I have noticed a tendency lately where just about every story in the media about Twitter is somehow negative and is imbued with contempt. I thought I would try to unpack why.
Media commentators decry the time we spend being connected, the anxiety we feel when we are disconnected, the ways in which life has sped up, the lack of work and life balance. On the other hand, we are bombarded with advertising that exploits fears of being unconnected and falling behind in a world giddy with technological consumerism.
It’s easy to persuade people that life was better in a ‘before’ where there were no wireless mobile computing, no smart phones and demanding social softwares such as Facebook and Twitter. Newspapers carry claims that the pressure to be constantly available and connected cause stress and actually diminish the ability to concentrate. The happiness industry with its focus on being present, on practice and avoiding distractions is another manifestation of the cultural nostalgic malaise for a time when life wasn’t quite so mediated by technology.
It’s easy to find stories about the naivety of social software users posting status updates that cost them their livelihood. Social concerns about are social media phenomena such as Twitter are framed by and reflected in mainstream media organizations.
I think these concerns often express an emotional response that may be viewed as contempt with both the perceived lack of time and with banal thoughts, feeling and details of daily life being expressed in public spheres.
Contempt is a complex voluntary emotion that has an element of disgust as well as a fear of the other or another that does not conform to normative social controls. It also has a strong element of envy. The psychoanalytical theories of Melanie Klein provide a useful lens through which to examine the anxieties, desires and projections arising from the use of social media. According to Polledri (2003):
For Klein (1957) the direct aim of envy is to spoil the attributes of the good object. Klein always recognized that in the transference the patient projects into the analyst an internal world determined by past experiences; these past experiences, re-lived in the transference, have to be recognized in relation to their historical past. The fact that envy spoils the capacity for creative enjoyment explains to some extent why envy is so persistent. (p198)
Social software, including Twitter has become an object of transference, where envy and contempt are projected. Maybe this is because Twitter has immense potential for creative playfulness and collaborations. Thus it becomes an object that needs to be spoiled. Much of the contempt of social software such as Twitter is associated with the anxiety that people are publicly disclosing feelings and thoughts that are no longer contained safely in private. By extension, those who do not indulge in such behaviours are considered somehow superior. Transgressions by celebrities attract an almost gleeful schadenfreude in mainstream media.
The case of Catherine Deveny losing her job as a columnist for the Age newspaper in Melbourne for using Twitter to express her comments about the 2010 Logie Awards is an excellent illustration of the schadenfreude associated with such perceived transgressions real time social software streams. Her comments according to Michael Bodey, were that “she hoped child star Bindi Irwin “got laid” and that Rove McManus’s partner Tasma Walton didn’t die”. She later claimed that her comments were taken out of context and she was merely passing the time whilst at the Logies. Her comments and subsequent dismissal provided grist for talk back radio with 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell describing her comments as “vulgar, sick stuff” (Bodey, 2010). Mitchell’s words signify contempt and envy through spoiling.
Twitter is a place where the subject can create and consign meaning; and can intervene in the world to make an impact, or to influence others. Social media is personal as well as political. It lives in the imaginary as well as in the social. It is a site of introjection as well as projection. it is not governed by gatekeepers.It is also the symbolic Other (Lacan, 1977), which challenges pre-existing social orders structures and conventions of language use. It has become an object of contempt and disgust.