The emerging real-time stream

Twitter has fascinated and enamored us all , but I believe twitter in its current incarnation is only the tip of the real-time iceberg. There is a new form of communication , collaboration and identity that in is emerging and that in itself merits a full feature length article. There is google wave for collaboration and a plethora of real-time search and analytic solutions to keep up with and track the zeitgeist. However in the below analysis I will be using twitter as an example of a tool facilitating the real-time stream laid over the internet and the web.

Left brain thinking: Twitter as real-time interaction and living in the moment.
Web pundits talk about the internet of things, but I am more fascinated by the evolving internet of people/persons. Every twitter stream is either an individual or a corporation and one can conceive of interactions as well as self-disclosures by the tweeples. Currently the stream is mostly either an information stream or a conversational stream. Titter or micro-blogging is mainly used for sharing links, thoughts, musings, funny one-liners or for life-streaming and coversations. Twitter also gives rise to an emerging virtual persona- where you are partly your stream- your tweet at the moment defines who you are for that moment. There is an immediacy designed into twitter use and whether one updates statuses or reads others statuses , one is only bothered about the most recent statuses. One doesn’t care or have time/ attention span for anything posted more than a hour in the past. Thus to live in a twitter world is to live in the herre and now.

Right brain doodling:twitter as a narrative center of gravity: story we present to the world
However, there is another angle to all this real-time streaming- that of presenting our best or desired face to the world. Firstly there are short bios or profiles (and on facebook loooong profiles and bios) on twitter pages where one writes the most pithy statements that will seduce someone in following you. thna one carefully curates ones followers , ones lists and ones statuses to present the wannabe follower with the best possible face. that is one psychological aspect . The other is that we ourselves are deceived and confined by what we project. If my bio allows only 2 or 3 hobbies perhaps my tweets will get restricted to those domains to appear consistent. Of course some have found a way out of this dilemma and tweet form more than one account (a case of split virtual personality? ) to be self-consistent at the cost of losing a unified sense of self. Tweets are being used to gauze everything from sentiments to personality and this means that we are nudging in the direction of viewing a stream as a temporally existent and continuing entity that has a personality , emotions etc and is not restricted to the here and now.

Whole brain fusing: twitter as an extended self
That brings us to my recent post on Mouse trap that differentiated between the ‘me’ and ‘I’ aspects of self. The ‘me’ of twitter is the narrative we want to project/ the narrative someone can discern by taking a historical look at our tweets; the ‘I’ of twitterverse is the agentic feeling and thrill of posting, sharing and discovering content in real-time i.e in the here-and-now. However, if we take the analogy too far, we also see the many places where the twitterverse can be modified to make it feel more real and self-like. For example, for real sense of extended self to emerge there has to be the facility of memory so that we can both remember who we are and envisage what we will be in distal future- twitter provides different types of memory and future envisages- the twitter clients and home page provide a very limited working-memory view of recent tweets and conversations and possibilities of being re tweeted, mentioned in new tweets. Then there is the short term-memory database (hippocampal structure) – the search-able universe that twitter provides. Tweets are not search-able or indexed at twitter for infinite time. But then kicks in long-term (neo-cortical) memory systems- the web archive and tweet backup services that let you archive your tweets for eternity. The accurate storage of memory problem of twitter stream has been solved, but nobody is working on how to retrieve and use that memory to enhance the tweeting experience in the here-and-now or to weave a better narrative about a person. What I would like to see is a contextual, semantic tool that highlights my past tweets and conversations as I tweet / read tweets related to a particular topic, so that just like remembrances of things past I can have spontaneously triggered recall of my earlier tweets relating to a subject. That would be a killer feature and I look forward to it. Another feature I would kill for , is to automatically (or if not possible let me manually do ) tag/ classify my tweets into life-streaming, thoughts, conversations, beliefs, intentions, links and information dumps, self-disclosures, emotions etc and then have tools to look up the streams of any person/myself broken by these tags. thus it should be possible for me to be able to monitor and look back on tweets that were pure life-streaming versus tweets that were thoughts etc – so that I can readily relate the past tweets and make sense of them and also get a better idea of my/others evolving narrative and extended self. This may run into the face of my earlier claim that self should be united and not solit into multiple streams- the important thing to note is that the stream is one, but it has been tagged in different ways for easier later recall.

Out-of-the-brain musings: what we can learn about consciousness from the stream metaphor of twitter
Turning the stream idea on its head and looking at the other direction of the analogy, an important question is what, if any, can we learn about the self and the stream of consciousness by this emerging stream of real-time interactions and tweeting and collaboration. I believe the important take home message is that the stream is not made of purely or solely ‘my’ tweets/experiences- to make any meaningful meaning of the stream of tweets one has to see it in context of who tweeted in response to whom and who conversed with whom. Thus, by analogy a large part of who we are (our narrative and agentic self) is not solely defined in terms of our individual traits and experiences- the self and consciousness is embeeded and weved in our interactions with others. Those we connect to in real life and interact with are a part and parcel of us and our stream.

Parting thoughts: would the ‘real-time’ evolve to ‘reel-time’?
There are two ways in which this question can be approached- the first is focusing on the 15 minutes of fame that everyone will/hopes to achieve using their real-time streams; the other more profound way this question resonates with me is whether we will allow others (or ourselves) to edit and present our streams to be a better reflector of who we are. everyone know that reel-time is precious and Reality TV sucks and cannot compete with edited versions of reality that are well presented and make more sense . Today the twitter stream is a Reality stream- the raw tweets and unedited footage. What if allowed ourselves/ others to favor/highlight our tweets selectively so that by looking at the selected/curated list of our past tweets one can get a better idea of who we are. Remember that memory too is selective and reconstructive…we just need to forget some details and add/smudge some together to make a coherent narrative. I already do this in the form of best-of-tweets feature on my mouse trap blog, but I see a vast untapped potential for these type of tools and services . I am ready-for the’ reel-time’ stream/web, are you? Let me know via comments and remember these are just my 2 brains! You are entitled to yours!

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Published in: on October 31, 2009 at 7:31 am  Comments (6)  
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