10 years on - is Twitter the steam engine of the 21st century?

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By Ellis Cashmore, visiting professor of sociology, Aston University

In years to come, we will refer to historical eras as BT and AT, meaning 'Before Twitter' and everything that happened after 21 March,2006 as 'After Twitter'.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Twitter changed everything about the way we live.

Look around you next time you are on the bus, train, in the supermarket, the gym or the library. People will be staring at the screens oftheir mobile or tablet and chances are they’ll be reading or writing tweets, those 140-character micro-messages that circulate around the world at a rate of about 6,000 per second.

As the name suggests, the messages were probably intended to be trivial, like the chirping of birds – pleasant but without much meaning.


tweets will be sent today.


users of Twitter.

The next big thing since the Industrial Revolution?

Little did its creators know that their invention would produce changes as profound as any since the industrial revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Twitter initially set up channels of communication between people who knew each other. It quickly became a resource for people who wanted to know others. In this sense it provided for a kind of intimacy at any distance.

Pop stars and other public figures were able to sustain what seemed personal relationships with fans. Katy Perry, for example, has over 50million tweeters who follow her via their phones, tablets or computers.

In a sense, they are living large portions of their lives not just looking at screens, but experiencing life via those screens.

This is why I argue that the change wrought by twitter (and, to a lesser extent, other social media) is profound: practically every part of our lives is oriented in some way to communicating through our gadgets.

Some may dismiss Twitter as a fad and the probability is that it will, some day, be replaced by another kind of as-yet unrealised form of media. But consider this: today 500 million tweets will be sent by some of the 305 million twitter users.

In years to come, we may recognise Twitter in the same way as regard the steam engine – as an invention that revolutionised the way we live.

This blog is by Ellis Cashmore, visiting professor of sociology, Aston University. It represents their views and not necessarily those of ITV News.