Lost on Twitter Island

Chicago experiment to study effects of social networking tool

By Theresa Carter
|  Tuesday, Mar 17, 2009  |  Updated 6:11 PM CDT
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As a study recently showed, Chicagoans are all a twitter over Twitter. It's an amazing tool that can create multiple opportunities both personally and professionally.

But, the key word is that it's a "tool." When we're out and about among real live people, shouldn't we prefer to talk to those real live people and keep the phone in our pocket?

That's not always the case. Have you ever been out somewhere and pulled your phone out saying "I've got to tweet this," and looked around the room to see everyone else doing the same thing?

We're in danger of using technology to communicate to the point where we forget how to talk face-to-face, but we're not there yet -- let's hope.

Two Chicago artists are going to see what happens when you force people to communicate online -- and anonymously -- while sitting right next to each other.

On March 28 from 1 - 3 p.m., "Twitter Island" will take over the Chicago Art Department. Thirty participants will be given Twitter accounts. Half of them will be seeded with questions, and the other half will just interact.

"What I'm most curious about is the tension that will inevitably be created as people are required to use Twitter to communicate with people who they could just walk over and say hello to. How will this manifest in how the participants act, and what they say?," co-organizer Laura Apple said. "I've seen people texting at crowded parties and social functions. Why not talk to the people who are already in the room?"

Co-organizer Seth Gershberg, says the experiment will put a unique twist on our social interactions.

"If you don't know me, can't see me, and can't find me, I am free to say whatever I want without fear of repercussion. The 'true self' emerges," Gershberg said. "But what happens when identities remain anonymous, yet all communicators are in the same physical space? Will it be boxing gloves or Victorian etiquette? Will tribes or gangs form?"

The participants will be videotaped and Gershberg and Apple will compare the reactions to what's happening on their computer screens.

I think comparing the facial expressions, physical movements and verbal blurts to the actual Twitter texts will reveal something new," Gershberg said. "I'm hopeful that the participants won't be able to restrain themselves from communicating with the people next to them and that this doesn't end up looking like a computer lab run by a dictatorial professor who will whip you with a power strip if you dare to speak."

To participate in the experiment, contact Lauri Apple at lauri.d.apple@gmail.com.

@thelocaltourist runs the entertainment guide TheLocalTourist.com and is a member of the NBC Chicago Street Team Blog.

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