Monday, June 22, 2009

all that twitters is not told

I've concluded that what is special about Twitter is the hashmark, which I didn't quite see for the first few months I was on it. I could get the idea of the at sign (@), which simply directs a tweet toward someone, but even then I missed some of them that were directed at me, because I didn't click on the at sign to my right, to see what people had directed at me. Not that too many people spoke directly at me; as I said, I was pretty sleepy on Twitter for months.

But using the hashmark puts you in a crossroads place, where you see every post that has that hashmark sign; on the #iranelection site, they come at you at the rate of thirty or forty per second, more than a person could possibly read. The ingenious thing about this loose alliance is that literally everything you read is about the same topic, though quite a few are repeated, and the sum total is somewhat like being in a place where thousands of people are talking about the same thing, in this case, the Iran uprising. So here you find people imploring each other to take the wounded to one embassy or another; to learn how to use proxy servers and hide their tweets; to burn the motorcycles of the Basij, a group of government enforcers; to look at this or that YouTube of violence in the streets of Tehran. Videos are often in Farsi and there are Farsi signs everywhere, but because the videos are homemade, it very much gives the effect of being there in Tehran, with the demonstrators.

I've found the whole Twitter/Iran situation fascinating, but of course for a novice like me it brings up a number of unanswered questions. Presumably the government could control cell-phone towers in the country, but do the protesters have other options, like connecting to wireless computers? Or is the government just unwilling to cut off all cell phone communication, since there would definitely be a price to that, socially and politically? I have no idea. I'm like many of the protesters, probably, out there, experiencing the interactions of the masses, knowing that history is being made, yet not quite knowing all the details.

The role Twitter plays in the whole situation is fascinating. I also find it hard to believe that anyone trusts anyone: why would you rely on what is essentially public channels of communication to orchestrate a revolution? The government is clearly trying to track down the writers of revolutionary tweets and provocative offerings; it's a cat-and-mouse game. Tweeters hide their domains, protect their own, try to keep tweeting under adverse circumstances, from their mobiles or wherever. The government kills or arrests anyone deemed to be provoking a revolution.

My reaction to the hashmark game is, basically, why settle for such a long one? These hashmarks are going to get shorter naturally, as people try to squeeze stuff into 140 characters. They will become a code in and of themselves, shorter, a kind of code that most people will recognize but new people won't. Already there are a number of things I don't get. RT= retweet? I guess that should be obvious. A number of codes that don't mean much to the outsider, but, in hashmarks anyway, the shorter will be preferred to the longer. #neda, for example, is clearly better than #iranrevolution. An outsider might need to know who Neda was, to actually leap over there, but the #Neda hashtag has staying power, because it fits into tweets more easily. Its true staying power will be determined by whether its community provides a service for those who join it, a service unique to it, not already taken by one of the other hashtag communities. Being hard to find by the authorities might be important too, but who knows about that? I wouldn't know an imposter tweeter from any other kind. My point being, the lives of the hashtags have trajectories of their own, much like e-mail listservs that have lively eras but change or become dormant until they expire.

It leaves me wanting to write about the view from the streets of Tehran; I'm strangely energized by it, as if I'd seen it from the dirty windows of an old hotel. I know full well that my own view is that of fuzzy You-tubes, retweeted messages that appear to be echoing through streets and tweets, in short, only what some people want me to see, or want each other to see.The world sits tensely by its twitters, waiting anxiously for news from those in the know; I, having only visited this online crossroads a dozen times or so, don't really count. It makes the events of the place immediate though. I can say for sure that I feel like I've visited it; I've seen the streets and their people. Many times, and in many situations. The world is truly watching.

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