November 5, 2016 Auto Format

Twitter, by its own hand or some sudden shift in trends, will one day die. What will I do then? The engine of my thought is always directed toward Twitter. As I walk the city, I am attuned to that little empty box insistently asking �What�s happening?� My experience of the material world is shadowed by a kind of holographic plane, a translucent layer over everything, studded with tweet buttons. Conversations, happenings in public spaces, street art, or a celebrity sighting � these are all fodder for a reality that I have come to perceive in tweet-size fragments.

Twitter has colonized my mind. Almost every day for just under a decade, I have checked the site, have tweeted, retweeted, been subtweeted. My mental map is the frontier surrendered, and Twitter is the empire. To become occupied by a social network is to internalize its gaze. It is to forever carry a doubled view of both your own mind and the platform�s. What beckons initially is what feels like a blank canvas � some empty space onto which one can splash one�s desires. So, like millions of others, I conjured a persona for Twitter, at first modulating myself for the tech- and pop-culture-savvy early users, then later techno-skeptics and lefty cultural critics, and now for the many like me who are just exhausted by the whole thing and make aimless or bitter jokes.

That we perform for others isn�t exactly new; it is, rather, a fundamental part of who we are. The field of psychology is littered with concepts like the looking-glass self � in which we form our self-conception based on others� perception of us � or David Elkind�s imaginary audience, a term describing how an envisioned, general audience affects our behavior. Writing out our identities as an act of self-creation is perhaps the most obvious way in which we respond to this phantom viewing public, positioning and shaping our words to suit who we imagine to be reading them. In Politics and Aesthetics in the Diary of Virginia Woolf, author Joanne Tidwell suggests that Woolf � an author who otherwise demanded much of her audience � wrote for an older self, imagining an ideally sympathetic reader, as if in her diaries Woolf wrote to the person she hoped to become. Social media is another kind of public diarizing, and its trajectory aims at a similarly ideal avatar � it externalizes thought, but also the interpersonal, the communicative. We use it to seek out an empathic witness for our scribblings, projecting into the murk of online space an audience who sees us as we hope to be seen.

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Twitter, which is public in both its default settings and its culture, concentrates this effect. You are almost always followed by those you don�t know, or the bots and spam accounts who don�t quite exist but appear to. Each numerical addition to one�s follower list amounts to a little increase in our sense that people have chosen to watch because there is something about us � a wry smirk in a profile pic, an offhandedly funny or heartfelt tweet � that drew them in. One�s audience is like a darkened theater punctuated by hundreds of eyes, anticipating that self-image tucked into the corner of one�s mind, carried about as one moves through the world. If in specifics we distinguish between bots, brands, and our friends, in practical terms they all form part of the same expectant crowd.

Thus, the imagined audience is often just that: an imagining; a conveniently blank, conjured thing, a sort of perfect Other, all id and ego but no wagging finger of the superego � a blurry, smeared collection of people we want to like us, be attracted to us, be jealous of us. We aren�t so much writing to people or acting ourselves out but invoking what we imagine our ideal audience to be. A Twitter joke isn�t just an attempt to get laughs or acquire likes; it�s an attempt to extract from the faceless dark of the limitless web an exact body of people who find what we find funny, funny.

To become occupied by a social network is to internalize its gaze. It is to forever carry a doubled view of both your own mind and the platform�s??

But the imagined Other is not just some conveniently homogeneous mass. It is always split, fissures of the Real forming in our fantasizing. It is a horizon of general possibility punctuated by pillars of aspiration and threatening figures of repression, sharp pinpricks interrupting the easy reverie of perfect sympathy. Among the unindividuated mass are those we desperately want to please, those whose money we want, those we want to fuck, those who are out of our orbit and to whom we are grateful for just a shred of attention. There are, too, the predators, the haters, the naysayers, the racists and the sexists, the homophobes, the chaotic monsters who gather around the word �troll.� We push down the thought of one so that we might bathe in the affirmation of the other.

The idealized audience is a thing you forever create and that creates you at the same time. To have an audience at all is to be relentlessly concerned with how you will be read. At times Twitter provides the perfectly sympathetic audience we don�t have elsewhere: a warm embrace to soothe our vulnerabilities, fears, and desires, made more welcoming by the fact that our audience isn�t quite a real person but rather something just close enough to the outline of a person to function like one in our psychology. But the very blankness of that Other imbues it with the threat of disapproval, wildly vacillating in our imaginations from a nagging �no� to the glare of white supremacy or patriarchy. Watch your tone, we tell ourselves, and even when we are actively defiant, that is exactly what we are doing. Each tweet has to be read with the same doubled view of its production: a string of words meant to mean something to someone, and an expression aimed at no one in particular; an object made to expel some desire, not mmeant to really communicate anything.
Apparently, this person has had a bit too much masking and not enough transparency. This article should be called "what will we do if Twitter dies?" After reading it, I still don't know the answer to that question. I am who I am on Twitter in real life, in other words I'm myself. I don't post personal information obviously, but other than that I'm pretty open about things. It just gets weirder after my stopping point, so click at your own risk!
So let's address the question at hand. I'd hhope there would be some sort of alternative, because Twitter has allowed me to meet several people, (one is coming to visit in the next couple weeks!) and follow many things that I wouldn't normally follow fairly easily. I'd have a lot harder time following legal cases for instance, if Twitter were gone.

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