The Disgust and Contempt of Twitter

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.


10 thoughts on “The Disgust and Contempt of Twitter

  1. Well written. I find that Twitter is a case of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t. There are nay-sayers for both sides. While everything you say in your article is true, how many times have you heard the line that if you are anybody, or if you want to be anybody, you have to be on Twitter? More and more important people, politicians, stars, famous authors and mainstream media people are all joining social media. Like everything else, some are good at it and some are not. People who say foolish things on Twitter would just as likely have said those things elsewhere; in the “old days” before social media, people said stupid things live on air when they thought the mic was off. Still happens. There are always people who criticize. Too bad for them. The rest of us shall move on, create, tweet, and let them wallow in their Schadenfreude.

  2. Excellent… and true.
    I loved your thoughts here about twitter — it really is a simple social media tool that has become quite complex.
    But, any place I can find dragon poetry must be okay. 😉

  3. You have it spot on, I think. Those who would condemn our playfulness on twitter are quite likely those who find creative play difficult themselves. And whilst I imagine those who feel contempt for twitter would try to defend themselves (I play games with my children) I suspect that play, to them, means something different than it does to us. It is quite possible to ‘play sensibly’ at an intellectual level … but we are talking about messing around in muddy puddles (which I still can’t resist doing when ‘cued in’ by my 3-yr-old son).

    Excellent, thought-provoking article, Marousia ~ could write lots more but duty calls: need to go and feed the dragons 🙂

  4. A thought provoking post. I guess we lose sight of the darker, ugly side of twitter sometimes, when we get lost in our poetry fun. I think it is a world that reflects a lot of our society, only recently a US congressman accidentally posted a lewd picture of his crotch to one of his followers (makes you think doesn’t it?) I often ask myself what the value is of these online friendships. A lot of the same people (and many twitter people) sneer at facebook too…There are some desperately sad stories there; Simone Back for example, who posted on her status (on Christmas day) “Took all my pills be dead soon so bye bye everyone” Of the 1,048 people listed as her friends, not one of them checked up on her. She died on Boxing day. A thousand links but no connections….Envious? Me? No, I don’t think so…

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