Writing for Real Life, Navneet Alang describes how daily use of Twitter over more than a decade has shaped his everyday consciousness, mode of thinking, and self-image. Not only does he ceaselessly craft and recraft an internet persona that he believes will appeal to his imagined social media audience. Every occurrence, from the the most mundane to the most extraordinary, is also becomes first and foremost as a potential tweet. As Alang writes, “The engine of my thought is always directed toward Twitter.” Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
The tension between the imagined audience who sees you perfectly and the one who you contort yourself to please is precisely the nature of modern control. When in response to the ubiquity of surveillance we namedrop Foucault — speaking of the way sous-veillance has chilling effects — we often forget that the French philosopher suggested that power doesn’t simply say “no” like a police officer brandishing a truncheon; it beckons us to say yes, asking us to remake ourselves in its image, happily and contentedly producing the right sort of content. To internalize the structure of a social network is a way of both connecting with other humans and becoming subservient to our imagined visions of what they want.
To use Twitter is to become its consumer but also its bureaucrat. We tweet and read, expressing and absorbing what we wish as we propagate and internalize the logic of the platform, hundreds of millions of us performing these new behaviors in lockstep, beckoning each other to join in. It is a kind of auto-colonization: adopting the notion that a public digital self is a way to temporarily exceed the body, and embracing the personal brand as a mode of existence. We perform, as we always have, but perhaps more consciously, more acutely and persistently attuned to being watched. As we offload more of our identity and day-to-day life to the platform, we bend to the imagined Other like plants craning to maximize their exposure to sunlight.
I worry that this is what Twitter has done to me — or perhaps, what I have let it do to me. I have watched my tweets change over the years: first, in response to more followers, then to the incessant awareness that I need to make a living, then to callout culture, the politics of representation, and sheer exhaustion. But a decade on, I still find myself thinking in the terms of Twitter: how each absurd, mundane happening in my life might be framed so as to be alluring to my audience, a potential employer, a date, or new friend. I still always carry my followers with me. In fact, I can’t get rid of them. They are like a ghostly companion, ever at my side. It isn’t just my tweets that have changed, but the way in which I relate to reality.
Image: Gut Check by Mike Winkelmann. Via Real Life.