Monday, 8 November 2010

Tweeting all over my face

"Caroline Knight loves updating her status." Not quite what one expects from a brotherly Facebook rape. My propensity to regularly update my status seems to rile my brother to the point where he expresses his annoyance both online and in 'traditional' conversation. Why does it irritate him so? Obviously he has not become privy to the option of omitting certain people from his newsfeed.

Status updating, aka tweeting, has become something of a cultural phenomenon and is useful for keeping up to date with what our friends are doing, venting steam, inciting debate and for a variety of pranks. Depending on how much time I spend at the computer, I update my status anywhere from once to five times a day. This probably puts me towards the high end of status update frequency (although a more thorough study is needed to confirm this).  Now that I am a waitress, my opportunity to do has been considerably reduced along with the hours spent staring at a computer screen. At times I hesitate before sharing "what's on (my) mind": have I polluted my page with too many new statuses today; does this status make me look bad; do people actually give a shit? 

Nowadays fewer people write journals and in an age of shortened attention spans and rapidity of information delivery, we now demand and expect news - be it personal or global - to be concise and easy to digest. This is clearly evident by the popularity of 'lite' newspapers like the free Evening Standard and Metro newspapers and the recent arrival of the Indepedent's 'i'.
In some cases, status updating can achieve the same aim as a journal by providing an emotional outlet for anything troubling us. It gives an opportunity for others to offer their support - sometimes congratulatory, other times commiseratory. Status updates get things off our chest. Or they serve to notify large numbers of people of our whereabouts which saves the cost and effort required to make numerous phone calls or send numerous texts. Other times updates are cryptic, a play on words or there purely for comic value.
We can share interesting articles, music and links to videos which has added a whole new, utterly more worthwhile dimension to letting all of Facebook know what is going on in our heads and in our worlds. Being able to tag people in our updates has made them more interesting and less egocentric.

Then there are the tweets which fall into the nauseatingly blithe, the annoyingly smug or relentlessly self-absorbed. There are the tweets which feature grotesque mobile phone images of a recent wound. A new addition to FB allows one to specify one's exact whereabouts on a map. 
Smartphones and Facebook combined have given rise to a habit of people tweeting in every conceivable location: on sunbeds, on dancefloors, on plane runways. I always wonder why people log onto Facebook during social events and when with people - perhaps the party they are at or friends they are with not sufficiently amusing to prevent them renewing their status. Or maybe they are just obsessed with their iPhone.

I have noticed a marked difference not only in update patterns but also reactions to statuses. One particular friend of mine (a smug-blithe updater) always seems to attract "likes" and comments, regardless of how boring or inane the status ("Gym"). I may go days and days without anyone actively noticing my two-penny's worth and then there comes a flurry of conversation on my page. 
I have observed an ebb and flow of who tends to respond to my updates: last year there was a week in which one 'friend' commented on every one of my statuses. I won't lie, I enjoyed the attention. It seems, after talking with others, that having as many "likes" and comments on one's page gives universal satisfaction: we are receiving the recognition we feel our opinions and insights deserve.

So what drives this need to share our thoughts, feelings and daily minutiae, for their is huge variation in the frequency and "flavour" of tweets across my Facebook demographic. Is it a person's need for attention or levels of extraversion, or perhaps boredom? Is there a direct link between an individual's personality outside cyberspace and how they use this Facebook feature: is the answer to this question obvious?

Whatever your tweeting habits, there is no denying the wealth of information they contain en masse...and hence the possibilities to use such information. Do they present companies, governments, organisations  with a potent new market research tool that is (largely) free from response bias or is this social media pandemic nothing but another passing phase?

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