‘What you’re doing’ is relevant to your followers on Twitter

On: October 10, 2010
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About Emina Sendijarevic
Some find a great usefulness and comfort in new media, while others complain about the loss of privacy, intimacy and sociability. Technology in my opinion challenges people to rethink their position towards old standards, it challenges them to deconstruct the concepts they thought were embedded in old values and traditions. Instead of blaming or praising new media, we should see new media as an introspective tool for managing our world. New media (qualitative) research and social media analytics are a way to explore and understand every-day-real-life human interaction.


Sure, Twitter had its impact on journalism, politics and advertising. If you’re a journalist, getting information fast and keeping in touch with your sources is easy. Politicians have found a tool to directly talk and discuss political issues with voters. Fetishist as well as revolutionist have found a activation and gathering tool in Twitter.

What I’d like to address is the way Twitter is being used by ordinary people and what effect this might imply. And by ‘ordinary’ I mean you and me, who are not engaged with politics, advertising, or any sort of business or fetish. We do not revolt against the government or try to activate others for a higher goal. You and me, not having anything remarkable to say, can not else but tweet about our daily lives. Just check out the live stream on what people have to tweet about #kaassouffle to find out that it’s quite a hot topic. In fact the content on Twitter consists for the biggest part out of daily chatter (Java et al., 2007). Is it really because of the “What are you doing?” on top of every tweet, that we have to let our followers know what we had for dinner today?

Ambient awareness
Clive Thompson coins the term ‘ambient awareness’ as to explain why daily statuses are appreciated by our friends or followers: “[Social scientist] call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting” (2007).

In other words, by following these little updates every day, we construct an aggregate view on the daily lives of our friends. This is the interesting part of Twitter, not a tweet in itself. The effect of constantly being online, constantly keeping in contact with everybody “is bringing back the dynamics of small-town life, where everybody knows your business’ (Thompson, 2008). Even in a society in which people are socially isolated from their friends and family whether it may be because of the frequent business travels people have to make or the self-employment at home, Twitter enables people to share their daily experiences with their loved ones.


Parasocial relationships and privacy

But what about our real-time relationship? Does this online awareness becomes a competitor of real-time relationships? People engage in what psychologist “parasocial” relationships with fictional characters, like those on TV shows or in books, or with remote celebrities we read about in magazines. Parasocial relationships can use up some of the emotional space in our Dunbar number (a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships), crowding out real-life people. Danah Boyd argues that awareness tools like Twitter might be creating a whole new class of relationships that are nearly parasocial (2008).

Danah Boyd believes that’s why young people today are already developing a different attitude toward their privacy. It  is simultaneously vigilant and laissez-faire. They curate their online personas as carefully as possible, knowing that everyone is watching — but they have also learned to shrug and accept the limits of what they can control”. The same is observed in Facebook.

Twitter as a literary form
I’d like to wrap up with another — quite positive — reason of all this incessant updating. Its foundation tracks back to the old Greek. Thompson notes that “the act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness.” Having an audience while in the act of self-reflection, can make the self-reflection more acute. For describing your activities on Twitter does not need to be only accurate, but interesting to to others as well: the status update as a literary form.

Interested? Here and here you can find tips on how to tweet. Or get yourself a kaassouffle and start twittering about it. Responses guaranteed.

Boyd, D. (2008). Facebook’s privacy trainwreck: exposure, invasion and social convergence. Convergence, 14(1), 13-20.

Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., and Tseng, B. (2007). Why we twitter: understanding microblogging usage and communities (p. 56-65). ACM. Retrieved from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1348556

Johnson, S. (2009). How Twitter Will Change The Way We Live. Time CNN Thursday 5, June 2009. Retrieved on 7 oktober 2010 from Time magazine online.

Lenhart, A., Fox, S. (2009). Twitter and status updating. Pew Internet Project Data Memo. Retrieved on 7 oktober 2010 from google scholar.

Thompson, C. (2008). Brave New World of Digital Intimacy. The New York Times, September 7, 2008. Retrieved on 8 oktober 2010 from New York Times online.

Zhao, D., & Rosson, M. B. (2009). How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work, 243-252. ACM. Retrieved on 6 oktober 2010 from ACM Portal.

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