What's for lunch? A study on Twitter
July 17, 2010

According to the guys who invented it, "Twitter is a real-time information network powered by people all around the world that lets you share and discover what's happening now."

The key words here are "share" and "discover". Twitter allows you to broadcast your thoughts and learn about others'. "Thoughts", in this context, refers to ideas, emotions and feelings. It constitutes everything that the human mind could possibly think of. Including "My crotch is itchy."

I posted my first tweet on a lonely April 29, 2009 evening and it read, "How does this thing work?"

The question remains unanswered.

In fact, the system has become so convoluted that I had to take a step back, and assess the situation.

The situation

As of Tuesday, July 13, 2010, I've tweeted 2,648 times to 102 followers, while following 75. I've tweeted about music, sports, love, food, love, travels, love, movies, and love. Those who follow me would attest. And I've broken all the rules of tweeting. Everyone has. Simply because there aren't any. Twitter is freedom of speech with only one constraint: 140 characters. (Ignore the cretins at TwitLonger.)

After a year on Twitter, I've come across presumably all the different styles of tweeting in existence. I can never possibly list down all of them here. But let's just say it ranges from "@MrSeriousPerson: The growth of world's third largest economy slowed down in the second quarter. " to "@fluffywabbit: my new handbag is so pwettyyy jyeah LOL!!!1" to "@itweeteverything: Ha... choom..."

In other words, I've exposed and engrossed myself in too many things I don't have to know. No matter how pwetyyy the handbag was.

I became preoccupied with checking on Twitter updates. Picking up my BlackBerry and scrolling through UberTwitter turned into a norm. A habit I knowingly do while realizing that it adds very little value to my life. I see no reason for me to know what my friend had for lunch. Yet, I still read about it. Before I tell the world what I had for lunch as well.

Admittedly, a part of me is receptive to the sensationalism that Twitter brings. It's like watching reality TV, in texts, updated live, in real time. These buzzwords portray the extent to which the world has become smaller and smaller. And how the life stories of others are just at the flick of my finger.

Thing is, I've always been a person who rather not know when it comes to the dramas in the lives of others. I prefer watching those in movies, where it's fictional. The world is rough enough as it is already.

But that was before I was pulled into reading tweets. A stream of which, is a tsunami of emotions and whether it's good or bad, positive or negative, happiness or sadness, it's contagious.

Society's typical reaction to profane tweets

The assessment

Twitter users in general do get overwhelmed, more often than not. And the common remedy has been, expectedly, taking a break. Ignore Twitter. Don't check for updates for a day or two. Hide that Twitter application on your phone.

Cold turkey or not, people find breathing space in this -- with some withdrawal syndrome, to a certain degree.

I got overwhelmed by Twitter recently. The sentiment of not having to know what I unintentionally knew, grew stronger. I was fed with too much information, too much details, too much 140-character anecdotes and too much happenings. Most of which, I could live without.

But that's just me on the receiving end. Being where, I was assimilated into the trend of projecting my thoughts incessantly as well. Telling the world things I don't really have to. Simply because I learned, from other users, that there's nothing wrong with it. Twitter became the platform for people to let out to people who may or may not care. And I was one of them. Pot calling kettle.

At the same time, I still believed that Twitter is a powerful tool, if utilized to its optimal best. I believe that Twitter brings out creativity in people. It creates a culture of being concise, and a community that appreciates information that are delivered directly without beating around the bush. Twitter is capable of making things more efficient. It saves time.

To find a balance between these two extremes, I conducted a little experiment to see how I'd adapt to change. While taking a break may be a short-cut way to see how I would react, I opted to do the reverse, and spent more time on Twitter.

The little experiment

Using my own account, I unfollowed half of the people I've been following, and replaced them with BBC News. So at one point, my Twitter consisted of individual accounts of people tweeting about their lives, and BBC News, who tweets on average 3 to 5 headlines from around the world every 10 minutes.

The hypothesis was that I'd reach a thoroughly balanced stream of tweets blending stories of the people I know, and the happenings around the world -- the ideal Twitter. A healthy blend of useful and useless information. Yes, useless information can be useful, given the right amount.

The result

The setting ran for 32 hours. Every now and then, I'd check to see the pattern of tweets I subscribed to.

Following are some observations:
  1. I couldn't be bothered by most of the news that came in. While I do read the news daily, I learned that it's best to read about them via the website as I could ogle around and filter the things I intend on reading. I'll usually pass when it's not about Lindsay Lohan.

  2. The news tweets came as headlines, with links to the main news story. None of which I clicked because 1) The headlines weren't intriguing enough for me to know further 2) I was too lazy to click on the link from my phone and 3) None of them was about Lindsay Lohan.

  3. The news to individual tweet ratio was roughly 4:1. Which is fair as I did try to retain the active tweeters i.e. those who tweet "Morning!", "Afternoon!", "I forgot if this is dusk or dawn!" and "Night!"

  4. Reading personal tweets (the individuals) between general tweets (BBC News) creates a fluctuation in terms of importance level in the information that I receive. After graphing it out (Fig. 1.1), I noticed a sinusoidal shape where the peak is "world domination" and the trough is "a strand of hair protruding from one's ear".

  5. I felt bad for not following some of the people who were following me. Some. There seems to be this unspoken obligation to follow them back, somehow. Probably because I use Twitter to communicate as well.

  6. And because of that, I felt somewhat left out when people I was still following "talk" to the people I used to follow. In front of me. I felt betrayed. Insert sad smiley.
Fig. 1.1 - Importance of tweets

In a nutshell

Shortly after feeling I've studied enough, I duly unfollowed BBC News, and went back to following the people I unfollowed for this, academic purpose. I've come to the conclusion that the stage I was at, prior to conducting this research was already the optimum usage of Twitter.

Filtering what to read or not is to be done manually. It's all about coordinating the eyes to send a signal to the brain and tell it that a tweet is not worth reading by the third word.

There's no way for one to reach the ultimate balance in filtering the content he follows on Twitter. If I ever needed to read the news I want, there's always this old thing called websites.

Twitter is for me to know about your lunch.

Note: While I could've just skipped this trivial study and used the "List" function on Twitter, let it be known that I just needed something to update this blog. Cheers.


ass-rif, asal lately nih ko suka menipu? social experiment konon. Cakap je la dorg annoying. Heheh.

I agree comepletely everything ur saying! hahaha.. ur so funny lah. send my regards to yaya!

p/s: and i especially love the last line. bloggers! haha.

yea apsal ko suka make up stories doh? tipuuu sialllll

anyways aku tak penah update lunch aku. aku biasa makan caesar salad je pun

That's a lot of effort! LOL.

The pleasure is mine, ladies and gentlemen. The pleasure is mine.

A research well done! Sangatlah mirip my experience with twitter, and fb to certain extent. Now I'm back in the game of unnecessary fame - reading about the details of other people's vagina activities during labor, and so on and so forth. (excuse me, merely stating a real situation here)

People hv got to be kidding themselves for exposing too much of their private life. But then again, we're all guilty of it at some point.

Take it easy, Asrif. :)

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Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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