“What are you doing?” That’s the simple, no-fuss question Twitter asks. And it seems that despite Twitter’s 140 character limit, users are only too willing to share everything and anything. From the deeply personal to the seemingly inane, there is no holding back. Call it emotional vomit. Or maybe exhibitionism 2.0 for those who don’t have what it takes to strut their stuff in the nude but still want the thrill of exposing and revealing the taboo for all to see.
Regardless of what you label it or whether or not you care what people are doing, with an estimated 6 million registered Twitter users and 44.5 million unique visitors in June alone it’s clear that Twitter is fulfilling a societal need. The question is what. What is that makes people willing share and document the intimate details and mundane happenings of their life and to do so in a very public way?
To get a better sense of how willing to share Twitter users are, I used a Twitter search engine to find tweets about topics you wouldn’t ordinarily share with the strangers you pass in the street. The search results, below, were not surprising.
“Celebrating 15yrs with the greatest man I know. I am truly blessed by my marriage and his love for me.”
“Good Morning handsome!! Hope your foot is doing good…Can’t wait to see some dance moves……love ya”
“Having a fantastic day, divorce finalised, time now to restart and rebuild my life”
“Congratulations to my brother Garrick and his wife Kimiko who just gave birth to a another beautiful baby girl!”
Twitter is a cesspool of thoughts and feelings that belong in someone’s personal diary and yet have been vomited into the void of cyberspace. And there, in cyberspace, these tweets become immortalised, accessible by anyone at anytime. And that is the power of Twitter. It has nothing to do with who reads the tweets or whether or not they care. Twitter is about venting and sharing and getting it off your chest. It provides the Twitter user with a safe space to process things and some catharsis.
There are other sites or platforms that allow a user to vent and share. Postsecret, for example, is a site where users can anonymously mail any thought on one side of a postcard. These thoughts are then posted on the site. There is also fmlife.com , a site where people share and vent about moments from their day that were funny, irritating or simply unfortunate and ruined a perfectly good day. Again, this is done anonymously. What makes Twitter and Twitter venting unique, is that all venting takes places within the confines of a community created and controlled by the Twitter user. With Twitter venting, anything shared is not simply being dumped into a void but being shared with a community which can empathize and perhaps offer words of comfort or the odd bit of advice. It’s a type of dialogue or, if you like, quick-fix therapy. And the beauty of it is that a user can have the support of a community and still remain anonymous.
You may not care. Why would you? Tweets are the leftovers after a good meal. They are the scraps you’d rather toss than eat. And that’s the point of Twitter. Those who moan: “I don’t care”. They are the ones who miss the point. Who have little, if any understanding of Twitter. See, Twitter has nothing to do with the reader. Although for voyeurs, it may provide some interesting insight and a behind the scenes peek. There are also occasions when information or links to articles of interest are shared via Twitter. And that is useful. But Twitter’s real utility is for the writer who is given a safe space to vent. Twitter therapy, I like to call it. Ever heard of stream of consciousness? Well, Twitter is stream of consciousness gone digital.
Stream of consciousness involves expressing thoughts in a random, disorganised manner without self-censoring or any regard for punctuation or spelling. Twitter is the perfect platform for this. It encourages venting and has become a forum for stream of consciousness where users seem to write about whatever it is that comes to mind. The power of stream of consciousness is that it hints at what is happening at the level of the subconscious:
It is worthy to remark that transposing our streams of thought through mediums like words and paintings defile and even expunge the underpinnings of a person’s consciousness.
Studies have been done which link expressive writing, in the form of stream of consciousness, to an improvement of the health and general well-being of children suffering from post traumatic distress disorder. The studies found that writing about traumatic events gives the victim a sense of control and power over the trauma. The victim is able to able to turn the traumatic event into a manageable narrative. Twitter provides users with a space for stream of consciousness. A space to vent. But it could also be used for trauma debriefing as the victim is given control not only of a narrative but of a community of Twitter followers.
These are the things people should keep in mind the next time they criticise Twitter. They should stop and ask themselves why Twitter has so many dedicated users. What it is these ‘Twits’ get from Twitter that they cannot get elsewhere. And how Twitter can and perhaps is already helping people in need. If used properly, Twitter can be a powerful and very cathartic tool.