Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Is Twitter today's CB Radio? so what...

If you were born after 1975-ish (younger than 35-ish), chances are you won't get this post - but if you were a kid (or a trucker) during the 1960's and 1970's, you might relate. It struck me that the CB radio was basically Twitter - just on a different channel (quite literally) - using audio airwaves rather than the character-based internet. "Citizen Band" (CB) Radios were primarily used by truckers to keep in touch with each other and with a base station - maybe a dispatcher. The CB was their practical tool to communicate. Then, kids and geek hobbyists got a hold of them. I got one as a kid - probably in 1973 - when my dad finally gave in to my persistent begging. My dad certainly made me pay for it - but he risked his life on the ladder to install the antenna... I clearly remember him dropping the antenna once as he almost fell off the ladder. But, even bent, the antenna hooked me up to a world of tweets... voices of other people and truckers with whom I purposelessly interacted (that sound too familiar?).

Then, on a long car ride to Florida, the value of the CB became clear. We took the CB in the car and formed several temporal voice relationships with some truckers on the same route - down i95. On more than one occasion, we were warned of trouble, radar traps, accidents - and the previously useless banter became useful - almost necessary in hindsight.

Some other characteristics of the CB which seem analogous:

  • We had "handles" - names that represented who we wanted to be... sometimes fun, sometimes close to our real personas. The only one I remember was my uncle's: StoneMan. You figure it out.
  • We had our own language, which I think follows police radio language... like 10:4 ("ok") or 10:20 ("location") or "smokey" (policeman). wow... tricky.
  • We had Channels - similar in my mind to #hashtags - but much less traceable.
  • Short Tweets... after all, you could only hold that little button on the side of the mic for so long...
  • CB's were trendy! (tweet tweet!) There was even a hit song by CW McCall called "Convoy"

This loose analogy between Twitter and the CB radio is not very enlightening, unless you want to believe that Twitter will face the same fate. So what was that fate? I'm guessing that hobbyists found more interesting and extendable platforms (not to mention the Internets ;) and truckers still use the CB in it's original form. If it were searchable, linkable, with more traceable social structures and usage patterns and without any locational limitations, maybe CB radios would have kept growing.... or maybe they did keep growing, right out of that stupid box in my room as a kid and into a chat room, then into that phone in my pocket and then into Twitter.

Maybe someone reading this post will take a hint and help those truckers still using CBs by launching a product that has the familiar, voice-based interface of the CB, but with the added the practical advances of Twitter! Traceable, linkable,, followable CB Radios! ...
Hmmm.  Maybe not.
10:4 good buddy.