THE BLOG
04/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Changing Communication As We Know It: Twitter

There have always been shifts in the means of communication: the telephone created one-to-one communication possible, across the world. TV allowed for broadcasting to millions of people. The Internet gave us access to countless websites, but social media, and Twitter in particular, is in many ways helping to forge the next era of communication.

Below are five key aspects of this new movement:

1) Selected Communication

If you search hard enough, you can find just about anyone's email address. However, there is only one way someone can direct message (DM) you: you choose to follow the person. This significantly increases the relevancy of one's communication. As our networks expand and we are in touch with more people, we will increasingly use communication where we have vetted everyone from whom we can receive messages, before checking other communication tools such as e-mail where just about anyone can walk through uninvited and there is no limit to length. E-mail will continue to be used, but it will become a secondary instead of primary means.

2) Stages of Communication

In the past, we generally had one set of contacts, all of who knew our e-mail address and phone number; today, in large part thanks to Twitter, we have levels and levels of contacts with whom we can communicate to various degrees.

Our time, we could say, is the era of "stages of communication." People often begin with @replies where communication can occur while not opening the no-limit-to-character service of e-mail. People can then expand to DM, allowing more personal contact, but it is still limited to 140 characters. They can then, if needed, share email addresses and phone numbers allowing more in-depth communication to occur. Increasingly, the starting point is through @replies on social media like Twitter, and communication develops from there, allowing us various levels of communication with those in our network.

3) Transparent Communication

The third movement is that, while much communication continues to be private, greater amounts of it are public and transparent. Today, it is easier than ever to know who is talking to whom. People are realizing that there is a benefit to sharing and allowing people to eavesdrop on many of their conversations.

Just as Google helped us better access the volume of content online, often in the form of personal and business websites, Twitter allows for a similar access to conversations.

4) Brief Communication

The other shift is that as we communicate with more people and our networks grow, the communication we have is briefer. People are choosing large networks with shorter, more to-the-point conversation, rather than smaller networks with longer conversations. Of course, shorter communication can lead to longer, more in-depth ones, but the introduction point for contact is one of brevity. We want to send and receive information as succinctly as possible.

5) Access as Communication

The other major shift, again made possible largely through Twitter, is that our channels of communication have dramatically opened and expanded. In the past, if you wanted to get a message to Bill Gates, you had almost no chance. While it is still very difficult today, now that he is on Twitter, you can direct an @reply to him. How often he reads and responds to @replies is uncertain, but there now exists an open channel where he and other high profile people can engage with every day people. This access via @replies can also be denied through the "block user" feature, giving people control over their communication streams as they open them up.

In this new communication age, people are reachable in more ways than ever, and Twitter provides the tools to manage and control such accessibility.

Conclusion

Sometimes the most radical changes are the most difficult to notice, as they occur gradually over a period of time rather than all at once. Such is the case with communication in our time. As we communicate and engage with more people, our means of doing are changing along with the times. Twitter, as much as any other site, is helping to launch and enable this new era of communication. Like it or not, we have entered a completely new era in in who we communicate with and how we communicate with them. And central to this is social media sites like Twitter.

Soren Gordhamer is organizing the Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which brings staff from technology companies such as Twitter and Google, with Zen teachers, neuroscientists, and others to explore this living with deeper mindfulness and wisdom in the modern age. More info at: http://www.wisdom2conference.com/