Twitter, when narcissism is good

To tweet is narcissistic! Found this via ComputerWorld

A Rutgers University study shows that 80% of Twitterers are largely tweeting about themselves – what they’re doing, their feelings, their opinions and other personal information. Only 20% of the 350 Twitter users surveyed are sharing non-personal information and they tend to have larger social networks and interact more with their followers.

Kind of obvious but interesting to have it based in a rigourous study. The insight that twitter is a narcissistic tool is hardly new. Back in February Times Online had an article A Load of Twitter which discussed the phenomenon. Those negative to the technology want to see it based in insecurity and lack of self esteem:

“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.”

But then there are those who understand the tech better and see that it is not (only) about that. Its a dialogue, a conversation and like most conversations it is banal and shallow

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.”

And these views are fine if this is what you want to focus on. But twitter is much more. What is missed is the great use of twitter as a tool of social coordination and information spreading. It only seems like narcissism since people don’t “get” what twitter is about.

Social coordination: When someone tweets that they are attending a conference, sitting on a train or in an airport it could be seen as narcissism since the focus is on the twitterer. But this is one dimensional and forgets that the act of tweeting where you are fills an important second function. It lets others find you. Talking from my own experience I (narcissistic, moi?) regularly coordinate physical meetings via twitter on trains or at conferences. Emailing an acquaintance places a social burden on the recipient – a tweet announcing where I am is an open invitation.

Information spreading: A large amount of tweets contain links to and information about web pages, pictures, articles and books. Of course a tweet stating that the user is reading this or that book is narcissistic but the very fact that a user I follow mentions the information is a recommendation. It is valuable information that often is too short to be spread in other ways (via blogs for example) or too banal to merit direct contact via email or telephone. In addition to which the tweet can be ignored without breaking any social norms.

Twitter is a tool that supports social contacts and much of what we do in social interaction is focused on the self, but it is seen as an acceptable narcissism and therefore not defined as such. The only difference is that twitter is “new” and therefore can be seen as a bad form of self reflection… narcissism. In time the social norms may change in this area and twitter may become an acceptable form of self referencing. Maybe it won’t.

But if it is narcissistic to be sociable then I am a happy narcissist. Follow me (klang67) on Twitter!

Update: More on the pointlessness of Twitter

From Pearanalytics research shows that 40% of twitter is pointless babble, read their whitepaper here.

Seth Finkelstein in The Guardian Twitter is a sucker’s game that only serves the needs of a tiny elite.

Sysomos Inside Twitter study with in-depth data found, amongst other things, that 24% of Tweets are created by bots.

And in defense of twitter from BLDG BLOG comes How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter

Twitter Power

When Lance Amstrong tweeted:

“Hey LA — get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there.”

His fans showed up! Read about the way in which Lance Armstrong is using twitter to communicate with his fans & take them out for ride in the LA Times.

Twitter under attack

Twitter is struggling to overcome a denial-of-service attack, they wrote this five hours ago:

We are defending against a denial-of-service attack, and will update status again shortly.

Update: the site is back up, but we are continuing to defend against and recover from this attack.

Update (9:46a): As we recover, users will experience some longer load times and slowness. This includes timeouts to API clients. We’re working to get back to 100% as quickly as we can.

No twittering in court

A post on Slashdot this morning dealt with a juror who posted twitter comments about a trial (while it was in progress) and the effects of this may be to declare the trial a mistrial.

“Russell Wright and his construction company, Stoam Holdings, recently lost a $12 million dollar lawsuit brought by investors. But lawyers for the firm have complained that juror Johnathan Powell’s Twitter comments broke rules when discussing the civil case with the public. The arguments in this dispute center on two points. Powell insists (and the evidence appears to back him up) that he did not make any pertinent updates until after the verdict was given; if that’s the case, the objection would presumably be thrown out. If Powell did post updates during the trial, the judge must decide whether he was actively discussing the case. Powell says he only posted messages and did not read any replies. Intriguingly, the lawyers for Stoam Holding are not arguing so much that other people directly influenced Powell’s judgment, rather that he might have felt a need to agree to a spectacular verdict to impress the people reading his posts.”

This is an interesting example of the way in which new technology practice is clashing with established rules and ideas. During the recent Pirate Bay trial in Stockholm there was a vertible information orgy with live audio feed, spectators twittering from within (and outside) the courtroom and live bloggers en masse – in addition to traditional media channels. Yet the interesting thing was that the audio tape picked up the judge telling individuals in the courtroom that no pictures could be taken. On a least two occaissions the judge asked whether a laptop and a phone was being used to film the proceedings.

Everybody was filmed, photographed and interviewed entering and leaving the courtroom. All the participants were activly seen courting and presenting their cases to the media on the courtroom steps – but no photographs in the courtroom.

When a witness who was to be heard at a later date was discovered in the audience he was asked to leave. Before leaving he asked whether he was allowed to listen to the radio. The judge understood the futility of the rules when he replied – well you cannot stay in here.

The “no images” rule in Sweden or the no communicating in the US are rules which need to be explained logically to the participants. Naturally the principles of justice and equality must be upheld and should not need to be questioned at every turn…