Jean Baudrillard, French sociologist and theorist, made a living studying the human ability to separate between fantasy and reality. He wasn’t alone, for a throng of thinking heads attempted to deconstruct how semiotics – symbols and signs – clouded the proverbial line between fact and fiction. He and many others believed that the more technologically advanced a culture is, the more likely people in that culture fall prey to this illusory effect.
Disney World, Tiger Woods, political leaders and entertainers are common subjects of this phenomenon. The HDTV and Blu-Ray effect heightens the distortion of regular people and events on television; as does massive advertisements.
Instead of Tiger Woods just being a man who cheated on his wife, he is the sullied familial image who once gushed about the birth of his daughter to a room full of reporters.He is the infamously imperfect super-duper once-in-a-generation star who transcended racial barriers to become one of the best golfers ever. He is the erstwhile happily married guy who disrespected his always-at-his-side-during-his-tournament-victories wife.
That’s what hyperreality does. It distorts. It fudges. It enhances. It lies. It creates unreal expectations and it ultimately confuses. This concept was long before Twitter and Facebook. These two social networking sites are the most prominent cultural forces today that amplify the hyperreal effect. That much can be said with confidence. But this phenomenon exists irrespective of the social networking giants. The underlying premise of the real vs. fake doesn’t even need media.
Think about the dynamics of a date: Women wear five-inch heels, put make-up on their cheeks, wear tight dresses to create the illusion of/accentuate curves. Men dress more flashier than otherwise. Hype up their careers. Give the whole “I’m single because my standards are high, but I’m looking for Ms. Right” spiel. Spend money that they probably should be saving.
For what? To present that great (unreal) representation, that ironically, is a result of the hyperbole they see in movies, television and online. But sooner or later, personal interaction will unmask any flaws a person has. That’s where social networking has stepped in in a major way.
In the land of Twitter, “I tweet, therefore I am.” Tweets are the symbols by which people, through the use of aliases, communicate with each other. Twitter can alter a person’s identity in a major way. If you’re socially inept and can’t hold an engaging face-to-face conversation to save your life, then Twitter welcomes you with open arms. If you have a pile of extraneous thoughts floating in your brain with nobody in your life interested in hearing it, then Twitter is your haven.
The validation a person receives from their “followers” on Twitter is a scientist’s marvel: How does interaction on a computer screen actually affect the day-to-day internal operations of an individual? Is this a clinical issue, the thought of a person deriving legitimate personal satisfaction from a retweet or a Follow Friday mention?
The major social drawback of this apparatus is twofold: the obvious faux validation component and the less-than-accurate impression that a person is likely to receive through one’s tweets.
Twitter, the online water cooler, extends the reach of the average person incrementally, and in many cases, exponentially. A person with a righteous cause has a platform to reach people in an easy, efficient and cost-friendly way. It’s a democratizing tool of unprecedented proportions: It combines the greatest disrupting technology (the Internet) with the most frequently used personal action (text messaging). Imagine the profound changes the great social revolutionists – Jesus, Ghandi, Confucius, Paul Revere or even Martin Luther King Jr. – could have done with Twitter.
Then again, Adolf Hitler was a great social revolutionist too. People with insidious motives can achieve the same results because they too, have the same access to the micro-blogging service. However, movements for social change generally end with a dominant group exerting their resources to crush the minority group. There is no such imbalance on this site. From a social standpoint, Twitter is the ultimate equalizer.
Of course, celebrities have more pull than the average Joe. They have an advantage. But never has there been a medium that closes the gap between the noble and the proletariat. The chances of getting a direct response from Pooch Hall or Idris Elba has never been greater. Six degrees of separation will be cut into half in a few years.
All of which leads to the dangerous, ever-so issue of false representation. Businesses get persecuted for this behavior. Shouldn’t there be some sort of social sanction against the Twitter violators? If a guy tweets like Shakespeare but talks like Forrest, who is more at fault: the perpetrator or the fooled?
Twitter is a monstrous linguistic tool that has the power to cloud actuality. So in light of such penetrating concerns, here are some pithy Twitteresque rules to abide by to part the glitter from the gold:
- There are no rules. Take people’s tweets with a grain of salt. Or just with a grain. Even if the Pope is tweeting. Especially if the Pope is tweeting.
- If a person is constantly retweeting somebody else, it’s a sign that their mind is on lease and they don’t own it.
- Are all your tweets on today’s trending topics? See second point. Original thoughts please.
- Does a person take a tweet personal? Is he/she being overly emotional?
- Why is your following/followers ratio so skewed in the way of the former? It’s not cool to follow 1,000 people to only have 100 follow you.
- Is a person tweeting anything significant? Are they being funny or enlightening?
- See first rule. If you think you’re going meet your spouse on Twitter, then step away from the white lines.
- Twitter should be a buttress for social interaction, not a substitute. A spur of the movement, not a movement.
- Twitter is like the mall. People who loiter at the mall all day can’t be productive in life.