My Twitter Profile Is Not (Yet) Me
A thought provoking blog from Ecce Media’s web developer Marc:
If the larger social networks like Facebook and Twitter are to retain their value, both to their users and investors they need to do more than update how we read on their sites they need to develop how and who we share as.
Increasingly whenever I take to Twitter I find myself hindered at the writing stage. It isn’t a blank page fear of how I’m going to fill all those 140 characters, it’s a concern on how I mediate what I’m writing based on the intended audience. I’m fully aware that whatever I write will be seen by all those I know who currently follow me (together with all the future unknown employers and decision-makers in my life that these “dangers of sharing online” articles feature so heavily). Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a blog about the extreme end of personal expression, I fully subscribe to the common-sense mantra that if you don’t want something you’ve written online to come back to haunt you, don’t publish. My requirements are far more mundane & everyday. I want to publish on a wide range of topics without boring or angering any of my audience who that content isn’t meant for. I want the incidental banter aimed at my real-life friends to only be directed at them. If I want to publish thoughts relating to work or my professional life I don’t want those to end up side by side with my more irreverent out pourings. Geoff Stearns describes this design-fault of how the social networks share as a “binary waterfall” over on Medium:
“Either you’re in or you’re out. If I want your tweets about web development, I also get your tweets about politics.”
Like others out there this internal dilemma has caused me not to share so often. Not a great tragedy as far as most of the world is concerned, but it should be to the platforms operating underneath it all.
Both Twitter and Facebook are now enormously valuable companies, but that value is intrinsically linked to both more people become nodes on their network, and those people sharing ever more interactions within that network cluster.
As Stearns states the social networks need to recognise that people are complicated. It is what sociologist Tricia Wang dubs “The Elastic Self”. An Xiao expands upon Wang’s theory by describing what she sees as Facebook flaws in enforcing this “bounded use”:
“It’s like the small town you never left, the grammar school class you couldn’t pass out of, the first dead-end job. It’s a network mired in past and present, and by its nature it enforces a limited sense of identity and expression”
Xiao contrasts this with Tumblr, where its ability to spin up new Tumblrs allows experiment and play “where you can try on a new self and see how it fits”. This is fine but extended out to the Twitter example that solution would mean you just keep creating more twitter accounts, each crafted around some distilled aspect of your persona. That may work in the short term, but would surely lead to an ever greater number of dormant Twitter profiles. I agree with Stearns that “sharing content online is not who you share it with, but who you share it as” . As he highlights Google get closest with Plus, and their use of “circles” to group your network. Not only does this allow you to filter what you read, but also filter what you share.
The circle metaphor underlying the tool is strong for both reading and writing. As well as the notion of a circle of friends being instantly recognisable, the idea of your personality existing somewhere in the shifting Venn diagram intersection of the various circles of your interests & personas. Umberto Eco uses a very similar metaphor when trying to pin down a description of the self in his book Kant and the Platypus.
This demand, specifically for Twitter is already here. As noted over on the Guardian, users are already using hashtags with the distinct language of their group as an imprecise workaround to broadcast to their intended group. That analysis of millions of tweets by Royal Holloway “throws up a pattern of behaviour that seems to contradict the commonly held belief that users simply want to share everything with everyone”.
Because ultimately it comes down to the fact that your personality and its digital equivalent is not static. You are not the same person as when you joined your social network of choice, and you shouldn’t feel hamstrung to that old identity. Not only do the experiences of your offline world shape and alter your interests and personality, but your experiences on these social networks will do too. Brian Adams sums it up as best as anyone on Medium:
“As you explore the views of others keep asking what are you finding out about your own views, how do they stand up to new perspectives, which ones are shallow and need further development”.
When this happens you want to be able to embrace this fully whilst not alienating your older friends and interest groups.