Demonstrating emotional insecurity in 140 character increments

Gawker posts an article that attempts to explain the psychology behind using Twitter, managing to both read way too much into it and get in a few swipes at those who take part.

Why do people Twitter? Even the company’s CEO, Ev Williams can’t answer that question. Perhaps he is embarrassed by the true reason: We Twitter to reassure ourselves that we are alive.The Times of London asked experts about the Twitter phenomenon, and concluded that people use the Internet message-broadcasting service to send 140-character “tweets” relating their most mundane activities because of an underdeveloped sense of the self:

The clinical psychologist Oliver James has his reservations. “Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”

In short, Twitter users are sad, self-absorbed people who desperately crave attention.  The same description has been applied to members of other social networking/online journaling sites such as LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook and Tumblr, usually by people who want you to know how above partaking in such pointless frivolity they are (as opposed to, you know, keeping a blog).  There’s a bit of pot-kettle-black taking place with people who spend a better part of their lives on the internet criticizing other people for spending a better part of their lives on the internet, particularly when it develops into dick-waving fights over whose activities online are less trivial.  Twitter and Facebook are sneered at because your actual interpersonal communications are limited to either a few sentences at a time or sending your friends a virtual cookie bouquet.  Getting into arguments with conservatives in the comments section of The Huffington Post, that’s where the action is.

I’ll admit, I use Twitter.  My page is here, and as long as you’re not spam or in the market to collect Twitter followers like Pokemon cards, feel free to add me.  I use it pretty often, posting at least once or twice a day (I slammed the hell out of it during last night’s Oscars presentation).  There’s no deep, psychological meaning behind why I use it, it’s just fun.  Sometimes I use it to take notes, such as what I ate on a particular day.  Other times I use it to make brief commentary on something I see when I’m out somewhere.  Admittedly, most of what I post is not particularly scintillating (save for when I gushed over standing next to Steven Carell on a street corner last summer), but it’s entertaining enough that other users often comment on it.  It’s mostly mundane stuff that I don’t feel the need to post here or on my personal journal, but want to mark down for posterity anyway.

As for as other people’s Tweets (because you can’t call them “twits,” and you definitely can’t call them “twats”), I like reading about the everyday minutiae of the lives of people who are either actually my friends or at least interest me in some way, and clearly I’m not the only one.  One of the most popular members of the “Twitterati” is none other than former child actor and present high lama of geekdom Wil Wheaton, who currently has more than 125,000 followers.  Wheaton’s Tweets are less about what is undoubtedly a more interesting life than the average Twitter user, and more about his ordinary comings and goings, commenting on a hockey game he’s watching, noting amusing anecdotes about his wife or kids, and gushing about comic books and movies.  His Tweets are witty and fascinating, but then again, so are those of a lot of the regular folks I watch too.

True, a great deal of Twitter accounts appear to track their user activities from rising to the final before bedtime pee, and that’s a bit disturbing, if for no other reason than you know that these are the same people who will take a call when they’re using a public restroom.  It’s also true that thanks to the internet we now live in a society where you’re considered a Luddite if you don’t belong to at least one website where you can interact with other people and share every detail of your life with each other.  However, let’s not paint Twitter users with the same, tired “delusional people who think other people are interested in their lives” brush.  Again, statements like that tend to be made by hypocrites who are also acting under the delusion that other people are interested in their lives: observe the bitchy hatchet job Time blogger Claire Suddath did on Facebook’s ’25 Things’ meme that made the rounds last month.  She snipes “Most people aren’t funny, they aren’t insightful, and they share way too much,” apparently forgetting that she was writing about people she agreed to interact with on a website she willingly joined.

You’re not likely to read updates at Twitter if you’re not a member of it yourself.  The  virulent dislike of Twitter and the “old man yells at cloud” insistence that it marks the swift and final decline of communication in America is a bit baffling.  It’s certainly easy to avoid.  If you somehow find yourself subjected to Twitter updates without actually participating in it yourself, address those who are subjecting you to it, don’t pin the blame on users as a whole.  It’s rather ridiculous to complain about how aggravating and insipid something is if you’re seeking it out in the first place.


7 Responses to “Demonstrating emotional insecurity in 140 character increments”

  1. …In short, Twitter users are sad, self-absorbed people who desperately crave attention…

    True. True. I couldn’t agree more. :)

  2. *shrug* Like I said, the same thing could be said for anyone who pretty much does anything online besides read webpages and answer e-mail. The internet allows everyone to be self-absorbed.

  3. However, let’s not paint Twitter users with the same, tired “delusional people who think other people are interested in their lives” brush.

    Twitter wouldn’t be so popular if its users were delusional and didn’t want to know about each other’s lives. I’ve never understood why people who don’t like Twitter (and that’s a perfectly valid preference, as far as I’m concerned) feel they need to go out of their way to insult people who do like it. I think you’re on to something when you say it’s because they need to feel like they’re “above” those people. Instead of just shrugging it off with a “I don’t really see the attraction,” it’s always, “YOU’RE ALL IDIOTS AND I’M NOT.”

  4. Not to mention:

    Who’s more self-absorbed? The person who writes 140 characters about something funny their friend just said? Or the person who writes 1000-word articles about their personal dislike of a particular phenomenon?

  5. Lauren: Exactly. I get a kick out of people who brag about the fact that they’re not involved in websites are perceived as “trendy” right now, like Twitter or Facebook. I’m not a member of MySpace, where’s my medal?

  6. This made me laugh out loud. I’m definitely self absorbed and crave attention. Twitter is perrrrfect for me. But as you say, unbelievers can opt out.

    With regard to sharing way too much… I’ve been criticized by meat-space friends for baring too much of my personal life on my blogs. When looking for accounts of what it was like to watch your alcoholic mother die from a self inflicted disease I found a vacuum – so I wrote about it. It’s baring your soul, sure, but it’s baring it with purpose. My accounts of my mother’s death have turned out to be one of the most read sections of an otherwise mundane and self-obsessed public diary.

    I also blog about cute ways to recycle Milo tins and don’t give a rat’s arse whether or not people care.

    What I do care about, is that on the odd occasion I get an email or comment from someone who thanks me for sharing. Some stranger from across the ocean says, “Yeah, I get it too, thanks for writing this.” and I feel connected in a way that is utterly unlike any link I have with people in meat space. When someone on the other side of the planet writes back to say that they share your pain, or your joy, or whatever, it’s a touching of souls, brief and pure. The closest thing in meat space is meeting the eyes of a stranger in momentary camaraderie. Only, you’re unlikely to tell the meat space stranger that you have a difficult love-hate relationship with your dying mother are you? And that’s what makes a touching of souls on the internet so much more intense than real life – on the odd occasions when it happens.

    Twitter, to my mind, is a weaker version of this intense contact. Sending brief feelers out to interested parties who sometimes respond is less attention seeking than an attempt to connect, or participation in a big loop.

    I, for one, would rather be part of the loop than sitting outside it sneering in smug contempt, but that’s just me. Luckily the internet has room for everybody!

    Sorry if I rambled… I blame the red wine and a particularly depressing episode of Battlestar Galactica.


  7. Emma: I’ll admit, I do get a little baffled at just how much information people are willing to share with veritable strangers, but that’s mainly because I’m an introvert by nature, “sharing” in any venue is a bit of a chore for me.

    You are correct that it helps tremendously to know that there are other people out there who get you, and who are willing to be there for you in whatever capacity they’re able, even if they’re not within easy physical distance to you. I’m not quite sure why people still feel the need to piss on that. It’s the internet, baby, it can be anything you want.

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