McLuhan’s most useful device is the tetrad, a pedagogical tool designed to understand the transformative effects of a particular cultural artifact by looking at how it increased or decreased specific cultural patterns or brought back things that were lost in our society as a result of new technology.
To stave off further verbose explanation, here’s the Twitter Tetrad. This tetrad is designed to help us understand how Twitter actually has changed society.
1. What does Twitter enhance or amplify in our culture?
Twitter enhances our ability to cement the boundaries that we’ve begun to redraw on the internet. It does this by allowing us to live in communities of our own borders, different than nationality (which arose because of print technology), surrounded by like minds and interests. We come closer to “living” in this new community by understanding how those with shared interests and beliefs really live rather than just joining each other on websites and forums to discuss our similarities.
2. What does Twitter obsolesce?
Twitter obsolesces editorial content completely by painting a picture of what is actually happening right now. Twitter also removes traditional media as the authority and source of facts and up to date information.
3. What does Twitter retrieve from earlier civilization or society that was previously lost?
Twitter retrieves the ability to be an authority based on “power of voice” rather than traditional pedigree, something that was present in oral tradition. Twitter also retrieves our ability to memorize short passages to repeat orally as a transmission method for information and then knowledge.
4. What does Twitter reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?
Twitter’s all-information, all-the-time, from everywhere on the globe, helps us stay connected everywhere but reverses into a collective hive mind of our buzzing thoughts. Disconnectedness and isolation is the product of the oversaturation of the channel: high fidelity but information dilution brought to you by sheer numbers of faceless thoughts passing through the medium.