Self-expression as narcissism or just a convenient outlet?

I first started using Twitter during my semester in Israel in the spring of 2009. I thought it was so cool that you could follow famous people like Rich Rodriguez and John Piper (interesting combo, huh?) and get their tweets sent straight to your phone. Back when I followed like five people, I used to have Twitter send all their tweets to my phone, which of course got super annoying after about two weeks.

The I actually started tweeting myself. It didn’t really make much sense at first because no one followed me, and my initial tweets were parts of T.S. Eliot poetry and twitter glitches that ended up looking like this: ??I7?,/??i?%DG

But once I figured out that you could like your Twitter account to your Facebook status, I started taking it a lot more seriously. Then I read this piece by John Piper about why he started tweeting. I was intrigued by the idea of Twitter as a worship tool. So I tried it. My tweets looked like this for a while:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure in a field, which a man found and covered. Then in his joy he sells all he has and buys that field 7:07 AM Jun 16th, 2009 via web

interesting thought: “You probably aren’t evangelizing correctly if your gospel presentation doesn’t prompt the Rom. 6:1 question” 1:30 PM Jun 22nd, 2009 via web

Since by man came death, by man came also the Resurrection. For as in Adam all DIE, so also in Christ shall all be made ALIVE. 1:53 PM Jul 8th, 2009 via txt

I tweeted about ten times that whole summer. Then I got to school in the fall and my grandpa died. I started a string of tweets about that, some of which found their meaning carefully hidden:

is praying very hard for his family Tue Sep 08 2009 11:43:43 (Eastern Daylight Time) via API

loves metaphors Tue Sep 08 2009 20:18:48 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

It had just rained harder than I’d ever seen in my life. Water was literally waist-high in the road between dorms. It was dark outside and the world seemed to be weeping. It was like how I felt.

I Cor. 15:20, 26 Thu Sep 10 2009 17:43:34 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

it’s bittersweet to consider all the beautiful memories of Grandpa. We love you and miss you and can’t wait to see you again. Sat Sep 12 2009 02:07:41 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

On my way to the viewing. We have hope in our sovereign God! Mon Sep 14 2009 15:57:33 (Eastern Daylight Time) via txt

Funeral was beautiful and encouraging. Now headed back to school… Wed Sep 16 2009 07:51:32 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

Twitter was suddenly more than a cool social networking tool. If you’ve ever gone through a difficult thing like a family member’s death, you know how awkward it is to insert “my Grandpa is probably going to pass away soon” into conversation. But I likewise didn’t want to be one of those people who put something like “wants to cry into a pillow” as my Facebook status. Twitter became the perfect outlet. It’s simple, understated; elegant in it’s minimalism. You can’t post videos or stupid pictures directly; the best you can do is link to them. It’s only 140 characters long. It forces you to make the words mean something. It allows you to point to other people’s thoughts when they express them better than you can.

But it also gives you a chance to say anything you want to. And so my last several tweets are all about a silly football player:

Denard Robinson’s first two starts at quarterback rank Nos. 1 & 2 in individual total offense in Michigan history. Sat Sep 11 2010 21:50:56 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

@TimCary That might be the dumbest thing Lou Holtz has ever said. Sat Sep 11 2010 21:51:43 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web in reply to TimCary

@JasonAGrier interestingly, Newsome committed to Michigan, but decided to go to PSU instead, forcing UM to recruit…Denard Robinson #thanks Sat Sep 11 2010 22:07:05 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web in reply to JasonAGrier

@TimCary gotta go with Denard, 87 yard TD. I know, bias and all, but man. Sat Sep 11 2010 23:29:14 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web in reply to TimCary

@TimCary He outran two defensive backs who seemed to have angles. it was insane. Sat Sep 11 2010 23:54:01 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web in reply to TimCary

RT @SPORTSbyBROOKS Student shoots epic photo of Denard Robinson in Heisman pose warding off ND defender http://bit.ly/9fHJmESun Sep 12 2010 01:01:29 (Eastern Daylight Time) via web

I’ve now tweeted 595 times (including the one linking to this post). They’ve created a narrative of my life; you can read my tweets and start to understand me. Old tweets remind me of the context in which I wrote them, the unspoken things that happened to drive me to Twitter and offer a 140-letter window into my life.

I’m torn on this, really. Part of my thinks it’s wrong to display things to the world, just because you think they should have to listen. Are self-gratification and self-expression really all that different? The other part of me says, yeah but it’s beautiful that the technology god has given us a channel through which we can communicate our deepest and purest emotions. Sorrow, remorse, ambivalence, joy, excitement. Maybe Twitter (and really all the social networking sites) is really just what you make it.

Do you use Twitter or Facebook? What do you use it for?

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2 thoughts on “Self-expression as narcissism or just a convenient outlet?

  1. “Maybe Twitter (and really all the social networking sites) is really just what you make it”

    I think that comment is quite true, as far as the significance of social networking sites has to individuals. I believe that outside their existence, we make their existence meaningful or not.

    I have been thinking some about the purpose of Twitter and almost wrote a blog post about it, and your post gave me some more to think about.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Allison McLean

    P.S. This is Allison from WJI. =)

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