[Air-L] Trivial tweeting

Cornelius Puschmann cornelius.puschmann at uni-duesseldorf.de
Thu Jul 2 09:48:22 PDT 2009

Hi Rob, Bernie and colleagues,

the communicative behavior that you describe is precisely what my  
presentation in the Twitter session at IR 10.0 will address (I believe  
the title contains something about "reporting states and actions" - am  
on my iPhone so can't check). The published papers on Twitter by  
Honeycut and Herring/danah describe interactional tweeting (tweets  
that initiate an exchange or can be assumed to be written with the  
goal of initiating one) in detail, but non-interactional tweeting has  
not been covered yet as far as I can tell.

I've looked into (and written about) the same issue with blogs and I  
would caution anyone a) against using value judgements ("trivial"  
tweeting/blogging etc) and b) against assuming from the start that  
this kind of behavior is audience-centric (i.e. that people write this  
stuff with a lot of consideration for their readers, or, more  
specifically, with the intention of providing useful information to  

Why do people scratch "I was here" into park benches or leave their  
imprint in wet cement? Because creating a record of your existence  
proves both to yourself and to others that you were in a certain place  
at a certain point in time, which at least to me seems to be more the  
result of a basic psychological need than a genuinely social activity.  
You're not really "messaging" those others in that you necessarily  
have any communicative intent other than wanting the words to echo  
back to you. Why do people write diaries? At least in part to  
stabilize the self, to create a coherence of thoughts, emotions and  
events in relation to the self (see research by James Pennebaker et al  
on health improvements related to diary writing).

It's possible to integrate this with the ambience argument. Non- 
interactional tweets tend to report places, activities and physical/ 
emotional states (what someone had for lunch is less common in my  
subjective experience). They usually indicate changes from the default  
which are noteworthy to the twitterer, regardless of their  
informational relevance. How often have you read "am on the train to  
X / the plane to Y / just arrived at a hotel in Z"? I am not disputing  
that this information can also be relevant to others, but my  
impression is that that isn't the reason why people tweet it so  
frequently. Travelling places us outside of our usual environment both  
spatially and socially and therefore increases both the need to report  
and the likelihood that the information will be perceived at least as  
marginally relevant.

I'll stop here, before I reproduce the content of at least one of my  
papers in all its lengthy entirity. My central arguments:
1) audience design in blogs and Twitter greatly varies from person to  
person (see Scott Nowson's work on blogging and personality) - in my  
opinion, minimal intended audience is the blogger/tweeter herself,
2) communication is always motivated, but not always audience-oriented  
- especially if you don't know exactly who your audience is or what it  
perceives as relevant, which is why people tweet this stuff but don't  
usually email it or post it to mailing lists such as this one,
3) in a medial environment where any information can be stored and  
transmitted to anyone with equal and minimal effort, strictly speaking  
nothing is "relevant" or "irrelevant", and I think people sense this.

My 0.05€.

Cornelius Puschmann, PhD
University of Duesseldorf
Department of English Language and Linguistics

Am 02.07.2009 um 15:30 schrieb RBerkman at aol.com:

> Have you read the various discussions and articles on the concept and
> desire for "ambient awareness"--the desire to develop a kind of  
> sixth sense
> about what our friends and colleagues are doing/thinking/observing,  
> so in a
> sense we feel more connected to them? So, just like you might be  
> chatting on
> the  phone with a friend or relative and say you've just had a  
> delicious Thai
> chicken  sandwich as a way to share something trivial, but still  
> socially
> bonding, the  same can be done over your Twitter followers, writ  
> large...
> Robert Berkman
> Associate Professor
> Media Studies & Film
> The New School
> **************It's raining cats and dogs -- Come to PawNation, a place
> where pets rule! (http://www.pawnation.com/?ncid=emlcntnew00000008)
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