Twitter as Conscience

By August Schulenburg

An odd thing occurred to me several days ago. I had my Tweetdeck open, and was following a number of hashtags, including #MarriageEquality, #Iraq, #Afghanistan and #Women2Drive.
For those not Twitter-inclined, this means two things: streams of 140 character messages relating to those hashtags are updated in real time on my Tweetdeck platform, and some of those messages pop up in the right hand corner of my screen.
What this means is, while I’m working, tweets about #Iraq or the Saudi campaign for gender equality will appear. If I’m focused, I don’t notice the tweets, but when I’m between thoughts or projects, they’ll catch my eye, and if they seem important, I’ll click on them.
While this may seem like inviting a restless three year old into your brain to poke at your mind, it actually functions as an odd sort of conscience. If you’re like me, you pay lip service to caring about the consequences of our wars in #Iraq and #Afghanistan; in theory, you support gender and marriage equality.
But life moves fast, and it’s all too easy to go weeks without thinking about these things, let alone doing something about them.
That is not possible with the tweetdeck open and the hashtags blazing. And so however absurd it might sound, twitter has become a part of my conscience, reminding me hourly of the pain of our wars and the hope of our recent human rights revolutions.
It is too soon for me to say what deep impact this will have: so far, it’s upped my slacktivist signing of online petitions, and doubled my contact with my elected representatives. That’s not enough, but it’s more than I’ve done in a long time, and it wouldn’t be possible without my Twitter conscience occupying an increasing space in my consciousness.
For all the utopias and dystopias Twitter has inspired, it remains a platform, a tool, an extension of and gateway to the human spirit. It can be used to the widen the circle of empathy and promote civic engagement; just as it can also bring out the gang within us, as we #hashstone those that displease or bore us.
All of this grows out of the feelings in my last post, You Must Enter The Theatre Through The World. Following up on that post, here are some more Flux-framed thoughts that my desktop Jiminy Cricket brought me:
Ajax in Iraq: Yesterday, I found two heartbreaking stories of soldier suicides: Jamie McMullin “He lost a lot of friends. He had 12 poppies tattooed on his right arm, and each one was for a friend that he had lost over there”and Ian McConnell. The picture of Sgt. McConnell shaking hands with the Afghan boy is especially moving, as is the determination of both families to share these stories to prevent this from happening again. As Pisoni says, “We should have paid better attention…”
But there is also this story of courage from Kabul, where women protested against the constant harassment they face in the streets. Whatever my feelings about the war may be, this kind of protest never could’ve happened under the Taliban. I was also heartened by these stories of amateur astronomers in Afghanistan, and UNICEF’s use of comic books to communicate with illiterate Afghans (where there is a 28% literacy rate).
Deinde: I was very much reminded of Deinde by this story of how our minds have adapted to Google. Instead of remembering the information, our brains remember where we can find the information, hence the title, The Extended Mind.
Collaboration: I’m fascinated by this audience engagement measurement tool, though before we use it at a Food:Soul, here is a helpful corrective to letting crowdsourcing solve all our problems.
Joy: I was intrigued by the sound of Paul Bloom’s book How Pleasure Works, and especially by this quote:

“If you look through a psychology textbook, you will find little or nothing about sports, art, music, drama, literature, play, and religion. These are central to what makes us human, and we won’t understand any of them until we understand pleasure.”

I’ve written here about how the evolutionary advantages of pattern recognition became our sense of beauty, and it seems like his book explores similar themes. Flux book club, anyone?

1 Comment on "Twitter as Conscience"

  1. Devon · July 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm · Reply

    I’ve been turning a recent post I read on ‘the internet as a filter bubble’ ( over in my head for a few days now, trying to figure out why I think it’s wrong. Your post helped explain why. Tweets & Facebook often serve as serendipitous windows into what someone else is thinking about *right now,* which is rarely what I’m thinking about *right now.* I try to intentionally follow orgs/people on social media who are unique in their POV to my life. That one friend from high school who remains a die hard bible belt conservative. That organization doing rape prevention in Sudan. I think social media, especially Twitter by its public, ever present, easy to consume nature, has opened my eyes to more diverse POV than any traditional media source could. though, like you, my slacktivism is in full swing.

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