Jarring & Juxtaposed: Digesting the Twitter Stream

Matrix Twitter Stream

Yesterday, I had multiple CoTweet and HootSuite dashboards open on numerous browsers,  scanning the streams of 40+ Twitter accounts at once. I was the operator of the Nebuchadnezzar, sifting through the code.

On my primary and personal account, although I’ve hand-picked each Twitter handle to follow, there is unavoidable noise. Promoted and top tweets. Hashtags. Retweets of those I don’t follow. Trending topics. But ultimately, I shape this world; it is mine. I control what I see in my stream as much as I can. (I have qualms about this, certainly.) But what I’m currently trying to grasp is how the world materializes on my screen, bit by bit—a news link from here, a blog post from there, a photo essay from her, a video clip from him.

A patchwork of memes.

Like the never-ending bits of data streaming down the Matrix, tweets flow every second. Strangely beautiful, it is. A waterfall of information, rich and raw, ready for me to consume, digest, disseminate. I absorb what I can, I overlook the rest.

As a whole, this world makes sense; it is both logical and emotional.

But sometimes it surprises me. I read a serious or thoughtful tweet on the tsunami destruction in Japan, followed by an irrelevant or untimely one: A complaint about someone’s workday? An LOL reply to a tweet about getting drunk on St. Paddy’s? My reaction to such juxtaposition is similar to this . . .


. . . and I find the untimely tweet offensive. And that makes no sense; surely these tweets are not strategic and intentionally insensitive.

And don’t I do the same, when I tweet about beer and baseball, about loud dance music that most people hate, about trivial moments of my day? What is fascinating to me may be useless to another. And should I be more mindful of what I tweet in times of war? Revolution? Natural disaster?

For those of us who mingle virtually with avatars in the same room, and who embrace Twitter as meaningful and three-dimensional, I wonder: If one is not interested in Libya, or Wisconsin, or the Superbowl, or Egypt, or Planned Parenthood, or the Grammys, how do we whisper about something else? How do we tweet politely about our day when others are distraught, angry, or in need? (Or do we unfollow when we feel momentarily alienated?)

Or would such courtesy, even silence, skew the stream? Perhaps the unwanted noise and jarring moments are what keep this virtual world complex—and human.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

7 thoughts on “Jarring & Juxtaposed: Digesting the Twitter Stream

  1. Someone one told me that relationships are made up of private jokes. Twitter is like that. And sometimes we get a glimpse of a private relationship..perhaps it makes us feel privileged to be allowed in, or sometimes like a peeping tom, or feeling confused.

    And sometimes it makes us feel like we don’t belong.

    Life is faster now and Twitter is the perfect reflection of how things really are–kinda like if you were able to hear all the conversations in a train station at once, but could only answer one at a time.

    Picking and choosing who we respond to or follow is a delicate balance we keep of who we are, what we want to be and who we were– all at the same time.

    1. Picking and choosing who we respond to or follow is a delicate balance we keep of who we are, what we want to be and who we were—all at the same time.

      As I replied yesterday on Twitter, this is beautifully put, Sharon. On point. Just wanted to reiterate here.

  2. A beautiful mess isn’t it? Maybe. Like Nick, I really liked what you said about what keeps it complex and human. Very poetic. I confess that I’ve started to type something absurdly funny to me that probably no one else will get and then as I’m typing, I look at my stream and I see tweets about another natural disaster or conversely about the Jersey Shore and I just “X” out the window and don’t write anything.

    As a philosopher major, I’m a why guy. I just want to go up to everyone and ask: “What is your story?” I find that especially with Twitter where I want to just see more and know what’s really behind that 140-character tweet. My stream often reminds me about the elements of story. That in any given moment in my Twitter stream there is going to be an underlying theme of conflict, humor, hope, and so much more. I can be at one moment both frustrated at a tweet, yet also hopeful at another. And thus, I keep at it.

    1. Spencer — Really like how you see your stream and “see” elements of a story, and an underlying conflict based on the variety of tweets you read. As if the “shallow” juxtaposed with the “thoughtful” and the humor mixed with the serious all needs to be there. It’d be one-dimensional without all the noise.

      And someone had DMed me after reading this, saying it’s refreshing to see a person tweet about mundane stuff, too — it shows this person isn’t a bot, right? A reminder that we are, in fact, following humans who have bad days, are frustrated, and are pissed off, just like me.

  3. “Perhaps the unwanted noise and jarring moments are what keep this virtual world complex—and human.” – THIS.

    I understand what you are saying in this post, and my gut reaction is the same as yours (and @eugenephoto’s) when I see something “out of place” with my current focus. Best example I can give (which I mentioned in the first Egypt revolution post) was that I really couldn’t understand why the world hadn’t stopped just because I (and many others) were following the Egyptian uprising, that amidst tweets about tear gas and live ammo were tweets about best lounge bars and iPads. How could this be?

    But – it’s important to realize that the world, and twitter, doesn’t stop just coz we want it to, coz we are absorbed in something else. And (as I said in a recent comment) it’s this introduction of novelty – that we have only partial control over – that I view as being one of twitter’s massive strengths.

    Oh, and I LOVE your aljazeetrix image.

    1. Dude! Aljazeetrix. What a contribution to the world of mashed-up words.

      I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to say here, but when I kept staring at the Aljazeetrix image I’d made, I realize it was about how my Twitterverse is made up of bits. Everyone else’s bits. And that’s what I see on my screen. Likewise, I am part of others’ worlds, too, whether I want to be part of the noise or not.

      I do remember the mention in your Notes on Not Being There… post about this. I’d replied to Eugene’s tweet — I understood how he felt but couldn’t quite describe it — and had a very similar reaction during the Egypt protests.

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