Posted by: Ken Brown | May 4, 2009

Twitter and Living Vicariously

The medium is the message. -Marshall McLuhan

That Twitter promotes narcissism is passé. Even that Twitter is what you make it has become a cliché. Neither gets at the real danger, which is much more subtle: Twitter teaches us that the importance of our lives and thoughts lies primarily in what others think of them.

That my kids finally slept through the night last night is reason to celebrate, thank God, and be happy. It may even be worth telling my friends about. But what does it say if my first thought as I wake from the first good sleep in weeks is not: “Aaaaah” or even “Thank God” but “How can I tweet this?”

The problem is emphatically not that Twitter places too much importance on the mundane details of life. The mundane details of life are important—far more important than we usually recognize. It is precisely our small, everyday choices, triumphs, failures, joys, experiences that make us who we are, and if Twitter helps us to be more thoughtful about them, that’s a good thing. No, the problem is when we start to think that the importance of these things derives from their interest for others, rather than their interest deriving from their fundamental importance. Suddenly the things we do don’t matter unless they are Retweetable, or blogworthy.

Far from promoting narcissism, the more subtle danger of Twitter may be precisely the opposite: Living your own life second-hand.


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