“Words Have Special Meanings When Computers are Involved”
—Editorial in the October 1983 issue of Output, the newsletter/journal of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario
I’ve been on a Twitter hiatus for a while (discussed in issue #12). In my time away, I didn’t consciously miss what I expected to. I didn’t consciously miss the range of perspectives. I didn’t consciously miss the virtual back-and-forth with friends. Consciously, I missed the feed. Not the feed in an intellectual sense, but in a physical sense—I missed the action of scrolling through a feed of information.
In the moments where previously I’d scroll through Twitter, I grasped for other feeds. I scrolled through Facebook, through Google’s suggested articles, through LinkedIn (!). The content mattered little; the feeling of scrolling mattered most.
Discussing this with a friend, I walked away considering the word “feed”. How did we co-opt this word to describe the central gathering grounds of social media?
The word carries several definitions. As a noun, it can refer to something that we eat or consume (horse feed), a receptacle into which we load material (the feed on a copy machine), or a stream of information or content (a satellite feed). As a verb, it generally aligns with “provide”, whether you’re providing food, material, or information.1
Looking at this range of definitions, I grow further unsettled by our modern use of the term. When I started my break, I thought of my Twitter feed as a conduit of information, a never-ending river of content into which I could dip at will. This aligns to the third definition of “feed” as a noun. But reflecting on my craving for the action of scrolling itself, the first sense of the word—as something we consume—seems more appropriate. I missed the feed because I was hungry for it. My body and mind have developed a craving for the feed, one that seemingly any feed can satisfy. What’s more, the feed is not just something to consume, but something that provides for me—it is noun and verb, object and action.
I don’t know what to make of it, but that’s where I’m at. I stare aghast at the feed while indulging in it. This is how I am with most technology—I don’t know that it’s a problem, but I know it warrants further consideration.
Sent on January 7th, 2018.
These definitions adapted from Antidote, the best digital dictionary. ↩