Twitter’s impact on public and private

I’ve been reading a lot about Twitter today, being its 10 year anniversary.  I joined Twitter just tweetover 5 years ago – so halfway through, although I’d argue it’s not the more interesting half.

One thing I read this morning was Om Malik‘s original critique of “twittr” from GigaOm.  Most notable was this comment: “The annoying SMS messages from nocturnal friends is not the only thing which bothers me about this service, but also the fact, that the texting a message(reply) to twttr ends up on their website.”

How far we have come that we don’t even think about that any more – or we do, and we want it to be on the website.

The thing I’ve noticed is this: we’re being really careless – liberal maybe? – about what’s public and what’s private online these days.  I started to notice this on Facebook first.  I’d comment on someone’s post, and someone would reply to my comment, but really be starting a 1:1 conversation with me.  Say the original post was about common core math.  I’d write something like “I don’t think it’s that bad – that’s how we make change from a $20.”  Then suddenly someone is saying to me, “Sheryl, hey, how’s your baby doing?”

At first I avoided these conversations, feeling like out in public on Facebook was like talking (too) loudly in a cafe. But over time it’s become somewhat a new norm and I have to admit to participating in it.

Another example is group text messaging.  I’m in several group chats for text messaging.  And eventually they all evolve into 1:1 conversations that everyone else is just a part of.

Another example is that I’m part of a ListServe (yes I live in 1992) for moms in the Boston area. Over 10,000 people are members.  The freedom with which we casually post questions and advice to an audience of 10,000 is stunning.

None of these is a bad thing, but I’m noticing that this blurring between what’s a private conversation and what’s a public conversation is getting greater.  It’s not public/private like people divulging secrets (although social media seems to be ripe for that too).  More what I’m getting at is that everything has become, by default, public, rather than by default things being private.

And I see that as Twitter’s influence.  The “Twitter Effect” if you will.  None of this is news, but think about it in the context of public and private.  Facebook is based on reciprocal relationships – you decide who is in your circle, and when you share, it is with those people. Twitter, conversely, is about showing up and talking, and anyone who is interested can listen to what you have to say. (OK, face it, they are both about selling your information and preferences, but this is about how you interact with the other users, not the advertisers.)

There are benefits to this – the impact of transparency on businesses, for example, is often positive.  And many people have cited social media as a simple and inexpensive way to alleviate loneliness, to connect people, and to provide access to resources not otherwise available in a traditional network.  But there are drawbacks, too – like oversharing, information overload, and a loss of the intimacy that comes from 1:1 sharing between friends.

The world we live in gets stranger by the day.  And it’s good to take a minute to reflect on where we are with social media – and where we’re going.

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