Saturday, 8 March 2014

Stretched Minds: A Twitter Example

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

That thought came to mind a few days ago. I came across a story in a newspaper about a man from Texas, who'd set out to break the new record Ellen DeGeneres set for most retweets (RTs). Ellen's tweet, posted on March 2, 2014 (Oscar night) - and now sitting at 3,352,469 - has far surpassed the record set by Barack Obama's tweet of November 6, 2012, now sitting at 781,484. I'm not sure what the Obama RT count was when Ellen tweeted. For a while, it had stood at over 700,000. Hardly matters now. She wanted to break the record of most RTs - and she shattered it.

What struck me about the Texan's story is not that he was, in Internet speak, a "virtual nobody" who decided to pull this little stunt using a selfie of himself and his two dogs. (The fact is, there have been other tweeps who've set out to break the record, but their tweets have not gained as much traction.) No, it is that the Terry Shipman tweet has so far received 179,138 RTs - mine included. (Go get 'em, Terry! :-)) It is that so many people have "bothered" to give their support on this fun journey. Sure, there may be a few bots, but I'm pretty sure the majority of those RTs are from real folks.

But, what really struck me? The fact that, after Ellen's 3.35M RTs, a 180K RT count hardly seems like a big deal. Those numbers are usually enjoyed - for need of a ... nope, I don't think I need a better word - by celebrities with follower counts in the millions. After this, figures like that, even though they mightn't come along very often, will not carry that awe as they might have before. Pre-Obama tweet, they were jaw-dropping. Post-Obama tweet, meh! Post-Ellen tweet, yawn...

However, this 180K RT figure for someone who was not "Internet famous" (or any other kind of famous, it seems), is a big deal - at this point in Twitter time. So, on the one hand, the numbers aren't so shocking anymore. But, on the other hand, they kinda are, for a "regular guy".

Now - and this is very important - just in case this is a hoax by the likes of, say, late night show host, Jimmy Kimmel, the point would still maintain its validity about how the mind, once it gets stretched to accommodate a new reality, cannot shrink to its previous dimension as though it had never had that new experience. Once something new comes along, whatever similar follows in its wake does not have that shock/novel value. Celebrities/Entrepreneurs would agree - hence the constant re-invention of self/service. These days, people get bored very easily. They want the next "next best thing" the next minute.

Look around; listen. There are so many things that we accept as the norm these days, that were, at first, shocking to our sensibilities. Have we become jaded? In a sense? In more than one sense? Next time, I'll write about a more serious and common example of the way our minds have been stretched. That realization struck during a class on Ethics in Media years ago. Certainly, for me, that was an A-ha! moment.


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