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“I’m going to the toilet now”

Maxim: Do Twitter and MSN create distance, as Queen Beatrix said?

Our society is becoming more and more individualistic. The modern world, with its internet, e-mail, Twitter and so on seems to bring people together. But it creates a safe distance between you and me. We now can speak without being seen, without showing ourselves, anonymously. The expression of emotions and vulgarities is easier; speaking without respect is possible without being rapped over the knuckles. This foregoing is part of the speech that the Dutch queen Beatrix gave on Christmas Day. Does she have a point, or has she lost contact with our world, as her opponents claim?

“I can imagine that Queen Beatrix has difficulties with some of the social platforms. Twitter is the most absurd one. People are telling us that they’re now jumping in their car or going to the toilet. But platforms like LinkedIn, Hyves and Facebook can be very useful for your social and business networks”, says Jan Scholtes, professor of Text Mining at Maastricht University and CEO of Zylab. “I agree with the queen that they can never replace the normal social contacts; they’re more of a supplement. Helpful for people who don’t have a lot of contacts, people who are searching for a job or who want to stay in contact with long-distance friends.”

It takes about twenty years for a new technology to be accepted, Scholtes declares. “You need a generation. We saw that with the telephone, radio, TV, computers. In the beginning you have to discover the rules and mores. Now you see, for example, people closing their e-mail inbox for a while because they want to do their work instead of e-mailing all day long.” And what about all the vulgarities and anonymous responses on the internet? “That’s digital vandalism. In the earlier days people sent letters made from characters cut out of newspapers. There will come a time when we’ll take it with a grain of salt.”

“I think Queen Beatrix’s words make sense. There are people on Facebook and Hyves who have 900 friends. How is that possible? We create a kind of emptiness; we don’t really know people anymore”, says Gwen Noteborn, ICT innovation manager at the School of Business and Economics. On the other hand: “Hyves, Twitter and so on are nice supplements for my contacts. If you have a problem you just Twitter it and within ten minutes you have maybe 150 solutions. And when you feel bored, you send a message to Facebook: I feel bored, who’s got a nice idea for spending this afternoon? And when you’re abroad you can stay in touch with your family and friends very easily.”

 

Riki Janssen

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