Twitter: An Artifact in Activity Theory
Posted by crhunter
When I began Chapter 3 in Digital Literacy, I paused for a good minute on the title alone: Shaped and Shaping Tools. My mind wandered back into a time when man used mostly his hands to shape things. I got lost in thought down a path of tools and how we use them to shape so much; then I thought about Twitter and how it is shaping people, communication, and businesses.
Clark writes, “As I’m writing this in the spring of 2009, my current techno-rhetorical obsession is with Twitter, an increasingly ubiquitous ‘micro-blogging’ tool that is capturing the popular imagination” (85). For some reason, Twitter has never been able to capture my imagination fully, and I continue to be resistant to the Tweet, and I don’t know why. All around me people are Tweeting. I fully understand its rhetorical implications, and I actually appreciate it as a tool that has massively changed social media and the way we communicate, yet I just won’t get on the Twitter ride even now when I know I should.
I found it interesting that Clark noted that Twitter was accused by some as “stupid, pointless, narcissistic, and over-hyped,” and “it therefore shows all the signs of a real cultural phenomenon” (85). Why would something that possesses such negative traits become a phenomenon? But indeed it has. Twitter has certainly taken the world by storm, and it has forever changed the way we can interact and communicate with each other. I cannot help think how interesting it would be to capture our century in an archive of Tweets, but goodness, what a large archive it would be.
Twitter is a real cultural phenomenon, and I do not expect it to stop any time soon. Our readings forced me to think about Twitter as a tool of rhetoric, and I began considering how this tool fits into activity theory. When I consider an “activity system” with “ongoing, object-directed, historically conditioned, dialectically structured, tool-mediated human interaction,” Twitter fits right into this theory. Clark cites examples of activity systems as “a family, a religious organization, an advocacy group, a political movement” (98). Twitter has offered quite a new approach for any system to communicate with the world. It’s really allowed us to “follow” anyone, anywhere, anytime.
The example given by Qualman of CNN Anchor Rick Sanchez illustrates the Twitter’s ability to “shape” human behavior. His experimental use of Twitter was as Qualman noted “an overnight success.” Sanchez was able to use the Twitter platform to capture his audience by asking them to help “produce” his show in some ways. By asking thought-provoking questions and eventually getting his followers’ tweets scrolling on the byline, he effectively encouraged his 75,000 to watch just to see if their comment made the show. Talk about a shaping tool!
Now back to theory. Activity theory calls for groups and individuals to be analyzed with a triangular approach that emphasizes multidirectional interconnections among subjects (the individual, dyad, or group), the meditational means or tools they use to take action (machines, writing, speaking, gesture), and the object or problem space on which the subject acts (98-99). Twitter is a tool that utilizes a machine to work and allows for writing and promotes interconnectedness; people use Twitter to take action. Then somehow I found my way to Triangulate, and I was further convinced that Twitter (because we have a method to charter its hidden networks) really is a cultural phenomenon that activity theorists can use for broad cultural understanding.
Clark writes, “Activity theory calls for active attention to analysis of artifacts, whether written genres or digital technologies” (99). I find Twitter a fascinating example of an artifact from our time that is both a written genre and digital technology. Twitter is capturing so much of our lives, history, movements, and human experiences. It is most definitely “an analytical tool in the workplace studies in the rhetoric of technology” (99).
I cannot help wonder about those who will come years and years from now…will they sit around lit up screens and read about us in 140 character Tweets and fully understand our time? I imagine a timeline in front of them. A caveman and his hand or club will be present and so will a 21st century man holding a mobile device. The tools of man have changed!
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