Twitter, Facebook News Feeds, and Ambient Awareness

I’m still a little perplexed by Twitter, and Facebook’s news feed has messed things up for me more than once, but I just read a really interesting New York Times article from a couple days ago by Clive Thompson on what they term the “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy”. You have to register to read the full article (it’s free), but it actually helped me understand what all the micro-blogging fuss was about. Thompson writes:

“It’s an aggregate phenomenon,” Marc Davis, a chief scientist at Yahoo and former professor of information science at the University of California at Berkeley, told me. […] Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

The article describes something known as “ambient awareness,” the way we pick up on the moods and routines of the people close to us. We all unconsciously react to physical body language and idle comments, but what is happening with text messaging, twitter, and facebook is that the little snippets of people’s lives we read slowly give us a mental sense for our friends’ routines and moods in much the same way as if we hung out with them 24/7. Our ambient awareness is expanded to encompass all our digital friends.

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