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« Process or Dictatorship? Time to Choose! | Main | I’m Like, “Wow!” »

In A Twitter

The social network taking the world like a tsunami continues to meet with a few enclaves of resistance.  The anti-twitter hold-outs, one of whom I had a deep conversation with recently, cite many reasons why they don’t like it.  Despite all my remonstration, I do have to concede some merit to the premises presented, which I will discuss here.  I remain somewhat frustrated because I don’t have all the answers I want, probably because the whole phenomenon is so new that it hasn’t been subjected to much scholarly review.  Here goes: 

Tweeters have followers.  That term alone suggests a messianic overtone to the person on twitter.  What kind of ego must one have to embrace a followership?  In tweetereese, we don’t call them readers, listeners, friends or groupies.  No.  We call them followers.  As a term, followers implies that the tweeter has something that many people want him or her to say; that he or she possesses superior wisdom, insight or depth of understanding; and that (this is the kicker) he or she is a personality worthy of emulation.  Is such a critique warranted?  Do tweeters actually feel this way about themselves?  If they don’t at this point, will they?  Will tweeters develop an exaggerated sense of self-importance based on the number of followers? 

Twittering may cause one to shift the focus of his or her life.  This is a bit of a stretch or overstatement, but the point is that a tweeter may undergo subtle changes in self-perception.  In other words, once a person grasps the reality of his or her stage presence, then tweeting becomes a performance, not a natural extension of one’s personality.  The underlying postulate is that people change when they know they are being watched, a theory that has been studied for years and proven true in a number of experiments. Do stage lights and microphones change the actor?  Does seeing the book in print change the author?  Does the pulpit change the preacher?  When we tweet our thoughts, does the thought drive the tweet or does the tweet drive the thought?  How much of what we put into the public arena represents the authentic person and how much is especially contrived for public consumption? 

Twittering is based on, or induces, voyeurism.  Do people live vicariously through the sage or celebrity that they follow?  I suppose that there are many dysfunctional followers who live for the tweet of his or her idol.  This would be, of course, an unhealthy practice and one which any self-respecting tweeter would loathe.  Since this aspect of twitter is more focused on the follower, it follows that all of us who follow (and most tweeters follow fellow tweeters) should analyze the purpose for following others on twitter.  Do we have secret desires to copy this person?  Are we unduly influenced by their tweets?  Do we have the illusion of being in some sort of relationship with this person? 

Twitter may create or represent a disingenuous sense of relationship between tweeters and followers.  In real life (assuming that twitter is not real life), human interaction thrives on the tangible, audible and visual senses between people.  It is full-bodied, holistic and present.  Relationships carried on through twitter cannot possibly span this complete range of emotion and interaction.  Is it, therefore, not real?  In this sense, no.  But, is it real in as far as it goes?  Perhaps.  Since twitter is still very much in flux, we may learn to accept it for what it is and not for what we want it to be.  We may never find twitter to be as satisfying as a personal, one-on-one relationship with another human being, but we may learn to accept it and use it for the slice of life that it yields to us.  (Am I answering my own questions now?  Hmmm.) 

Going further in this relationship theme, both parties in a relationship impact each other in very real ways.  Much of our inspiration to compose songs, write poems, author books, produce inventions and many other things are born directly out of close relationships with others.  The best contributions to humanity would never come into being without such relationships.  In that sense, it is impossible for twitter to spawn the intense and profound offspring that represent the best of mankind.  

Yet, we have not lived with twitter long enough to know what it may indeed produce.  At this point, we should not dismiss it as a shallow, silly technology.  Don‘t forget, we have learned to use the phone.  Society has learned to watch television for its portrayal of life.  We know, however, that both the phone and the television can be manipulated to mislead people and to create believable situations that are totally without basis in real life.  The fact is that we find them useful to accomplish certain things for us in social interaction.  At the same time, we hold them at arm’s length, realizing that they also have the potential for harm. 

To me, twitter is fun.  I view it in the same way that I glance at the sports pages or play a round of golf.  I like to think of myself as using twitter, not twitter using me.  Although I send and receive serious matters via twitter, the use of the phenomenon itself is a novelty.  In the end, I may reject it.  Some people say it is a waste of time, to which I respond, “I choose to waste my time with twitter; how do you waste your time?”  

In the meantime, I have to say that I get a kick out of being “retweeted” or “mentioned” or receiving a direct message.  It’s the twitter world.  I’m sure, however, that much more will be said about it in the months and years to come.  It’s changing everyday.  It may also be changing us.  Every modern invention has impacted society—and you and me—in ways we would never have envisioned.  Unintended consequences and “black swans” seem to drive history.  Is this a world-changing development?  Maybe. That may be worth a tweet.  I guess I’m in a twitter.

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow. Very well said, and so many relevant points.

It is something to think about, truly; there is nothing more "real" than true, face to face human interaction where all the senses are present, and I do worry that we may, as a people, at some point forget this in practice. Case in point: it isn't usual sometimes to see people sitting at a table together, not interacting with each other, but with their tiny little devices as they "connect" (in a much more limited way!) with people around the world, but forgetting that a real, flesh and blood person is in their presence. :)

Perhaps we need a reminder sometimes that there is a natural hierarchy of "connectivity", and we would do well to prioritize accordingly: real, full presence contact should be accorded a higher priority than contact at a distance.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Garcia

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