Question of the Day (If Applicable)

Why do you use Twitter?

The Times Online interviewed a psychologist and asked him why people use Twitter:

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.”

Using a paintbrush to broad stroke all Twitterers as attention-craving solipsists seems like a simplistic and nescient answer to the question of why people micro-blog. I think that I had a similar illusion before I actually started using Twitter however so I can understand how people may believe that.

I started using Twitter as a way to socialize with people who were reading my blog. Blog comments are a bit restrictive in that respect since they can grow so fast it is difficult to keep track of a conversation and they are limited to a particular topic. But twitter allows me to keep in touch with people in a more casual format. It feels like a slow paced instant messenger service that I can keep open on my desktop and interact with people without breaking stride in my work which inevitably happens when you have an actual IM client running. With Twitter I can respond to messages directed at me when I have a second or just check up on people I follow throughout the day. It’s a 140 character window into friends or acquaintance’s lives while we’re stuck behind a computer at work for 8 hours a day. I’ve never really felt that the people I follow are narcissistic about themselves and feel the need to shout to the world what they’re doing at any particular moment. It feels more like coworkers having a quick chat at a water cooler about events that are happening at any given moment. I don’t mind tweets are mundane or even just plain goofy. I happen to like the cross slice of humanity that trickles through my monitor in a sentence or two.

Comments

22 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Sheldon,

    I use twitter for my band because Derek Severs (of cdbaby)told me to.

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  2. dang,

    I view Twitter much the same way you do, Chris. It’s an easy way to have a conversation that’s less intrusive than IM. It’s good for sharing links, pics or random thoughts with people around your own personal water cooler. It’s also a great way to throw a question out into the ether.

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  3. Fred,

    I felt pretty much the same before I started using Twitter, and pretty much the same afterward. A friend’s decision to use it, combined with this article in the NY Times Magazine, got me to use it. I’m sure there’s some narcissistic element at work for some users, but in what creative or social activity is that not the case?

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  4. Marlea,

    Because someone wouldn’t stop asking me why I hadn’t started yet :)

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  5. Angry Sam,

    I don’t use it, and the only Twitter feeds I read are the fake ones.

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  6. Laura,

    Oh silly Chris, haven’t you realized yet that every single thing you do- on the internet or otherwise- can be easily summed up into a short paragraph that someone insults your intelligence, personality or makes perverse suggestions about your relationship with your parents? Did we learn nothing from Freud?
    On that note, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. If there is a way to keep in touch with people without having to drive an hour to see them or struggling to talk on the phone while I do work, errands and other housework that requires two hands, I’m all in. it doesn’t make me an insecure loser… and I think that those who don’t understand that technology is ultimately about convenience will assume it points to some underlying psychological deficit.
    However, if someone loves to twitter/blog but refuses to actually talk to people in the flesh, THEN I think we have a problem…

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  7. Laura,

    “someHOW insults your intelligence”, not someone. I clearly have no proofreading skills.

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  8. I do it because I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll cease to exist, much as in Cartesian philosophy.

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  9. snoozebar,

    I use it to follow random internet people, almost all bloggers. Mostly people like John Hodgman, who can be funny in 140 characters.

    Plus Adam Savage posts pictures of random entertaining crap.

    I save my narcissism for Facebook, thank you.

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  10. It’s a good way to pretend that I’m a self-centered prick.

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  11. im generally a visually oriented person so i like to flickr to prove my existence.

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  12. GEOFF LEPPARD,

    I don’t because I don’t see the point. From what I’ve been able to discern it’s a blog for people that have too much free time and too many wireless connections near to them.

    “Geoff just ate a ham sandwich with tomato and mayo. Waiting ro anybody to care.”

    “I feel twitterers around me, r there any twitterers in 5 n diner wit me, say somethin”

    How about you FUCK OFF

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  13. N/A

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  14. Some things just don’t rise to the level of a blog post.

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  15. Barbwire,

    No. No reason to that I can possibly think of.

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  16. Some of it is for job networking, but yeah, it’s just for fun. ‘twittero ergo sum’, eh Critic?

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  17. Spiv,

    myself and some close friends use it as a means to communicate the random and interesting things that happen to us day to day while at work (usually in the form of pictures). It’s more convenient than texting the same pic message to 4-5 people, basically. I think identity crisis is a hell of a brush to slap on twitterers.

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  18. McGee,

    I don’t use any social networking sites. No Facebook, no MySpace, no Twitter. I even have text messaging blocked on my phone (seeing the English language disintegrate to the point it has with texting almost literally turns my stomach into a knot).

    It’s just too damn easy in this day and age for people to reach you – it can be a great thing in emergencies, but I’m a private individual and, in truth, and introvert.

    I do my best to stay away from people having too many ways to contact me. If they’re worth it, they’ll get my AOL IM screen name and my cell phone number. That’s it.

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  19. TS Greenie,

    I think you mean “an introvert”. Sorry, it just turns my stomach into a knot seeing the English language disintegrate.

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  20. I signed up for Twitter because I couldn’t read things that people linked there otherwise. I started using it to promote my half-dozen other sites, and to find links that other folks I know find interesting.

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  21. I don’t use Twitter because I really don’t think anyone would find my life interesting enough to follow it one sentence at a time. Even my best friends really don’t care that much.

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  22. Booooored,

    Well, everything here is a matter of avoiding absolutism: facebook/twitter/social-networking/whatever is
    - EITHER a “wonderful tool improving my productivity, real social life, sense of worth as a human being and humanity in general”
    - OR “a kind of electronic and highly addictive sedative to be injected regularly to neurotic childish useless living entities that could barely be qualified as “human” any more”.

    I do not want to negate the usefulness of the new tools, I use facebook myself to stay in touch with not-so-close friends (I don’t need this for true, real old friends, even long-distance). Facebook is useful too for organising events. I do not use Twitter, but Chris quite convinced me of the interest of this tool (that, and examples of instant covering of events that would be forgotten of hidden by authorities otherwise, as in China).

    But let’s face the reality: look at the majority of facebook account, twitter messages. Are they interesting, usefull, funny ?
    Do not make fun of all these psychological studies, sometimes, they point out something really disturbing.

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