Twitter is a very interesting medium. Past the one obvious constraint of 140 characters, Twitter has many affordances. It is elegant in its simplicity, yet not clear on its purpose. Many people are not sure what Twitter is for, and some struggle to understand its utility. You don’t post photos like Instagram, you don’t plan events like Facebook, and you can’t have discussions like forums. So what then, do I use Twitter for?
The narrative we read this week opened my eyes to Twitter’s place in social media. Teju Cole’s story “Hafiz” was an experiment of telling a story through Twitter. Many people contributed fragments of a story that really only make sense in one collective context. People could have witnessed parts of Cole’s story live, but it was incomplete until Cole pulled it all together.
This I think reveals something deeper about about the nature of Twitter. In an interview with Cole discussing Twitter, he says:
“I’m also fascinated by this thing that happens on Twitter: A friend of yours in Singapore tweets something and then someone in San Francisco tweets something, and they’re not tweeting at each other—actually, you’re the only person who sees those two tweets together because that’s your timeline. And yet they speak to each other in a funny kind of way.”
In a way, this describes every Twitter feed as a narrative of some sort. A narrative we construct, where we choose the characters, and follow them in real-time. The live element of Twitter makes this feed incredibly interesting, where the people you follow experience different events, that may at times crossover. What Cole did was hide a story that only he could see, making a 31 person crossover event. He then shows what he hid by retweeting them in order. This experiment was in a way creative misuse, but ultimately revealed the genius of everyday narrative aggregation.