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A-Muse-ing Ourselves to Death One Attebyte at a Time

This week I heard many people reflecting upon the way the Twitter-verse is mirroring the world’s inequality. The vast majority of power is accruing to a tiny minority of people, some of those people are wielding that power irresponsibly, and our systems aren’t built to mediate the negative externalities. Right now, the only way we measure power on Twitter is in followers/retweets/likes, etc. Always numbers, but they’re not the right numbers.

What we actually care about is what these messages are doing once they get inside people’s thoughts. Not just that things are being shared, but the effect of sharing them. A while ago I came up with the concept of Attebytes — a conceptual way of quantifying finite cognitive resources — and about how the world will change once we have such a measure. Until then, what cost do we pay as a society by being unduly influenced by the 1% and unable to listen to and engage with the other 99%?

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death has a good take on this — we are filling in the valuable cognitive real estate that used to be given over to inspiration, creativity, imagination to instead being constantly entertained.

You know who used to be the Twitter 1%? The Muses, in ancient Greece. The voices in our head which inspired expansiveness and imagination — Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love poetry, lyric art), Euterpe (music, especially flute), Melpomene (tragedy), Polymnia (hymns), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), Urania (astronomy). Times are different now.

What if Twitter had different measures built into its system architecture besides just a high-school popularity contest? If you could redesign Twitter to optimize for different things, what would you do?

(Image: REUTERS)