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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Reduced barriers to entry for ... narcissism!

Almost everyone I know is talking about Twitter. I think that’s because they’re trying to justify using it.

In early January, to try to figure out what all the fuss was about, I signed up and started reading friends’ “tweets”. This month, after the fuss increased, I started issuing tweets more often myself, to get more experience of the other side. It didn’t help me appreciate Twitter.

Tara Hunt says that “it is a terribly narcissistic mistake to believe that anyone gives a flying snake about what you ate for breakfast”, and sees tweets as “A legacy, if you will, of our lifetime. Something for our grandchildren to look back at and see how we lived.

I think it is a terribly narcissistic mistake to believe that our grandchildren will be much more interested in what we had for breakfast than our friends are. They might take that sort of look back into history a few times in an entire lifetime. After all, they’ll be busy keeping up with their own friends’ tweets. (Won’t they?)

I see the current popularity of Twitter resulting from the confluence of two things: a reduced barrier to entry for narcissism on the part of those writing (blogging got us started, but a blog post takes a lot more time than a tweet), and a fear of social isolation on the part of those reading. To stay with the pack you have to pay attention and keep up. Because if you don’t, you’ll have to rely on your real friends for connection — and hope that they still have time left over for you after their Twitter friends.

I suppose a nicer spin on it would be to say that Twitter is about feeling connected. (Not to be confused with being connected.) Back in 1995 I gained insight into television from an article in Wired Magazine by Evan I. Schwartz:
... People watch television for an entirely different reason: to feel that they are part of something larger than their own lives. Why else would so many people know so much about characters in Cicily, Alaska, and the Melrose Place apartment complex without learning the names of their real neighbors? TV watchers seek out characters and stories with which to identify. It’s a deep psychological fix that cant be explained in economic terms. They also turn it on for company, as background noise.

Twitter sounds a lot like that, and I don’t expect such needs to go away.

But what of the production side? Currently we are in an economic bubble, and at times like this narcissism is indulged. When the social mood turns down, I expect narcissism to become uncool, and take Twitter’s popularity with it.

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