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As a newly converted Twitter junkie, I’ve recently found myself interested in the psychology of social media. What does the world of IM and 140 character tweets tell us about social behavior? Why do some people use Twitter and Facebook to market themselves professionally, while others spill details of their personal lives to followers who don’t really know them? More importantly, why do we find ourselves addicted to Web 2.0?

Although these channels of communication may be new, our society’s fascination with “peeking behind the curtain” is not. Tracing back to the 1960s and the introduction of Direct Cinema, first person narratives in the form of documentaries, the allure of these films offered a promise of a glimpse beyond the surface, an invitation to see the unlovely elements typically concealed by the curtain drawn on private lives.

More often than not, the best seller list offers numerous crisis memoirs, accounting a personal struggle of drug addiction, homelessness, childhood abuse, or mental illness. We can wonder whether this enthrallment with another’s story of damnation is a reflection of society’s dysfunction, or a contributor to the epidemic of misery loves company.

These stories take us behind the scene and show reactions in personal surroundings, one that wouldn’t necessarily be visible by daily personas. Cheap technology has made it possible to bypass the traditional gatekeepers of culture such as book publishers and film producers. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, serve as confessional containers, contributing to the rapidly eroding boundaries between private and public domains. Online users air details of their awkward and personal moments, while followers function as sympathetic listeners, thus creating a momentary connection and building a supportive community.

Perhaps underneath it all, there is a deeper need to be seen in an authentic way. Or maybe there is a voyeuristic and exhibitionistic attitude in our society. Even though personal documentaries, memoirs and online confessions can function as a source of transformation and healing for both the individual and viewer, they can also be contagious.

In today’s age, not only are hierarchies and old systems vanishing, but traditional values and personal boundaries are disappearing which create more opportunities for exploitation. Ethical responsibility and increased consciousness seem more important, not only on the part of filmmakers and writers, but also for the audience at large.

What if we shed light on our own personal shadows? What if we attempted to integrate those objectified parts of our own psyche? Would we build tolerance and acceptance for the “other” within ourselves? Would the collective unconscious longing for vicarious drama, desire for validation, and addiction subside? Would we finally have that profound connection with ourselves?

But then what would end up on the best-seller list? And what would we do with all that extra time not spent twittering?

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22 Responses to “Connection in 140 Characters or Less”

  1. Twitter is an interesting mix – there's the "I just had a cup of coffee" and "oh dear, the dog farted" crowd who detail every aspect of their (dull) days. Then you've got the "Buy my stuff", "Read my stuff", "Eat my stuff" brigade who relentlessly bombard their fellow human beings. Some people use it almost purely as another platform for IM. You can find all manner of personalities on Twitter and it's certainly fascinating.

    IMHO it's particularly good for sharing value, important links, getting insights from industry fellows and related disciplines, keeping up with interesting people; getting a nice balance is very satisfying. The best part is that if it gets too spammy, too chirpy or too mundane you can just "unfollow".

    Who says you can't choose your friends? :)

    • rashin says:

      Hi Paul,
      We can certainly choose our friends on Twitter and Facebook. This sorta reminds me of online dating, where you can just delete the creepy emails! Thanks for reading!

  2. I must admit, whilst I am using Twitter I'm still to be converted wholeheartdly and still prefer Facebook. Perhaps it's because the "window into people's lives" on Facebook with it's pictures and videos etc still helps me "connect" with my "friends" on a deeper. On Twitter, it seems everyman and his dog wants to follow me with no real depth, whilst on FB – people are more particular.

  3. rashin says:

    Hi Jaimie,
    Yes Facebook does seem more personal and intimate, if that's what we can call social media platforms. Although it will be interesting to see the change in that as it's becoming more of a networking site. Thanks for reading and offering feedback.

  4. Matt Singley says:

    Among the drudgery of micro-accounts of daily happenings and the MLM crowd trying to sell their crap to us, the very real lives of people that I wouldn't otherwise know does come through. Twitter is perfect for me, it forces people to be concise and pointed. No more beating around the bush in lengthy blog posts, the playing field is leveled and everybody has 140 characters to express their thoughts.

    I've made many real life connections with some brilliant people after first meeting them on Twitter. I have secured work with clients based solely on my Twitter history and dealings with them. I love the transparency and authenticity that can be shown.

    I think many are trying to come to grips with the "other" within themselves, as you stated, and I think it's a good thing. It's interesting to watch these things unfold. Who needs reality TV when we've got Twitter?

  5. Both applications allow you the opportunity to share ideas, meet new people, and catch up with old friends. I personally prefer Twitter because like Matt said it forces you to be concise. __I have met wonderful people through Twitter that I do not feel I would have had the opportunity to do so using Facebook. Twitter enables you to click on a profile and learn about this person right away. Facebook to me has barriers that prevent you from interacting ( which is whty I do not use it a lot).

  6. rashin says:

    Matt and LaTosha, you're both correct in that Twitter offers an opportunity to connect with people who normally would not be in our circle of friends. I think the important thing to remember is that it is a bridge to making connections and not a replacement for intimate relationships. Great friendships can form as a result of the quick way we can get to know each other. In some cases, it's easier to be authentic and transparent when there is less risk involved, as in a face to face interactions. It will be interesting to see how the next generation develops socially as a result of social media. I believe the rules of engagement are definitely changing.
    Thank you both for your feedback. Love the discussion!

  7. Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it and am relatively new to Twitter. At first, I said, why am I here on Twitter? Then you make friends even if in a superficial way. I am impressed with the good content that is offered, business-wise. Thank you Rashin.

  8. Brian Herman says:

    I think there's another possible reason why people are interested in the look at the struggles and tribulations of others' lives – it's not always voyeuristic nor misery love company, sometimes people are looking for inspiration – seeing that someone else got through the terrors of drug addiction may give them the strength to get through their own private battles no matter how mundane they may seem.

  9. rashin says:

    Very true. We can get inspired by another story of struggle. Thanks for reminding us of that!

  10. I think this a discussion that will continue for quite some time and it will evolve as we go on. But you are bringing a very refreshing perspective to the table and might very well inspire some people to reflect more on themselves and their role in the social media landscape.

  11. Dave Taylor says:

    Nice piece, Rashin, but I'll suggest that the voyeuristic traits of society go back a lot further than 1960's cinema. :-)

    What intrigues me about Twitter is the ease at which you can experience a wider breadth of people than you ever would in real life. From slobs to gang-bangers, you can follow and interact with them in the neutral digital medium in a manner that's far less threatening than any live alternative. And therefore you can gain insight into them and their lives, values and interests in a way that we simply cannot otherwise.

    Finally, I'll note that my general Twitter follow rule is that I only follow people who I would invite into my home. This limits me neatly to people I've met in person plus a few, and it's working well for me, though I admit that I follow far fewer people than who follow me.

  12. rashin says:

    I have to agree that the breadth of interaction with the various people from different walks of life is quite interesting for me. As someone intrigued by people and social behavior, this is a great platform for me. Thanks for reading and offering feedback.

  13. […] With new personal connections and changing borders influenced largely by technology (refer to Connection in 140 Characters or Less), how can we establish the limits of […]

  14. Konstanze says:

    Rashin, very interesting post. I agree with your comment re the exhibitionistic and voyeuristic notions as part of the motivation for using social media. I am currently doing some research on user motivation in micro-blogs and would love to get your comment (or, if you agree, use your post) for my research. You can find my post on micro-blogging at http://konstanzealexbrown.wordpress.com/2009/01/1

    • dptoday says:

      Konstanze, thank you for reading and offering your feedback. I am interested in your research and will definitely checkout your blog and post a comment.

  15. jack parler says:

    You are a very talented writer… I can’t Wait to read more on your posts.

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