Yes, there are links and myriad technological innovations. Yes, there are avatars and background wallpaper images. But the main course at the Twitter table is the written (or typed or texted or however it arrives on screen) word.
It’s kind of fun to track how the evolution of communication technology brought us to the age of Twitter. The Phoenician alphabet, the Chinese invention of paper, Gutenberg’s printing press all collaborated in the industry of putting words on paper for the masses to read in portable, reproducible fashion. Then people found ways to reproduce and record more than just words. With the photograph, the microphone, the telegraph, Morse code, the typewriter, the phonograph, the camera, the telephone, radio, motion pictures, television, tape recorders, and transistor radios, electronic media could capture and deliver codes, sounds, and images. We could communicate with color and volume and inflection. Words were just one weapon in an arsenal of long-distance, timeless messaging. Then computers, the Internet, email, cell phones, and the ability to shrink infinite data into infinitesimal compartments opened up an entirely new world of communication.
The cell phone became a mass media world of its own. In a box the size and weight of a deck of cards, we hold our photos, music, telephone, television, movies, Internet, email, cameras, video cameras, planners, news sources, calculators, athletic trainers, video games, GPS navigators, road maps, restaurant finders, sniper rifle cross-hairs, fashion statements, and who knows what else.
And with all that—given the world of entertainment, diversions, and applications with which our cell phones are equipped to delight us—the grandest sensation that is blowing everybody away consists essentially of sending and receiving strings of 140 letters, numbers, and symbols.
We could be stimulated, intoxicated, or carried adrift by the tumult of mindblowing displays of technological genius. But millions of people are captivated instead, once again, by the mere exchange of words.
Twitter is ticker tape on steroids, the telegraph for dummies. It’s a bunch of words flying around the world, getting caught in the Internets, and I absolutely love it for that.