Monday, August 16, 2010

Twitter and the Power of Now

I've been intrigued for some time by the attraction of Twitter to the social media crowd, and more specifically the concept of @Jeff Pulver, the creator of the 140Conf, about the "real time Internet" and immediate communication.

Last week they had a reunion cocktail party at a trendy bar in Hollywood and you couldn't help but be impressed by the energy in the crowd. Everyone was upbeat and thrilled to reconnect in person with those with whom they'd been in touch electronically, and much of the time was also spent taking pictures together which were immediately posted online.

A cynic might well judge that much of these connections are superficial, but if one opens one's mind to what might really be happening, Pulver may be onto something.

Like many my age I had an initial aversion to the triviality of much of Twitter and the seeming irrelevance of much of what comes through. I got into trouble early on when I commented sarcastically when one of the Twitter heavyweights let everyone his plane was taking off, and I tweeted essentially, "So what?" It was later explained to me that while it may have been pointless to me, it had significance to some of his followers, and that's why he wrote it.

Beyond the spam and the "brand building" there is the sense of being ultimately connected in a world in which the soul is screaming out for being part of a larger meaningful whole.

While an older person like me might scoff at minions checking in and "connecting" endlessly on their iPhones and Blackberries, I got a profound taste of it today.

As I was thinking about this I received an email from a close friend letting me know that he had just had successful emergency surgery and was recovering well—I had had no idea.

My initial instinct was to email back, but instead I picked up the phone and was able to hear his voice and reassure him with mine—it was truly the power of now.

Eckhart Tolle of course wrote a book by that title, and while it may appear that tweeting is the antithesis to being in the moment—as it may appear an incessant distraction—from the perspective of many who are its adherents it seems to connect them in a larger network in which they know about earthquakes, as well as Michael Jackson's death, in the moment.

How this ultimately plays out is anyone's guess. When others ask me about Twitter I tend to suggest that the key is filtering those who you follow with Lists to keep it relevant—but who is to say?

One of the tenets of meditation and being in the "Now" is to focus on one's connection with all beings. Another is to sense compassion and understanding for others. Both of these are actually components of Twitter, where sometimes there seems to be compassion for people one doesn't even know.

That's why on another level it was refreshing to see people hugging at a cocktail party with those they'd only previously "met" as "@+identities" online.

Is the depth of connection between those who connect online comparable to that with an old friend from high school who has just faced a life crisis?

The ego would be quick to judge it as an emphatic no. But maybe it is precisely this aspect of connection—it's ability to transcend individual ego—that is most significant.

But what if evolution toward community is a real global phenomenon that is critical to the survival of our species? That's the thesis of one biologist, Bruce Lipton, who believes that we are literally learning to reprogram our own genetics toward cooperation from competition, in his book The Biology of Belief.

Then even if many tweets seem irrelevant, our exercising this new nervous system with which to stay connected might actually be meaningful in a larger context. Since we're only at the beginning, maybe opening our minds to the power of now, online, is something we should seriously consider.