Let the Twitter backlash begin: Times calls Twitter users narcissistic

With the massive growth in Twitter over the last year, a backlash that wasn't related to the now historical, and perhaps infamous inability to keep the service up was bound to happen.

Andy Pemberton in The Times leads the charge, with an article that calls Twitter users narcissistic among other things. Some choice quotes:

The clinical psychologist Oliver James has his reservations. “Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It’s a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”

“We are the most narcissistic age ever,” agrees Dr David Lewis, a cognitive neuropsychologist and director of research based at the University of Sussex. “Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity whereby, unless people recognise you, you cease to exist. It may stave off insecurity in the short term, but it won’t cure it.”

Quoting Alain de Botton, author of Status Anxiety and the forthcoming The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
“Receiving a tweet is like a friend whispering something in your ear,” says de Botton. “We all want people to whisper secret messages to us. Children like to play ‘I have a secret to tell you’. It’s great fun, but what they say is often not very important.”

“To ‘follow’ someone is to have a fantasy of who this person you’re following is, and you use it as a map reference or signpost to guide your own life because you are lost,” says James. “I would guess that the typical profile of a ‘follower’ is someone who is young and who feels marginalised, empty and pointless. They don’t have an inner life,” he says.

What a complete load of bollocks. Well, to a point.

Saying all these things falls into the stereotype category; while it's true for some, it's not for all.

As someone who has been on Twitter for more than 2 years, back when my then 400-500 followers placed me in the top Twitter users in Australia (depending on the service, I'm now anywhere from top 10 through to top 30) I certainly can say that I don't tend to use Twitter as some sort of stalking tool to fulfill my life. Indeed, Twitter, particularly in the early days was very much a social networking tool where people with similar interests, or in a similar geographic location shared. I also don't tweet everything, although I do tweet the mundane; I tweet when I feel like, and don't try to paint a picture of someone I'm not. It's probably to my detriment, but I'd rather 5,500 followers who care to follow me for me, as opposed to 20 or 30,000 who are following for some picture of me I'd paint that isn't real. Life is to short for that, although I don't begrudge anyone who does :-)

But I digress. Twitter is rapidly changing. What was once the near exclusive domain of those with an interest in tech, or related fields (it had a strong tie in to blogging communities before it became big), is now mainstream in a big way, and that includes big stars. If you said to anyone on Twitter 18 months ago that the top people on Twitter would be a Barack Obama, and a range of actors and sports stars, they would have laughed.

Stars bring in followers, and the picture painted by The Times for a sizable portion of the new comers isn't inaccurate. Nor is it for the stars themselves; no doubt some are manipulating Twitter for self promotion.

But having said that, there's a real purity to at least some of what we see with stars on Twitter. Be it Stephen Fry stuck in a lift, or Shaq O'Neil meeting fans in a restaurant. Twitter cuts out the middle man, so that "stars" can communicate honestly, and directly with fans. That, when done properly is a radical change in the norm, and one for the better. I'm the first to admit that telling the difference between controlled message and real is sometimes difficult, but it's fairly clear to those who watch which stars are being open and honest upfront, and those that are spinning a line.

Because I'm completely narcissistic, you can follow me on Twitter here :-)