Jed Cohen

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The Power of Fantasy in an Age of Reality

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This is the second of my #140conf seven posts in seven days series.  Of course, this was supposed to be done on Friday (it’s now Sunday), so I have a bit of catching up to do.  For those of you that haven’t read the first post of this series, I’m going to write a post a day for the next week reflecting on some aspect of the 140 Characters Conference (except today, when I hope to write three to catch up).  The posts may be direct responses to the panels, commentary on the event, or something only tangentially related.  I’m not really too sure on what I’ll be covering each day, as I’m writing them shortly before I post them.  So what’s on the agenda right now?  The power of fantasy in an age of reality.  Also known as why fake people on Twitter can sometimes be more real than actual human beings.If you’re reading this, you’re probably on Twitter (I’m sad to say that not that many people just come to my blog without provocation).  So you’ve probably been followed by one or two spam accounts; maybe you’ve also
seen someone’s account hijacked by an application.  You may also be used to the outlandish tweets of some of your tweople as they discuss fantastical events that could never happen.  Either way, chances are you’re used to seeing something you know is false appear in your stream.  And that comes with the territory, right?  Plenty has been written on how the Internet makes things more anonymous, how it allows people to adopt other identities and loose themselves in the crowd.  Some say that’s why massive multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft have so many players (not sure I agree, but that’s not the point of this post).

At any rate, there were two events that made me consider what it means to be a fictional presence on social media during #140conf.  The first was a panel on Twitter and Mad Men; the second was a talk by  Callie Kimball (@calindrome) on “The arts as a shared experience on Twitter.”  Now, I’ve never seen Mad Men the TV show (although I am a fan of the opening sequence).  The Mad Men tweeters are individuals who tweet as characters from the show, while Ms. Kimball is a playwright and NBC Universal project manager.  Now when you think about it, this is two separate approaches to fantasy on Twitter (perhaps non-reality would be a better term).  In the case of Mad Men, Twitter is the stage they use to assemble a work that weaves together the in-universe reality of the television show with the twitterverse.  On the other hand, playwrights like Ms. Kimball tend to use Twitter to raise awareness of their work, or to provide 140 character pieces of material.  These playwrights are in a sense the inverse of the Mad Men tweeters, as they step outside their physical reality to tweet about their projects.

Now there is also a third kind of fictional tweeter – the truly fictional, existing in his/her own pocket universe, kind.  Unlike @FrankAdMan@BeverlyDarling, and the rest of the Mad Men tweeters, these accounts may not interact with those outside of their reality; instead, they allow the twitterverse to peek in and see what is going on.  I don’t have much in the way of evidence for this kind of phenomenon.  In fact, I have just one example – @twit_play.  The name of the account explains it all.  It’s a two month long play on Twitter written by Jeremy Gable, and it’s technically it’s four accounts.  @danemainman, @nikopolis, @lesleopard, and @ccmcalis have been having a running conversation with each other, one that I could actually see as some kind of time warped theatrical experience.  This experiment has only been going on for 11 days, but so far the characters have yet to “speak” to anyone outside of their foursome.  For me, the interesting part of this is that there have been times when I have seen an @twit_play  tweet and wanted to respond.  To engage this fictional character in conversation.  So what does that say about the power the fantasy holds if it is able to draw me into its reality?  To make me believe, even if just for a second, that the person represented in the account is actually alive somewhere, sitting at their computer or on their phone, talking to the internet.  And to make me want to respond to them, just as I would to someone I knew on Twitter who isn’t following a script.

Written by Jed

June 21st, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Posted in conference

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