Last week, 350.org launched a twitterstorm to increase the profile of their campaign to end subsidies for fossil fuels. The storm was timed to coincide with the Rio+20 meetings. What’s a twitterstorm? A tempest of tweets, all with the same message, all sent at about the same time. The storm makes a tidal surge, hopefully breaching the dunes on the shores of the internet.
So what? Isn’t this less than a tempest in a teacup? After all, twitter is just thought, mere ether (miasma, some would say), with no physical substance; no tea, no cup. Perhaps. But the history of humanity (and the experience of our everyday lives) is surely a testament to the power of that ether to come to ground and change the world (how did that long-buried CO2 get burned up in the first place?). In the big scheme of things, one twitterstorm is a tiny gust, but the wind from this storm even pushed briefly into the normally airtight halls of power in DC.
The campaign’s launch persuaded me to sign up, dipping my toe (inexpertly, I’m sure) into the stream of @s, #s, RTs, and other obtuse ciphers of this clipped form of speech. I have a not-so-hidden agenda, a plan that has been brewing in various incoherent ways for a year now: to gather a cadre of naturalists to sing “nature” into the twitmosphere while digging deeper into the particularities of our places. The exact form of the idea is still composting, but some mature humus of thought will hopefully emerge soon. For now, I’m tweeting one natural history observation per day: a notable sighting, a sensory impression, or an interesting ecological interaction. With just 140 characters to play with, the right voice is not self-evident, so I’m goofing around. For now, I’m tweeting pretty much into the void, like praying to a non-existent god, or speaking a poem into air with no-one to hear. I’d be delighted to have this void populated by a few ears. So I invite you to take a look (you don’t have to be on Twitter to check it out) or to join me.
Unlike this blog, which I’ve tried to keep fairly clear of politics, I’m also retweeting a little information from ongoing environmental activist campaigns. In the very short time that I’ve been signed up, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what a great tool Twitter is for keeping on top of what is happening in DC where, for better or worse, the fates of real storms in our atmosphere and biosphere are being decided.
I’m interested to see where, if anywhere, this little experiment goes. In my limited experience, the intersection between the sets (naturalists), (academics), and (twitter) is very, very small. My hunch is that this need not be the case: there is some creative potential to be played with in that space.
The usual critique of twitter, that it is just trivial chatter and therefore worthless, seems off the mark. Trivial chatter is part of our inheritance as ultra-social primates, a kind of linguistic grooming. Now that we don’t have fleas to pick off each other (or so I hope), social media fill the void. From ectoparasites to smartphones; our opposable thumbs come in handy once again.