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Twitter, trees and culture

August 27, 2009

A pretty informal study made the global headlines a week back about how 40% of everything posted to Twitter amounts to just “pointless babble”.

That conclusion is seriously flawed, and likely stems from a misunderstanding on how humans communicate.

Our consciousness has very low bandwidth. Exactly how low is hard to measure, but in The User Illusion author Tor Nørretranders argues it to be around 16 bits-or-so per second. Thus, when humans communicate we do so trying to guess as to how many bits we need to use to get our full message across to another person, and that requires us to share a lot of background information. Tor coined the concept of exformation in that context, the information-not-mentioned but still expected to exist. The word trees in the headline referes to the trees of talking that describes this process.

Tree of talking at Flickr

Now, naturally, not all of us have the same background knowledge. That’s culture. You might like Van Gogh, I might like Rembrandt. When discussing art, you need to explain concepts to me that you wouldn’t need to when talking to someone who, like you, understands Van Gogh. You would need to use more bits, more time, more effort.

Twitter is about building exformation as much as it is about communicating information. It might not be seen as valuable and interesting when I read you had a headache yesterday, but in a weeks time when I see on Facebook that you again have a headache it’s used as exformation and allows me to better sympathize and ask if everything’s really well with you at home or at work.

Twitter (and Facebook) aren’t filled with pointless babble. They’re tools helping us building a common culture of exformation thus enabling us to communicate more information using less bits, to more people.

We’re all our own little Hollywoods of the world.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Morris Packer permalink
    September 8, 2009 6:39

    Utsökt! Tack.

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  1. jardenberg kommenterar – 2009-09-08 — jardenberg unedited

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