The Screenage – genesis; and, Twitter behaviour.

Sometime earlier this year when a large publishing company and I got speaking about a book, I was clear about what I didn’t want to write – a user’s guide to social media. I had received, and rejected, such an offer earlier. I came up with a concept note on a book, which I gave a working title – The Screenage (though that’s what I would finally want to call it too).

A contract arrived, and I panicked at the sight of it. Time-lines were tight and this was the year for Blogworks to become a business and and organisation (more on that in days to come). The contract was pushed deep inside the drawer.

However, the thought around the book was built has never appealed to me more - how consumers and brands speak (and behave) in times of the social web; or; interpreting people and brand behaviour, as seen through the prism of social media.

While the term Screenagers is typically used for the ‘digitally connected youth’, I use it for ‘digitally connected everyone’. As digital usage proliferates, the impact at a surface, and, at deeper concept level, is clearly visible. Do we understand all of it, or where all this is going to take us? Far from it, but it makes for an interesting topic  to observe, note and share.

I attempt to do that through my talks and workshops, and have been doing loads of those lately, but I haven’t been writing much on the blog and I think this series is going to help me discipline myself into writing regularly.

To begin, Twitter has been on my mind, as only a couple of days ago a journalist from Hindustan Times called regarding this story and asked me to comment on whether people vent out more on Twitter.

Naturally – it is a broadcast network. People are there to share opinions (unlike Facebook, where they go to enjoy and manage their relationships) and usually it means either they will have something positive or negative to say.  Even a mild negative would usually find vocal expression, whereas only an overwhelmingly positive one does. The scale is already tilted.

A large mass of people ‘broadcasting’ means, we are now in the domain of numbers, not quality- the words, the expressions are ‘mass’. A large majority have never really spoken with a mike in hand; they haven’t been heard before.

The ability to freely speak, and be heard by ‘anyone’ can be extremely heady and intoxicating. It becomes headier when you combine Twitter’s unique mix of identity, and, anonymity. It gives you the choice to retain your ‘real’ social graph (you-as-you engaging  people you know in real life, or are connected with through your real friends, or strangers who are real as you); or, start a parallel social graph connected with real people, but anonymously. On Facebook such anonymity would be useless, but on Twitter it makes the equation more empowering, IF your real world stature is not already high – you are anyway not well known; now you know who the other (real) people are; but they don’t know who you are.  You can now seemingly get away with a lot more without the answerability of identity.

Another irony that plays out nicely on Twitter is the powerful are the most vulnerable. Twitter brings people otherwise far from reach, within your reach – a national political leader; a senior journalist;  a best-selling author; a movie superstar.  They have the stature, the image, the reputation.

When you don’t have a reputation, you have nothing to lose. What you want is attention. Throw a stone at someone who has a reputation, you get the attention. Often enough others join in the fun; nobody verifies facts; soon enough even the context is lost. Why did this start? Few seems to know, but everyone has a comment. It’s live entertainment a la Death Race; The Running Man. The powerful are the most vulnerable.

Fairly normal people (read, all of us) seem to behave differently on Twitter.  It seems to bring out, in a highly  exaggerated way, ‘a’ dimension of our personality. Humour and wit; philosophy; creativity; activism; gyaan. Could be anything, but it’s heightened.  We are out to impress.

What do you think?


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