and the social qualities.
The initial skepticism of the twitterer stems from the formal restrictiveness of the medium, which makes its social possibilities appear meager. Limiting messages to 140 characters would seem to prevent both rich expression and rich conversation. Hence the early rap on Twitter: who wants to hear what some narcissist had for breakfast? (Many users and would-be users never get beyond this stage.)
The enchantment begins with the realization that formal restrictiveness can be a spur to creative expression. A limit of 140 characters, it turns out, leaves plenty of room for wit. It also leaves plenty of room for conversation. The sense of enchantment grows as people come up with ingenious formal innovations that further expand the flexibility of the medium (hashtags, abbreviations, denotative punctuation marks, etc.), greatly enhancing its social qualities, without destroying the overarching formal constraint that distinguishes the service.
(Side note: When a link appears in a tweet, the link can serve as either context or text.)
Disenchantment begins with the realization that, even with all the formal innovations, Twitter remains a restrictive medium. The twitterer begins to sense that she has explored all the exciting or intriguing formal and social qualities of the medium, and now the limitations begin to grate. Tweeting begins to feel at best routine and at worst like an exercise in recycling. A contempt for the medium begins to grow silently within the twitterer.
(Side note: Unlike the charming formal innovations that come from the users, the formal innovations introduced by Twitter itself, such as the rote attachment of images or snippets to tweets, often feel forced, clumsy, manipulative. They’re disenchanting.)
To the extent that the disenchanted have been socially successful with Twitter (lots of followers, lots of interlocutors, achievement of status), they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to abandon the medium. Servitude begins.
(Side note: The formal restrictiveness of Twitter makes it a more interesting medium, a more enchanting medium, than, say, Facebook. Servitude is Facebook’s business model, as its founder and early investors understood long ago.)