I really like Noam Chomsky. He’s a very kind and understanding man, full of humanity (we had a brief conversation via email recently). His opinions, and the way he tackles problems make sense to me. Well, most of the time.
He recently went ahead to say that Twitter, SMS and other forms of social media are shallow forms of communication. He has a good point when he says that complex, mega-thoughts can’t be expressed through these means of communication. I’m sure that he feels that we say too much via these mediums, but without saying anything of importance at all. But I believe that he only sees half of the picture, not because he’s too old to understand the Internet, but because he’s too entangled in his own profession where big thoughts and ideas are the bread & butter of his whole existence. He sees the big picture about everything, but not the casual details of the picture, because he’s looking from 10,000 ft high.
The kind of communication Chomsky advocates for (books, essays, possibly art) is the right medium for big ideas. But we don’t always want to philosophize all day long. Sometimes we just want to vent out or say we’re happy, or share some quick knowledge, experience, or fact. In our daily lives, outside the web, we mostly have this kind of small-talk rather than discussing Kant or Foucault (well, most of us at least). In our lives there’s usually time designated for philosophy or science or religion or whatever else, and there’s time designated for small-talk. So why shouldn’t we be able to move part of this very-human communication online and share with more people?
Sure, tweeting that your “carrot cake came out delicious and everyone at home enjoyed it” is not a big idea, and it can be perceived as “shallow”. But it also expresses the little happy things in life, offering a window into people’s lives. When I read a random book I don’t know if the author is happy or not, I don’t know if he’s happily married or not, or if he has mortgage to pay. Most of the time I don’t need to know. But for people I feel closest to, I do want to know more. It doesn’t make me visit my friends less just because I got their update online and I know they’re doing good, it just gives me a piece of mind instead that they’re ok. It makes communication feel two-way, rather than the one-way kind we get from books. Not everything in life has to be about science, philosophy, or math.
More over, Twitter has been a major micro-blog to co-ordinate political movements and report on big ideas too. It gives a voice to people who can’t always use complex words or write books. It’s the democratization of communication, and from all these 6 billion people out there, at least some of them have something interesting to say or report on, even if it has to be squeezed at 140 characters.
There is of course the other side of the coin, where we have kids texting 100 SMS per day, which is of course not only excessive, but also indeed damaging, and a waste of time and money. But then again there are trash books too out there (like these stupid romantic novels with vampires in them, ugh). So we should not get too disappointed about new technologies, it’s how we use them, they’re not inherently good or bad. I can’t wait for the time we would be able to transmit thoughts or feelings to others! Hopefully at more than 140 bytes of thought per message! 😉
I personally don’t use SMS (I may be sending about 5 SMS texts per year overall), I do very few phone calls (which is why I’m still on pay-as-you-go), but I do use Twitter and my personal blog extensively. I don’t have the hots for Facebook, MySpace, or Google Plus though, I find them too cluttered & messy — I like direct simplicity, which is why Twitter won me over. I’ve written in the past that I use my blog as a therapeutic method, it’s kind of my shrink (which is why I also write a lot of very personal things here). It has worked wonders for me, so this new world order about communication can’t be all that bad.