I was slow to catch on to Twitter, I’ll readily admit that. Melissa and John were both trying to convince me to use it for some time before I finally caved. And now, I use it every day. It’s been a great social networking tool, not to mention I’m able to be in contact with so many more bloggers now in such an easy, casual way… or so I thought.
Apparently, I’m only twittering (tweeting?) to feed my rabid ego.
Launched in 2006, Twitter is the inescapable, hot tech product. It boasts 6m users — teeny compared to Facebook’s 150m — but its audience has surged by more than 1,000% in the past year. Twitter’s most famous advocate is Barack Obama, whose Twitter account has 265,970 followers, more than anyone else. Fry is the second most followed tweeter, with 174,924; celebrities such as Jonathan Ross, Shaquille O’Neal, Lance Armstrong, Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan trail behind. (“Jesus Christ” is listed as having 33 accounts, by the way, while “The Devil” has 189. “Richard Dawkins” has three.)
Right now, the San Francisco-based company that owns Twitter is valued at $250m, even though, in start-up argot, it is “pre-revenue”. Its inventors, Biz Stone, 34 — who describes Twitter communication as “like a flock of birds choreographed in flight” — and Evan Williams, 36, recently rejected an offer from Facebook to buy their company for $500m. Yet despite the big money and the enthusiasm swirling around his product, Williams (who also coined the term “blogger”) has admitted many are bewildered when they first encounter Twitter. “We’ve heard time and time again: ‘I really don’t get it — why would anyone use it?’ ”
It’s a fair question. What kind of person shares information with the world the minute they get it? And just who are the “followers” willing to tune into this rolling news service of the ego?
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.”
“We are the most narcissistic age ever,” agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. “Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.”
For Alain de Botton, author of Status Anxiety and the forthcoming The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Twitter represents “a way of making sure you are permanently connected to somebody and somebody is permanently connected to you, proving that you are alive. It’s like when a parent goes into a child’s room to check the child is still breathing. It is a giant baby monitor.”
Is that why tweets are often so breathtakingly mundane? Recently, the rock star John Mayer posted a tweet that read: “Looking for my Mosely Tribes sunglasses.” Who wants to tell the world that? “The primary fantasy for most people is that we can be as connected as we were in the womb, a situation of total closeness,” says de Botton. “When people who are very close are talking, they ‘twitter away’: ‘It’s a bit dusty here’ or ‘There’s a squirrel in the garden.’ They don’t say, ‘What do you think of Descartes’s second treatise?’ It doesn’t matter what people say on their tweets — it’s not the point.”
… “To ‘follow’ someone is to have a fantasy of who this person you’re following is, and you use it as a map reference or signpost to guide your own life because you are lost,” says James. “I would guess that the typical profile of a ‘follower’ is someone who is young and who feels marginalised, empty and pointless. They don’t have an inner life,” he says.
So, I guess all of us who use Twitter simultaneously have no sense of self-worth or self-identity and also have no life… yet we tweet to feed those rabid egos of ours. Yeah, that’s not contradictory at all.
I personally have found Twitter to be a great tool to complement my blogging, and no, it’s not for ridiculous navel-gazing (isn’t navel-gazing more of a liberal specialty, anyway?). There’s no one on my follow list that Tweets something as vapid as ‘There’s a squirrel in the garden.’, and if they did, I’d unfollow them in a second. I don’t doubt that there are people who are that ridiculously self-centered that they feel the need to update every two minutes — ‘Went to the bathroom to take a poo.’ ‘Getting in my car to go to work.’ ‘Man, I hate my job. Why does the printer never work?’ ‘On my lunch break and eating a roast beef sandwich.’ Yeah, I’m sure those people exist, but it doesn’t matter, because I don’t follow anyone like that and neither does anyone I know that uses it. While I’m still technically a Twitter newbie, I understand it’s potential. There’s a reason that even the President has a Twitter account: it’s because with a few seconds of typing and the click of a button, you can reach thousands instantaneously, and in Obama’s case, hundreds of thousands. There is literally so much information out there on the Internet to find, and by following a group of people whose product (i.e., their blog) you’re interested in, you’re making yourself more connected, and also making it easier to find said information. It’s a big Internet out there; Twitter’s just one more way to narrow down that pool of info.
But then again, I’m apparently just one of the people with no sense of self-worth who Tweet just to feed my ego. Funny… I have no self-worth yet also possess a humongous ego. Interesting.
I think the real issue here is the threat that mainstream media journalists — especially newspaper journalists — see growing in online media. First it was the blogosphere explosion, now Twitter… what next? Newspaper sales are plummeting and we’re seeing legendary papers such as the NY Times being threatened with extinction. Meanwhile, online media is flourishing and the old-school, mainstream media cannot keep up. Rather than staying competitive and keeping up with the times, they try to undermine the competition. The very fact that this newspaper journalist had to put down something that he calls “mundane” says it all, doesn’t it? If Twitter is so stupid, why even bother writing an article about it?
For those who also feel a compulsive need to soothe their rabid egos, and to spy on other bloggers, come jump on the Twitter bandwagon with me. You can follow me here.
Hat Tip: Newsbusters