by Jane Craford
“I survived the Twitpocalypse!” blasts the graphic on the organic cotton T-shirt available from cafepress.com. What’s the Twitpocalypse and why should I care? Tweets are being sent to Twitter at the current rate of 202 tweets per second. Each tweet has a unique identifying positive number. When the torrent of tweets exceeded the number 2,147,483,647, some third-party Twitter applications were not designed to handle this condition and would crash when their application would suddenly turn the number into a negative sequence. Thus, the verities of computer science seeped into the consciousness of everyday Twitter users.
Tweople of all types start paying attention to the tweets in the substantial Tweet Stream. The Italian Futurist artist, F. T. Marinetti, would probably delight in the blend of popular and high culture that mixes in a Twitter stream. Marinetti would probably recognize his ideas, handed down to us in his Variety Theater Manifesto, living in the Twitterverse. The absurd juxtapositions, the random surprises, the illogical interruptions, when popular and elite, high and low culture are syncretized in the Twitter stream echo what Marinetti saw as the ‘great Futurist hilarity that should make the world’s face young again.’
The new meaning or unexpected perspective that is sparked by the collisions from the juxtapositions of contrasting types of information is one of the addictive pleasures of Twitter. A mind dulled by the tedium of a boring job can be revived quickly by as little as a half hour of exposure to the effervescent Twitter stream. At the rate of 202 tweets per second, that calculates to 363,600 tweets in 30 minutes. The number of tweets flowing in one Twitterer’s stream, however, represents the tweet activity of only the set of people that Twitterer is following, rather than the sum of all people logged into Twitter at that moment in time. The hilarity of random surprises would be minimized or maximized, depending on the characteristics of the Twitterer’s group being followed. If you follow only elite, high culture-type Twitterers your Twitter stream may be less effervescent than it would if you also were following pop culture Twitterers whose tweets when juxtaposed with the high culture Twitterers could add some gas to your Twitter stream.
Twitter can be a refreshing flow of tweets that make your ‘face young again.’ At the same time, it can be a lifeline for an endangered person or community desperately seeking connection to a rescuing world. On the same weekend that the Twitpocalypse occurred, the Twitter stream was carrying immediate reportage of the election in Iran. Twitter’s highly evolved search function sprung into action as news about the Iran election was sought, causing a proliferation of Twitter search tags (hashtags), such as #IranElection, #tehran, #CNN, etc. that could be clicked on within a tweet to enable rapid response to the breaking news event.
Two billion, one hundred ninety-two million, ninety-two thousand and counting unique tweets have been sent since Twitters inception in March 2006. This instantaneous global communication (for those who have access to at least a texting cell phone), like a swiftly flowing river, is cutting new shorelines and reshaping the geography of our minds at the rate of 202 tweets per second. If F. T. Marinetti were alive, I’m sure he would be twittering and I’m sure his face would be young again.