Jimmy is happy (or how the twitter effect is changing social cognition)
Before i delve into socio-psychological-brain-shag here’s a little exercise:
When was the last time you’ve experienced something – from the most mundane (being tired, basking in the sun, fighting jetleg, craving a banana) to slightly more elaborated one (thinking about politics, being in a good restaurant, getting pissed off with shitty morning commute, watching a great movie, etc etc) – and the moment you were aware to yourself, you thought about it in terms of updating your facebook status or twittering it?
Do you know what I mean?
Something happens to you, and the moment you are self-aware to it, your thought process is in the twitter/status mode. You might publish it or not, thats not the point – it’s the way we think that matters.
We’re increasingly experiencing moments of our lives through the prisms of public expressions. It’s not just about sharing or self expression. It’s a new type of introspection or reflexive thinking – our inner thoughts are occasionally being processed and translated, in real time, through the ways we will, or may tell the world about it.
The novelty of this type of social cognition is twofold – first, our thoughts are shaped by the presence of others as audience in our lives. Through our active digital encounter with social and cultural others we’re getting used to think and express our thinking with that semi-imaginary audience in mind. What’s more, even after the removal of the IS from facebook status we still in many occasions regard ourselves in the third person, that is, we become ‘an other’ to ourselves. But is that really something new?
Plato was the first one to notice that the process of thought was the self talking to itself. Then it was Descartes’ problematic cogito that shaped the ordinary language of thought with his assertion that the nature of consciousness is personal and private (I think therefore I am).
It was not until the American pragmatists view of mind and the self as emerging out of the relationships between individuals and their (social) environments that the concept of inner speech was clearly thematised in contrast to the isolated Cartesian self. This idea of the I (the passing thought) and the ME (the empirical self) in conversation as the bedrock of our cognition and self awareness, i.e. the self is that which is aware of itself, has since been vastly examined and articulated in philosophical and psychologal studies as the Dialogical Self.
Here is my old friend Mead:
Thinking is a process of conversation with one’s self when the individual takes the attitude of the other, especially when he takes the common attitude of the whole group, when the symbol that he uses is a common symbol, has a meaning common to the entire group, to everyone who is in it and to anyone who might be in it. …There is a field, a sort of inner forum, in which we are the only spectators and the only actors. In that field each one of us confers with himself. He asks and answers questions. He develops his ideas and arranges and organizes those ideas as he might do in conversation with somebody else.
(Mead, 1936, pp. 380-381, 401.)
The concept of the dialogical self is incredibly rich but I will have to leave it here for now to stay on theme. The point I’m trying to make is that the twitter effect (it started with twitter, than adopted by facebook and now on myspace and bebo as well) shapes our social cognition in new ways – whereas in the past the inner conversation was between the I and ME – (the latter being the social incorporated into the personal or the organised set of attitudes of others that are internalised through the course of our social development) that me has now become a new construct of WE, US and THEM.
My point is that as the twitter effect becomes ubiquitous, there is a qualitative shift in ‘the other’ with whom we internally converse. It is no longer simply an abstract, internalised generalised other (the ME) but something different – it’s both real and imaginary other – all the people that might be reading our published thoughts and this habit, I believe, is slowly incorporated into our very experiences and thinking process.