CB radio (Citizens’ Band) first came about in the late forties in the U.S. and caught fire in the seventies. You needed a radio set which could be mobile (either car or handheld) and you could interact with all kinds of people with some assurance of anonymity in real time. CB use exploded and eventually an overwhelming volume of license requests and sheer disregard for the rules in any case, meant you didn’t even need one of those eventually.
CB had its good points and bad. At times getting any worthwhile information from it was impossible because of the sheer idiot noise level. But having it when you had a flat or were lost could be a lifesaver. CB was relatively short range excepting what they called “skip”, which allowed you to reach far off “CBers” by bouncing signals off clouds when conditions at night were right. Initially it had 24 channels and later expanded to 40 – some of these channels were specialized. For example, channel 9 was considered the emergency channel.
The one limitation of CB was its bi-directional nature – only one person could transmit (talk) at a time. Worse still, if two or more people keyed their mics at the same time, most, if not all of what the person or persons were trying to say would be effectively squelched. This technique was often applied to disrupt entire channels maliciously – yes, CB had trolls too.
CB allowed the user to provide updates on location and situation to friends and family. The bulk of the communications revolved around where one was at, what one was doing and what everyone else was doing wrong.
The nature of technology is not as important as understanding the nature of those who use it
Is this starting to sound a little familiar? Exactly, Twitter is the CB radio of the new millennium. Realizing this connection gives us a glimpse at what is going on now, why it happens and where it might go. It should also help keep things in perspective for business trying to leverage it to reach potential customers. There are two mistakes you can make on Twitter. One is to not take it seriously and the other is to take your self too seriously while using it.
The parallel between Twitter and CB radio is not because one was modeled on the other, but because humans thought up Twitter and humans use it. We like to talk about ourselves and we like to know that others out there share or validate our view of the world. This was/is a primary driver of both technologies – the overwhelming human desire to share ourselves and possibly connect.
Twitter comes from a long line of communication tools designed to reach out and connect communities and the world. The difference being that as with all other social media, it puts the power of mass communication in the hands of the average person.
Twitter isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution. And it should remind us that knowing the nature of technology is not as important as understanding the nature of those who use it.