Sunday, January 25, 2009

the burden of twitter

Steven Levy has written an essay for Wired about the guilt that one can feel for not participating enough in ones social network. Following tweets but not twittering, not blogging often enough, or not updating ones Facebook status. It's a brief but interesting read on privacy and a weird sense of duty to keep those public lines of communication open.

Nicholas Carr has posted a very interesting reaction to Levy's essay.

There's an arrogance to sharing the details of one's life in public with strangers - it's the arrogance of power, the assumption that such details somehow deserve to be broadly aired. And as for the people, those strangers, on the receiving end of the disclosures, they suffer, through their desire to hear the details, to hungrily listen in, a kind of debasement. At the risk of going too far, I'd argue that there's a certain sadomasochistic quality to the exchange (it's a variation on the exchange that takes place between celebrity and fan). And I'm pretty sure that Levy's remorse comes from his realization, conscious or not, that he is, in a very subtle but nonetheless real way, displaying an undeserved and unappetizing arrogance while also contributing to the debasement of others.
This seems a bit strong to me, but not entirely off base. Arrogance of power? Debasement? Sadomasochistic? OK, that may be true for some who participate in social networking, just the same as for some participants in a real life communities. There is something a bit egotistical in assuming that others will follow your tweets/blog/delicious tags/flickr set/facebook. There is something a bit creepy that, if you don't require approval, complete strangers read your tweets where you might be discussing where you are at any given time. I like to think that most use social networking to actually keep in touch, not to obsessively stalk one another.

There's that public sharing expectations thing again. I know, I think about this a lot. People I do not know read my blog, see many (but not all) of my flickr images, and join my delicious network to see most (but again, not all) of my bookmarks. I have made a conscious decision to share these things. I had to struggle with getting over the creepiness factor. It was well over a decade ago that a woman from China, upon being introduced to me at a conference reception, exclaimed "Oh! I know who you are -- you have an interest in folk art and you like armadillos!" She had come across my personal web page (remember those?) while researching the conference speakers.

There's no turning back. There's only self-selecting your level of exposure.


jrochkind said...

I have had the experience of feeling a funny feeling when reading a blog entry in a blog that is normally about matters of proffesional relevance to me (thus I track the blog), but in this experienced instance is not professonally related but revealing what seems to me to be rather intimate details of somoene's life. It's not really just annoyance at 'wasting' my time (although I sometimes feel some of that, but I can be an impatient person, and, hey, I can always stop reading when I see what it is) -- but more, just, like, Are you sure you really meant to tell the world this? Should I know this? I'm not sure I wanted to know this.

I'm feeling a bit of recognition of Carr's description of arrogance and even a certain sadomasochistic quality.

Paul said...

I think it's not necessarily the act of blogging/tweeting/whatever that really denotes any arrogance - all the bloggers I've spoken to (mostly in relation to professional blogging) tend to list 'structuring my thoughts' and 'letting people know what I do' as major reasons for using Social Network or blog tools.

Sure there's a 'buzz' which people can feel from getting feedback from others and growing their social network - and maybe this can become a driver for continuing to use services like twitter - but I don't agree with Levy's point that this is arrogance (in most cases...).

Remember the brief heyday of 'A-list' bloggers? I certainly find that much more of my attention is now spent in the tail of library blogs and the like. Their posts tend to be infrequent, but intelligent and relevant - and arrogance really rears it's head in the 'most popular' of these subsets.

As you say at the end, it's about 'Self Selection' - people need to be aware that even if they're not assuming others will follow their tweets and tags the still might.