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A Tweet of Consciousness

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Where is Henry James when we need him? Or Carl Jung? Or Teilhard de Chardin for that matter? What all three of these visionary thinkers had in common was an intense fascination in the nature of consciousness. James gave us the phrase "stream of consciousness" to convey the flow of thoughts, ideas and fragmentary perceptions and captured that flow in his writings. Jung described the "collective unconscious" -- a source of myths, legends and shared stories that influence our waking thoughts and individual actions. And de Chardin wrote elegantly sixty years ago of a "noosphere", later described in a famous Wired article as the philosophical basis for global, net-based consciousness and a foretelling of the World Wide Web.

I wonder what all three of them would have made of Twitter. My guess is that James would have approved. After all, we refer to a "Twitter stream" as the flow of flotsam and jetsam of people's thoughts and descriptions of their actions, from the banal (breakfast choices) to the life threatening (Iranian calls for help). A stream of an individual's tweets over time can be said to create a picture or mosaic of that person's choices, lifestyle, wants and desires. It's a kind of ambient awareness, much like the background noise of talk radio -- often informative, at times irritating, occasionally entertaining.

It is likely that Jung would have delved into his patients' twittering to gauge their state of mind, to look for synchronistic postings across users and to search for symbolism and mythological references that reveal the psychological archetypes at play. I can imagine him watching Twitscoop with some fascination, monitoring what's "Buzzing right now" as the collective consciousness of the twitter-sphere revealed itself in words and phrases growing and shrinking in size.

And who better than Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit priest and paleontologist, to make sense of the voluntary outpouring of celebrities, journalists, cybermoms, teens and just about anyone with a keyboard and a desire to share (or overshare) their thoughts and dreams. Would he see an evolution of a "collective organism of Mind" as John Perry Barlow once suggested or the "cosmic convergence of the mind" as individual "nodes" link up in conscious awareness of each other?

I was thinking about the state of my own consciousness when I became aware of a subtle change in my daily, online routine. For fifteen years, I have started my day by switching on my computer (and, latterly, my iPhone) and checking my e-mail. Next, I'd head off to some of my favorite websites, check the news, sports, weather, etc. and then back to e-mail. But having been on Twitter for some months now, I've found myself checking my Twitter feed, any direct messages and who's been re-tweeting me, first before anything else. Inevitably, various tweets lead me on to the web to look up articles, blogs and more. Finally, after what could be minutes or hours, I remember to check in on e-mail, clearing that in order to return to the flow of comments coming from those I follow and messages from my followers. It's heady stuff.

Not only does Twitter mess with my daily schedule, it has also created a new kind of vital statistic which has nothing to do with my waist size. In addition to the number of tweets you've posted, the crucial friend-follower ratio tells the world if you are more followed than follow and, therefore, what kind of person you are. Needless to say there are services and apps to help you build your ratio and keep it healthy. It's all part of an evolving landscape or "noosphere" of interconnected folk trying to make sense of their world.

Perhaps in some cyber-future, Twitter will emerge as a new kind of religion or political party or philosophical movement. It will have seeped into our collective consciousness in a way that will make it so compelling, so essential to daily life, that millions will tap into and become dependent upon, its collective wisdom in a way that makes it the most followed entity on earth. God only knows, and she's not telling?!