Following the Star of Bethlehem in Twitter

Modern business has a color, and that color is grey. Grey are the suits of the office workers, grey are the carpets of their offices and grey are their cars. In this situation, it is fascinating to see how the cheerfully candy-colored Windows 7 has invaded the grey world of business without any ado.

More generally, the impact of IT products on our aesthetic perception is strangely underdiscussed in both social and traditional media. Perhaps a lack of comparability is at fault: There’s really only one twitter with one single design, just like there’s really only one facebook, with similar networks such as orkut copying all the major design elements. It is hard to evaluate the benefits of any one design over another, when there is no other design around. That is why companies like google and apple can smuggle their very own ideas of design into everybody’s lives under the pretence of mere functionality.

Often, art fills the void that is left by things that should be discussed, which are not (just think of the empty chair at the recent Nobel Preaze Price ceremony intended for Liu Xiaobo). The following video by a Portugese web-design company uses the nativity as vantage point to document the cultural significance that the Web 2.0 has obtained by Christmas 2010.

The Digital Story of the Nativity by Excentric.PT (2010):

The most beautiful overlap between the Gospel according to the Web 2.0 and the Gospel according to Matthew is found in the verb “to follow”: In the video, the Star of Bethlehem has its own twitter account (“Star of Bethlehem64”), where it proposes the appropriate hash tag of the day – Follow me to #worship the baby”. This account is quickly “followed” by three other Twitter users with the account names Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar.

After a Google Maps – assisted trip of Holy_Mary and Joseph.Carpenter07 from Nazareth to Bethlehem, accompanied by a prophetic text message from Archangel Gabriel on Mary’s iPhone, the video concludes: “times change – feelings remain the same”. Missing a punctuation mark, it is not clear whether this is meant as a statement or as a question.

What definitely remains the same is the curious idea of individualistic self-expression via completely non-individualistic standardized means. In an earlier age, prêt-à-porter fashion had already successfully convinced its wearers that by purchasing a mass-marketed generic piece of clothing, you in fact were communicating a meaningful statement about your irreplacable uniqueness in society. Similarly, social media tells you that you need to talk about yourself exactly the same way that everybody else talks about themselves in status and twitter messages in order to be perceived as being truly individual (the only alternative being not perceived at all). The fact that we instantly recognize the online tools used by the biblical figures in the video shows that social media is at least as – if not more – convincing as prêt-à-porter fashion.

Also, the feelings associated with the underlying events indeed don’t change whether they were sparked online or offline – you’re just as excited about the birth of Jesus whether you hear about it via facebook or via a Mormonic choir expressing their excitement in a Caribbean gospel song:

But what definitely does not remain the same is the way feelings are shared in the online and in the offline world. In Excentric’s video, apart from the upbeat instrumental rendition of Jingle Bells, the only soundtrack to the nativity story is the perpetual sound of keyboard strokes and mouse clicks – which makes all the difference. For the feeling is not the same, whether you’re listening to sounds of machines or to human voices, whether you are looking at a screen or at a person. But then again, who knows – for there is yet one more major internet company left out in the digital nativity story – skype.

Merry Christmas,