Last year I wrote a few posts exploring personas on Twitter. There was some fantastic discussion too. A few things have happened over the past few weeks that compel me to revisit this fascinating topic. These events are banal and unfortunate yet they reveal more about the nature of Twitter type spaces.
Recently I wrote a paper for Text called ‘Poetic Tweets. It will be published in October. In it I theorised Twitter as a creative play space for poets. (I also wrote a lot about aesthetics but that’s another story.)
Therein lies the rub, while Twitter is a creative play space it is also an uncontained liminal space where contexts can collapse. Lines between a performed character/persona and a ‘real’ person blur and social genres are murky. One can simultaneously be engaged in polite conversation about virtual food or the cricket at a virtual tea party, be engaged in a hash tag stream elsewhere, retweeting posts that appeal and chatting with a friend. We switch between different audiences within the same stream. There is no stable ground.
We’re experimenting with new ways of being together, whether we’re conscious of this or not. We’re learning to conduct multiple conversations revealing different aspects of ourselves to different audiences almost simultaneously. In other words, we can be different things to different people almost simultaneously. This can be a fraught phenomenon.
People project, interpret and introject. They construct identities for us based on a mix of our tweets and their desires – again consciously and unconsciously. They also ‘act out’ unresolved issues. We may find ourselves or our persona at any rate being the object of transference, counter-transference without realising it. The balances and checks that exist to moderate this tendency in face to face contexts are less compelling in Twitter because Twitter is a liminal space prone to context collapse (see danah boyd).
Twitter is also a wonderful space for people who delight in games and manipulation to act out. Since I wrote my posts last year, I’ve discovered I’ve been on the other end of people acting out quite a number of times. Unfortunately, I’ve found such people to be much harder to spot in Twitter than in non liminal spaces that are not quite so prone to context collapse. Perhaps this is an artifact of my conceptualisation of Twitter as a creative play space where people can be themselves in other ways and find new ways of being and interacting together. Should I be more cautious? My inclination is not to be more cautious but rather to delve further.