The open society and Twitter

Our world is more open than ever: Wikileaks has made government decisions more open; globalisation has made the world more interconnected; the pornographic industry has opened sex up to everybody; and we continue to strip away the amount of clothes we wear by the decade. How we behave on Twitter is a result of this increasing openness.

We open up psychologically on Twitter, often revealing — consciously or not — our most intimate and innermost feelings. In the same way that our society is becoming more open, we, as individuals, are becoming more open. Nothing testifies to this more that Twitter.

Previously, we would have called or texted our friends to express what we feel. Now, we have millions of ‘friends’ who will listen to us.

20120423-002619.jpgWe Tweet things like “I am bored” as if people care. But we know that people don’t care, neither do we expect people to care. We Tweet mundane and trivial things like that, not because we want people to reply saying “me too” or “are you?”, but because we can.

We are free to do that. There is nobody telling us what we can or can’t Tweet. In the name of civil liberties we — in the West at least — have an immense amount of freedom.

We like to tell people what we are thinking, it’s part of being human. If we think of a great idea or think of something new, we don’t just keep it to ourselves, we share it with others. Likewise, we like to tell people what we are thinking on Twitter, even if it isn’t particularly great or new – human beings are social creatures.

An open society is both good and bad. It is good because we can find out when things go wrong more easily; bad because too much freedom and openness can lead to perversity, lewdness and widespread immorality.

20120423-003011.jpgTwitter can be fantastic, how it has been utilised during the Arab revolutions is an example. The amount of information we can acquire just by scrolling through people’s Tweets is also quite staggering. It is also a excellent way to keep up with the news.

However, after a certain amount of time, we start to build up a profile of who we think people are by the way we see them Tweet. We are judgemental by nature; and depending on what we see someone Tweet, we begin to build up an image of who we think that person is. When we talk to people on the phone or online, we often imagine what this person looks like, but, in reality, this person may look completely different to what we imagined.

In the same way, when we build up an image or a profile of what we presume someone to be like by observing their Tweets, this may or may not not conform with who they really are.

But this raises the following questions: does Twitter reveal the ‘real’ us? Does it reveal another aspect of us? Or does it make us behave in a way that is actually not us?

We often can’t properly articulate what we are thinking on Twitter so we may come across as pretentious, arrogant or ill-informed. But, interestingly, depending on who is reading the Tweet, it may interpreted in different ways. This is because we all bring our different experiences and attitudes to life, so we are bound to interpret things in a different way to each other. If someone Tweets: I want to beat up my teacher – one person might it funny, another might find it rude and insensitive.

We often hear people say: Twitter isn’t real – a reference to it being in a cyberworld. But perhaps it is more real than what we refer to as ‘real life’, i.e. out on the street. When we are interacting with people in person, we have fears, anxieties and worry about what people think of us, so we act according to social norms. However, on Twitter, we often act completely differently, not in accordance with social norms but in accordance with what we are feeling at the precise moment – and we sometimes get in trouble for it. Diane Abbott would never dare say “White people love to play divide and rule” in the presence of physical people, but for some reason, she felt comfortable enough saying it on Twitter. Reality, therefore is subjective.

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