Twit Twit

It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves. Many of the avid Twitterers, Flickrers and Facebook users I interviewed described an unexpected side-effect of constant self-disclosure. The act of stopping several times a day to observe what you’re feeling or thinking can become, after weeks and weeks, a sort of philosophical act. It’s like the Greek dictum to “know thyself,” or the therapeutic concept of mindfulness. (Indeed, the question that floats eternally at the top of Twitter’s Web site — “What are you doing?” — can come to seem existentially freighted. What are you doing?) Having an audience can make the self-reflection even more acute, since, as my interviewees noted, they’re trying to describe their activities in a way that is not only accurate but also interesting to others: the status update as a literary form.

Laura Fitton, the social-media consultant, argues that her constant status updating has made her “a happier person, a calmer person” because the process of, say, describing a horrid morning at work forces her to look at it objectively. “It drags you out of your own head,” she added. In an age of awareness, perhaps the person you see most clearly is yourself.

I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You - Clive Thompson – NYTimes.com.

I’ve grown increasingly skeptical about Utopian claims for technology, mostly becuase they seem to ignore or minimize modern capitalist culture. Whatever else it is, micro-blogging is the latest in a long line of products designed to distract. That may or may not be good, and people may or may not use it for its original function.

I just don’t believe, though, that you can separate it from its “get rich now” roots; whatever else Web 2.0 might be or might become, it arises out of the same profit-minded system that produced the pet rock. So I was happy to see Thompson’s thoughtful piece and particularly surprised by the ending. Thompson suggests that micro-blogging may encourage self-reflection.

He also suggests what seems obvious: that these are, in effect, defensive technologies designed to help ameliorate the alienation and isolation that has always accompanied capitalist cultures. Things can get rough if the center is profit not people. The hope, of course, is that these technologies might also take on an offensive form too.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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