Over the winter break I’ve been enjoying The Culture of Connectivity which was recommended by Nicholas Proferes during a talk last fall at the UMD iSchool about his doctoral research. I might have more to say when I finish it, but the chapter that examines Twitter contained a nice description of a tweet that seemed particularly relevant as Twitter considers changing from 140 to 10,000 characters.

Both the quality and quantity of tweets have been vital elements in the dispute of what constitutes Twitter’s essence during the stage of interpretive flexibility. The “tweet” is arguably Twitter’s most distinctive contribution to online culture; a sentence limited to 140 characters flagged by a hashtag has become a global format for online public commentary. This new cultural form has been adopted widely outside the platform proper, for instance in newspapers and on television. Its concise syntax and delimited length render the tweet virtually synomymous with a quote–a citation from a source for which authentication resides with the platform, not the journalist. Aside from figuring in the news the tweet has emerged as a cultural form inspiring poets and literary authors. (van Dijk, 2013, pp. 76–77)

This was my first encounter with the notion of interpretive flexibility, a relatively old idea (at least relative to social media) from Science and Technology Studies that technological artifacts can often exist in time periods that support multiple (and possibly conflicting) interpretations (Pinch & Bijker, 1984). In some ways interpretive flexibility sounds like common sense, but maybe not when you consider how easy it is to slip into thinking of technologies as fit for a particular purpose, and scientific findings as facts. I think it’s kinda interesting to consider use or as a form interpretation when it comes to software. Hacking as interpretation.


Pinch, T. J., & Bijker, W. E. (1984). The social construction of facts and artifacts. Social Studies of Science, 14(3), 399–441. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/285355
van Dijk, J. (2013). The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-culture-of-connectivity-9780199970780