Ambient awareness

A reposting of one of my Buzzfeed Community posts for archival purposes

When Twitter first started, its boosters tried to sell it as supplying “ambient awareness” and fostering “social peripheral vision.” It would round out your sense of what was happening in social reality and get you out of your own head.

But of course, Twitter works that way only when a critical mass of users continually supplies information about what they are doing or thinking about.

Twitter’s ideologists tried to reconfigure the process of constantly updating the world about yourself as a kind of selfless act — as autoaltruism.

Posting about yourself was to become a method for thinking of others, of paying attention to them, helping them out, making them aware. The more you posted about yourself, the more you considerately added to the zeitgeist. Solipsism would actually be an expression of how connected you wished to be.

Early Twitter adopters argued that “the point isn’t the content, it’s the connection.” This was once a very hard concept for people to fathom. Connectivity — mediated connection as the content itself — was still an esoteric emotional material. People didn’t have a taste yet for consuming souvenirs of their own presence. Put another way, their social presence had not yet been put into doubt for them. But we would learn that the pleasures of being plugged into a network had little to do with what sort of current we are brought to carry.

It once seemed that connectivity couldn’t compete with intimacy, or that it would reshape intimacy and norms of reciprocity. But as social media have become more popular, it has become clearer that connectivity and intimacy have no necessary relation and can be separate emotional experiences. It is becoming far more plausible that intimacy thrives in the absence of connection rather than in its midst. We will try to get closer by disappearing.