Twitter can’t handle World Cup fever.

Today, Landon Donovan shot the game-winning, tournament-advancing, heart-stopping goal in the 91st minute of USA’s final game of phase one of the World Cup against Algeria. Within seconds, twitter’s 20 million+ users were met with the increasingly common “fail whale,” the site’s safeguarding response to the onslaught of “GOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL” and “YOU CAN PUT IT ON THE BOAAAAAARD” and “#USA #USA #USA #USA” outbursts. On June 14, when Japan scored against Cameroon to break a seemingly endless stalemate, twitter reached its all-time highest “tweets-per-second” rate (which they shorten to TPS) at 2,940. How many tweets-per-second do you think Donovan’s goal notched?

As I sat and stared at the whale, I wondered what the purpose of “livetweeting” really is. Why would anyone want constant status updates on a specific event that can be followed with such ease and efficiency on,, or any one of the millions (billions?) of sports sites out there? Why would someone constantly refresh the same page, over and over again, just to read someone’s second-hand account of a specific incident, when they could just watch the game on ESPN3?

I quickly realized how naive I was being. Of course—these mad twitterers were already watching the game online. They not only wanted to witness the twitter-shattering goal, but they wanted to experience it secondhand, through its various retellings and re-formations told by thousands of twitterers-per-second.

In his pivotal essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin writes:

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.

Do you think that “livetweeting” lacks “presence in time in space”? Or does it create the digital space in which it exists, spinning pages upon pages filled with reproductions of a specific event? Do these various reproductions enhance the event which they evolve from, or do they undermine it (watch this)?

One thought on “liveblogging

  1. Pat, this is a pretty great post. I’m really intrigued by the idea of livetweeting and its communities, as they seems to be some concerted effort to experience an event both first- and second-hand.

    Conventions, sports events, political events, and really any event with an audience and 3G/wifi reception can be livetweeted. The live audiences for these events thus create and share a colossal, fragmented second-by-second recording of the proceedings, filtering out streams of text for public digestion on Twitter. Instead of merely streamlining the oral interactions we have regarding current events (water cooler talk, etc.), Twitter brings livetweeters into active, instant engagement with an audience not present at the actual event (and absent audiences into conversation with attendees). Livetweeters experience their reality and have it digitally enhanced by the input and reactions of a second phantom audience, which serves as witness to both the event and the concurrent social landscape changes around it.

    Why is this time displacement of event dialogue important? Advancing the conversation of an event to take place simultaneously with the event gives anyone with Internet access the key to a room where vox pop is framed not by corporations, news media, or other controlling interests, but only by the constraints of the medium– and even then manages to emit a cacophonous roar. Processing new information releases limited amounts of dopamine into the brain, and so livetweeting an event is mainlining reality in its purest, unmodified form.

    Odd, though: dividing attention between ingesting an event and tweeting about it feels like it should dampen and cheapen the experience of reality– as though reality only exists for enterprising individuals to digitize it. That, however, strikes me as an oversimplification. Livetweeting/blogging generates its own space– a space of witnesses, academics, fact checkers, and peanut galleristas, all crafting a record of an event through microcontributions.

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