Twitter Makes Rhinos Of Us All


In Last Chance to See (the best book he ever wrote), Douglas Adams wondered what the world "looks" like to rhinos. Their nasal membranes are larger than their brains, but they have terrible eyesight. As a result, they would see Douglas like a poorly-rendered sprite on a low-res computer screen, but could smell him on the wind half a mile away. Sight is effectively instantaneous, but smell isn't. Douglas's insight was to realize that as a result a rhino's view of the world is rich with the data of things past—for them, the past and the present blur together in one sensorium.

I was reminded of Adams' thinking as I watched people use Twitter and other social media at PyCon. Everyone's perception was smeared in time and space: sitting in one talk, they could catch a whiff of what was going on three rooms away by keeping one eye on tweets from its audience, and someone who had just come into a room could recap the discussion by scrolling through the last two pages of other people's comments. "This and now" has become "these and recently". I wonder if that's why my generation finds it all so confusing: we're looking for things when we should be taking a deep breath to find what's on the wind.