by Barry Chudakov on December 21st, 2009

The Pinball Effect

As part of a discovery process (What I’ve discovered on Twitter) started by the brilliant and peripatetic Venessa Miemiss, here are a few thoughts about the role of Twitter in our lives and Metalives. Many of these insights have their origin in my understanding and appreciation of James Burke’s, The Pinball Effect:

“Knowledge has many unforeseen and surprising effects. Like a pinball, a simple discovery in one area can—through necessity, intuition, or serendipity—connect with, bounce off, and redirect the course of another seemingly unrelated discovery made elsehwere in the world or at a distant time.”


Credit: Playfield of the Empire Strikes Back Pinball Machine, RandomE SHG, Flickr, All rights reserved.

Credit: Playfield of the Empire Strikes Back Pinball Machine, RandomE SHG, Flickr, All rights reserved.


1. Moving thought around via Twitter is non-linear and deliciously aimless. The way we careen around ideas and insights makes Twitter a vast pinball machine of commentary. It may be one of the first playtoys of the mind to achieve wide adoption.


2. Twitter, both in its name and use, establishes a platform of interplay. Contrast this with our historical orientation, inherited from the industrial revolution and the religious texts that were the basis of literacy: i.e., knowledge is hard work. Effort, drills, memorization, fact containment and recall were the coin of that realm. By contrast, Twitter creates a culture of discovery on the basis of connection. In the give and take of interaction, knowledge emerges effortlessly.


3. Twitter may help us navigate through the attention crash. While Twitter may be one of the first genuine artifacts of the presence of a hive mind, ‘continuous partial attention’ is not the best utilization of our brains. Like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule, more time spent on Twitter compels us to compress, refine, and re-focus attention in order to connect and communicate more effectively.


4. Twitter engenders multiple simultaneous perspectives. While tribal definition and defense has characterized human history, Twitter dynamics operate more broadly. Once you see enough thoughts, hear enough minds talking out loud in real time, it dawns that this may be a way of watching thinking evolve. It recalls the Zen notion of ‘beginner’s mind’: not holding your perspective or worldview in a fixed fashion. When we are all presenting and bouncing off multiple simultaneous perspectives, categorical thinking and fixed points of view are challenged by the shreer breadth of intelligent differences.


Credit: The Dolly Parton Pinball Machine, Mlle Jordan, Flickr, All rights reserved.

Credit: The Dolly Parton Pinball Machine, Mlle Jordan, Flickr, All rights reserved.

5. Twitter celebrates the unknown, the unanticipated. Since knowledge and information emerge from Twitter interplay, focus changes from desired result to anticipation of the unknown. This is a remarkable shift from, say, the way schools traditionally teach or the way news organizations typically present information. Using Twitter we are connecting on the fly from our known topics or concerns to a welter of unanticipated inputs and insights. We are, in effect, both the pinball wizard and the ball: directing our attention but not knowing precisely, given the bounce of interplay, where it will finally go.


For more insights on this Twitter discovery process, go to Twitter, #MonTwit. I would be remiss if I did not thank @davepool for his hours of informative Twitter discussion.


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From Trends

  1. Nice post! It poses an interesting question – how can we use twitter to help us get our 10,000 hours in?

  2. Metalifestream permalink

    Thanks, Tim. Great question. Is part of the answer how our thinking and commentary evolves interactively, with as much responding to others as our intent to say something? I would love to hear your further thoughts on this.

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