Twitter Is A Tool For Ambient Awareness

by Heather Negley – follow her @infoknot

Twitter was founded in 2006 and in three short years, it has lodged itself squarely in the middle of our collective consciousness. If the medium is the message, Twitter is loud and clear even if the message is only 140 characters or less. But still I am asked the question all the time “Why? Do we need to know what others are doing all the time?” The answer is “no”. We don’t and there is no way to keep up with what everyone is doing all the time. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try and wind up in throes of an information overload attack that will make you more jittery than drinking a pot of coffee. Twitter has filled a void though. Like other communications mediums that have come before it, the telegraph, the radio, or the phone, each one does not replace the other. We manage them and they find a place in our lives when they are needed.

16th Street Mall as seen from the Daniels & Fi...
Denver Mall and 16th Street via Wikipedia

Twitter is a tool for a form of communication we all do whether we realize it or not. It’s called ambiant awareness. Let me give you an example, when I lived in Denver, I lived in the suburb of Westminster and took the bus to work everyday downtown to the I saw the same people on my route everyday. There was the guy who took his dog with him to work. The dog always wore a green “work” jacket. In over a year’s time, I never spoke to him, but learned that he trained seeing eye dogs and that dog he had been bringing with him “wasn’t really his cup of tea” as he told a fellow bus passenger one day. At Starbucks, I would sit and drink coffee and see the same visually impaired guy walk by day after day. I watched him cross the street at the same spot and marveled at how he could cross a busy road by himself. Overtime, I learned that he lived around the corner and that his girlfriend sometimes walked with him. On the trolley, up sixteenth street to my final destination, I would sometimes run into an old friend from high school who worked in the building next to mine. He was someone whom I had lost touch with and chatted with when I ran into him. All these experiences are a form of peripheral communication. Repeated observations, overhearing conversations or even running into someone you know serendipitously. Over time, I learned interesting things about each person. I’m sure there were many people that I missed during this time too. And that’s okay. For some reason or another, they didn’t catch my attention.

So if you are using Twitter, on a regular basis, you might find this happening to you too. Little snippets of someone’s life over and over again become woven into a story that becomes meaningful to you. Watch the conversations, follow the people that you find interesting, look for people you know and let it lead you to new places that you never even knew you wanted to go.

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  • May 7, 2009

    Great post Heather,

    My how twitter has grown and changed.
    I love how twitter has morphed from a simple tool answering only ‘what are you doing’ like making coffee, to a multi use, micro-publishing super communication tool, used for sharing ideas, news, blog posts, great stories, jokes, quotes, hot sales, products, and more!

    I look forward to seeing all the businesses that spawn from twitter.

  • May 7, 2009

    Aye I too have recently felt the effects of what I call the twitterglimpse effect, great piece. Would appreciate an ad click for my boy and I over at Only for those that have a minute to spare! Thanks! And thanks for the article.

  • May 7, 2009

    Honestly, though I sign up with twitter back in 2007, I never realise it’s potential till of late.

    I mean, with my earlier twitter account, I would just let everyting goes past me without engaging in conversations, retweeting etc.

    I have now realised that if you actually “connect” with your followers, you will gain more in whatever you are seeking in twitter…

  • May 7, 2009

    This has been one of my favorite TwiTip posts so far.

    I didn’t understand the elegance of Twitter until recently, but now I embrace it fully. Even more now that I can smile about my “ambient awareness.” : > )

  • May 7, 2009

    I like the concept of “Ambient Awareness” Nicely written.

  • May 7, 2009

    Once again, you have nailed it. I joined the social media sphere rather late, having grudgingly just set-up a Facebook account in January 2009, but upon finding Twitter, I immediately found it to be the extension of the Internet that I have been seeking for a very long time. The Internet has matured and is now very mainstream, and when used properly it is an invaluable resource for information, networking and even supporting a family (right Darren? ). The thing that it was lacking was an easy and elegant way to interact with regular people in real time or nearly real time without being tied to a computer. For me Twitter’s ability to give us an “ambient awareness” of our online connections is exactly what will make it so valuable to us. By osmosis, we will gain a greater understanding of those we interact with, and those we just observe, so that when called upon, we become a valuable connection too. We don’t always consciously realize it, but that desire to be wanted, needed, useful and valuable is a very human trait. These connections-that have the potential to turn from virtual to physical-are very important to us. Twitter helps making the connections easier.

  • May 7, 2009

    I have been looking for the right description of twitter for a while now. Ambient awareness is how filter through the fifty to one hundred tweets that pop up every minute on tweetdeck. I see them and aware of them if I look at. Like ambient lighting ambient awareness is good enough if I am looking to see what is there, and if I like what I see I can always shine a little more light on it with an @, RT, or DM

  • May 7, 2009

    I will definitely use this information to explain the Twitter to non makes a lot of sense!

  • May 7, 2009

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I think ambient awareness is a pretty cool concept. And we can find it all around us.

  • May 7, 2009

    Hmm…Twitter for people watching. Interesting concept, and likely one that many on Twitter find themselves involved in. Of course, the entire dynamic shifts once you start to converse with those you’re “watching.” Personally, I find Twitter more enjoyable when participating and interacting rather than simply observing.

    Good viewpoint, and thanks for sharing!


  • May 8, 2009

    I think this is great — and it describes what I’ve been doing most on Twitter. So, thanks for that moment of clarity.

    While I’ve made other great uses of Twitter (it’s better than my RSS feeds many days and I’ve gotten loads of good recommendations after asking for them) watching the twitterstream and getting to know the characters who swim it is akin to riding the bus everyday.

    BTW – as a North Denver suburbanite myself, I particularly enjoyed your picture of the 16th Street Mall. Nice touch.

  • May 8, 2009

    Really an cool article here.

    I in what I define as the preparation stage on Twitter where I allow Twitter to take me on a Twitjourney and observe and learn from all the cool peeps and info they provide. There is an abundance of great info on Twitter if you just take the time to look for it.

    Keep up with articles like this.. Awesome


  • May 8, 2009
    Tim Schoch

    Wow, I truly wish you were right about Twitter. The analogy in part is apt, but it is true with many other forms of interaction and communication, offline and online. Still, that isn’t all that Twitter is about.

    It’s about spam. It’s about sending tweet after tweet of unrelated and gratuitous links. It’s about sales spam, of someone hawking in the most obvious, direct, and I find insulting manner. It’s about marketing gurus sending you a link to someone else’s wisdom to represent their own services.

    It is, in short, overkill. So if you play the tweet game, you need to patiently weed through the garbage for the good stuff. I’ve met some fabulous people on Twitter. It’s a good ice-breaker. ..if you follow like-minded folks, instead of accumulating them like a huge rolling ball of lint.

    Obviously, Twitter hasn’t proven its value to me. I’m glad others find it fulfilling, because I think all these new spins on socializing are terrific.

  • May 8, 2009

    I love this post! Wonderful description!

    But, I also feel that we embrace this online interaction more as our offline ones in in our real life diminish. Do we people watch less? I do. Do I get to interact with those people? In my neighborhood, unfortunately, not as much.

    I often feel a strange disconnect when I go offline and walk outside into my own neighborhood. We have seen all the “Twitter in Real Life” parodies, but it is ironically true. Twitter gives us something we cannot necessarily walk outside and get; the instant ability to talk/connect to someone we have never met (or are meeting again) and converse about a subject for as long as we want. If we do meet these same people at a Tweetup, we have an established connection, instant discussion and mutual interests.

    I, for one, am grateful for the opportunity.

  • May 9, 2009

    Wow, I’m so happy to see all these comments on the article. I think Tim makes a really good point about the obtrusive message that come in the form of spam and unsolicited messages getting in the way of a pure people watching experience. I think this is also true of everyday life. We are though we are faced with a persistent barrage of advertisements and “advice” from people who feel the need to offer it up to us. With Twitter, all these interactions are sped up and we get tired as we filter through them all. I think that as this medium matures our ability to filter out this noise coupled with an improvements in a evolved Twitter technology will help us manage the messages in a way that makes sense to us.

    On a side note, I did change my seat from time to time on my bus ride to work because some days I just couldn’t listen to all the “spam.”

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