Finding the Global Village through a Twitter Bot

05Feb11

The other day a friend of mine Tweeted about the misuse of Marshall McLuhan in discussing the role of Twitter in recent political uprisings like in Egypt. As I often do, when I hear mention of Marshall McLuhan, my thoughts turn to one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite films, Annie Hall:

Woody Allen’s punchline is “Boy, if only life were like this!” And then I realized that via Twitter, life can kind of be like that – you can evoke the specter of a figure like McLuhan to intervene and belittle people who evoke his name.

So I took it upon myself to add a little bit more randomness to the Twitterverse and created AutoMcLuhan. This “Twitter bot” searches Twitter for mentions of McLuhan, and generates an auto reply: “You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong.” (It uses this method of combining Yahoo! Pipes and TwitterFeed if you’re interested in making your own TwitBot – but do it only for playful good, not commercial evil!) It’s not perfect, as it can only reply to 5 Tweets every half hour, and there’s a lag time that lessens the impact of being directly confronted with your cited source as in Annie Hall. But still, I’m happy with how it’s working, with over 250 Tweets over the past four days.

What’s been most interesting is to see the way people have responded to the ghostly Marshall. Most recipients of AutoMcLuhan’s accusations ignore him, at least publicly on Twitter. A good number have retweeted his reply and praised the bot. And then a chunk offer confused replies, clearly not clicking through the YouTube link on his profile to see the source scene. But reading these replies highlights how partial any one person’s slice of Twitter is, as a good number of comments are in languages other than English & thus fall outside my own daily stream – and maybe the video is just as incomprehensible to them as their Tweets are to me?

One of McLuhan’s most cited soundbites is how mass media will make us into a “global village,” a term coined in the 1960s long before the Internet became a publicly accessible widespread technology. McLuhan’s concept has been misrepresented as a utopian dream of harmony through communication without boundaries, but it’s more accurately understood as the possibility of easier access to voices from around the world, leading to conflicts and disagreement as well as potential peace and compromise. The media ecology of Twitter allows us to selectively aggregate voices from around the world, but the constant flow makes it feel like we’re “plugged in” to a mass dialog of what’s being said. It takes something like the random reach of AutoMcLuhan to highlight how tiny my neighborhood of the Twitterverse is compared to the vast array of voices I’m ignoring – they might not be bound by geography, but we still live in smaller villages than we may think.

But then again, I might know nothing of McLuhan’s work and mean his whole fallacy is wrong.

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7 Responses to “Finding the Global Village through a Twitter Bot”

  1. Great work! This is definitely the best scene from Annie Hall + it makes total sense with your premise – great! ahaha


  1. 1 Tweets that mention Finding the Global Village through a Twitter Bot « Just TV -- Topsy.com
  2. 2 Digital Culture Links: February 7th 2011 | Tama Leaver dot Net
  3. 3 justin tv help | Justin Tv,Lig tv Canli Maç İzle Şifresiz
  4. 4 JustTV Blog Post | mroos08
  5. 5 jill/txt » automated online debaters
  6. 6 How to Generate a Twitter Bot

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