What makes Twitter different, and other thoughts on identity

21 September 2020
21 Sep 2020

I think Twitter has a way of studying an identity in isolation, apart from the person. In other apps, you usually see someone’s life unfold, following them in their many different aspects. But Twitter, for one reason or another, seems to have an invisible hand that guides everyone’s account and profile to be about exactly one thing, whether it’s coding or startups or something else.

I think this happens because, when you start talking about something and it “sticks” with people, Twitter creates this arbitrary feedback loop, where you, the account holder, are encouraged to talk more about that one thing and less about anything else. It’s the way you grow your profile – you focus on a very specific part of your identity with wide appeal, and make the account about just that. You are now an identity, isolated in space, and the wholeness of the person to which that identity belongs is buried in the shadows.

This has some benefits. For example, I think this makes it easier for me to “curate” my Twitter to be geared for learning a new topic.

But the downside of this identity-focus is that it pushes every person to be about one thing. And even worse, that one thing might not even be the thing you, the tweeter, want to talk about the most – it might just be what people around you want to hear from you. The “one thing” only sometimes aligns with your true interests.

To a lesser degree, the conventional idea of a “career” also applies the same forces on us. A “career” usually implies that you do one thing the best. And only sometimes is that career path the thing you really want to do most. But this is an arbitrary constraint, isn’t it? A person’s interest is much wider than their career.

The reality is that, usually, people are naturally about equally good at many things, and almost always interested in more than just the thing on which they build their career. In a career-focused, attention-focused, world it’s too easy to succumb to the pressure to be a single identity, a doer of a single thing. But all those extra thing on the side that you love – whether you’re a musician or a fiction writer or a woodworker or a cyclist or private pilot or whatever else – you should keep those too. You can be about more than one thing.

Don’t get buried in your “main thing”. Keep the rest of you alive. That’s what gives life color, and what makes you worth following.

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