One or Multiple Personas?

A few of the people I follow on Twitter have multiple personas for a variety of reasons. This got me thinking. Some changed their persona name to better reflect who they wish to be in the Twitter world. Others found that too many work colleagues etc knew who they were; this cramped their style. Some found their timelines too busy and wanted to pare things back. Some were hacked and needed to start over. It seems we can build up baggage in these floating worlds that can weigh us down. Some vanish for a while, only to re-emerge with a new name and avi. They give themselves away quite quickly.

No matter how hard we try we are only ever ourselves even if we are playing a character role. And we reveal ourselves no matter how much we try to remain ‘in character’. I have had the same handle but like to change my avi – I have at various times been a set of Vietnamese water puppets in an image I made, a pre-Raphaelite painting, myself and an upside down cat. I am not sure what ‘face’ I will have next. But I know I can never be anyone other than myself. Even if I try on a disguise, I will betray myself and you will spot me.

Others have a couple of twitter handles, one may be associated with a business venture or community, the other is used as a tool for personal expression. I find such machinations fascinating as I try to unravel the new ways of being together in the floating world we create in social media universes.

I have also being trying to figure out whether I want to spend time in Google+. There one can have only one identity but multiple circles of acquaintances that can be kept separate. Perhaps the designers got it wrong. Maybe what people want is a space where they can have multiple personas in the same space to express different aspects of themselves.

I wonder how good we are at spotting people with multiple personas … and how easily can we be fooled by people who create multiple personas …

More musings on personas in Twitter

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.

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.

Dancing with Words: A Dark Duet?

The  blogs I have linked to in this post contain adult material.  The poems are in no way offensive but if you choose to explore the linked blogs further please exercise your discretion because they contain material some may find offensive.


My post yesterday sparked some great discussions. I focus here particularly on the discussion I had with Monocle who has been writing  duets for a while.

Monocle drew my attention to a duet he wrote with Scarlett Greyson. Both are writers of erotica and will be familiar to many in Twitter as Monocle and Aislingweaver. The poem is called Castle Walls ~ A Senryu Story. Interestingly Scarlett says that she thought of Twitter as a social media to keep up with friends and “kill time”. She posted an exploratory senryu and unwittingly started a collaborative  narrative poem using senryu as verses.

He also wrote a poem with @Your__Dreamer called Fallen Angel. Both authors posted the poem on their blobs. Dreamer’s is here. What I found fascinating is the different kind of layout each poet chose to lift the poem out of the twitter environment. What I found fascinating was the way Monocle distinguished the different points of view  through his layout. I felt it really added another whole layer to the meanings a reader can take from the words.

In a duet, two voices each take a part. In a Fallen Angel, however, something different was happening. If you look at Dreamer’s version you can see a pattern of a dialogue, however Monocles reveals something quite different. The poem is polyphonic.

This got me thinking ~ I wonder how many forms are being brought in to dances with words? And how many points of view can entwine in a single poem?

Dancing with words: performance poetry

On January 6, Moondustwriter’s feature, “The Duet of Poetry” extolled the fun of collaborating with another poet.  The form of the poem was a lighthearted duel between two voices, each representing a character. I loved its theatricality. It reminded me of the dialogues in Restoration Comedies with the use of conceit to build an architecture of desire and seduction. This started me thinking. What is it about Twitter that encourages these kinds of collaborations?

I do not know the provenance of The Duet of Poetry, perhaps it was written via email, like the parlour games of old. But I found out about the poem through Twitter.  And I have watched and participated in duets through Twitter. If someone’s haiku or gogyoka catches my attention, I will respond in kind and sometimes people will respond to me. I have also posted photographs and images and had them returned with poetic lines. Such moments are very touching and enriching.

There are precedents for this kind of composing. I remembered Andre Breton and the Exquisite Corpse game of the Surrealists which in turn was a variation of the Victorian parlour game Consequences. I thought too about differences: no paper or pencils, and we see the words and/or pictures that come before, unlike in Consequences and Exquisite Corpse.

I have recently also collaborated with a Twitter friend to write together. On New Years Eve (western), I posted a poem – a unique poem – Moonlight Dancing. It was written by MissyPoem and me using Twitter.We had been wanting to write together for a while, perhaps using email to flick ideas back and forth.

We wrote it as an improvisation exchanging lines through tweets using a hashtag #mmpoem. We chose to write it on the public timeline quite deliberately after deliberating because we felt our friends would enjoy seeing the poem emerge through our exchanges. We had no set shape or direction – just two themes – dancing and love. The writing became a dance between us. As we were writing it, parts were retweeted and we received direct encouragement from our followers. The audience didn’t simple sit back and ‘watch’ our improvised performance rather they joined in our dance.

The experience was different from a parlour game. The act of writing was fluid and contextualised in what had gone on before within poetic text itself . We were also potentially influenced by the responses from our followers on the side. We wrote the poem in an open system as well as in an interactive public space. We received guess about the identity of the dancer and the absent lover. We also knew who our key audience was and we knew they were there. Indeed we chose a time when they would be there live online. We discussed the outcome of the poem in public – whether to provide closure or leave a sense of mystery. We opted for the later to tease our audience because of all the questions.

Since then I have had approaches from poets who would like to dance with words with other poets impromptu in the Twitter stream. The permutations are infinite – duets, trios and so on. How many can join before the poetic integrity is lost? I feel we are on the brink of something quite magical.

Perhaps the better question is: Can I have this dance with you?


Talking with Photos

We are still wrestling with what it means to have an ever-present camera. Modernistdream aka mediamongrel has written some fantastic posts about this on his blog. My proposition here is that having a camera constantly about our person coupled with the ability to share images we take is changing the part played by photography in our everyday lives, social activities and rituals. Not only are we reshaping the ways in which we make memories or memorialise significant events as Modernistdream points out, we are also using photography as a means of communication that moves beyond the postcard effect of ‘I was here’. The relationship between word and visual images is drawing closer and sometimes the visual image is displacing words entirely as a form of communication.

However, I am not proposing that photographs are replacing words. I think it is more matter that we often send photographs to clearly show where we are, what has struck us ridiculous, delicious, beautiful or disgusting in a quest to reduce ambiguity given the strictures of 140 characters. With Twitter it is really easy to post photographs and there are applications specifically designed to coexist with Twitter in its mobile incarnation such as instagram.With these applications you can follow people, rate their photos but if you want to communicate via the images you still need to link to twitter. So photography is developing an almost symbiotic relationship to words in this environment.

Another phenomenon I have observed and experienced is when a follower may pick up an image and write a post in response to it. The first time this happened to me I was delighted. I had posted a photo of a flower I wanted to share. Within a few moments I saw that someone had written a haiku about the flower. This reminded me of parlour games such as exquisite corpse where someone would start a story that would be continued by someone else and so on. Naturally I checked out her profile and followed her.

So are we using photography more readily now as a form of self-expression and communication? And do we make judgments about people based on the kinds of photos they post in similar ways to how we judge them by their verbal posts?

Who are our personas?

“Sometimes, in fact, like a hunter in the forest, he spots the written quarry, follows a trail, laughs, plays tricks, or else like a gambler, lets himself be taken in by it.”(de Certeau)

The comments on my last post on personas were inspirational. We are mosaics in Twitter spaces as _thextraman_ noted. And most of us real flesh and blood creatures. Pierre phrased a superb question: Is our persona a hidden alter ego or our true conscious self over emphasized? which is related to Peter’s question: Who will I become in the cupboards and corridors of their imagination?

I started thinking about what is so compelling about Twitter and how it is different from other social media spaces like Facebook. I don’t propose to analyse the technical differences, I want to unpack the some of the social ritual aspects specific to my floating wold in Twitter. For me twitter is very much a ‘what if’ space. It is also a space where I can observe the resurgence of poetry. I can also observe how photography is used in everyday life as a form of communication.

In my stream, I see people trying to be the best they can be. Like Peter, I was surprised and at times overwhelmed by the levels of kindness and care expressed by people in this space. I am also aware of the pitfalls of utopian views of life and of our ever present desire to create utopias. Nonetheless, maybe this is a space where we are beginning experiment with new social rituals  which depend on the development an over-emphasised conscious self expressed through personas.

I wonder too, if this space encourages self reflexivity, particularly with regard to what we are projecting and transferring onto others and in turn what is being projected and transferred to us? Those of us who like to write, draw and take photos feed on the feedback which is generally very kind. I, for one, send critiques through whispers, I prefer not to do it in public. That is my upbringing. I have noticed others do the same. There is a veil between public and private operating in Twitter, or to use a theatre metaphor, a front and back stage (Goffman also uses this metaphor). So, to be egocentric do I assume everyone else is doing the same?

My assumption is that the timeline is public, even for those who protect their tweets, and if people reveal intimate details, that is a conscious choice on their part. And yet, I am uneasy about this assumption because I am drawing on rules of engagement for what can be said, who listens and who speaks from other contexts with which I am familiar.

But Twitter is a new context, where else can you go where you just drop in and out, engage in dialogues or monologues, stick up paintings, drawings, photos, poems, microfiction, blog links? And who are we in Twitter? If we assume a persona we need to maintain it, inhabit it and nurture it. Peter’s question about who we will become in the imaginations of others extends to who we shall become in our own imaginations as well. And Pierre is right too, we do over-emphasise aspects of ourselves through our personas, through the people we choose to follow and interact with.

To return to de Certeau, I suggest we are also our own quarry.