Twitter – Aesthetics and Social Psychology


Twitter changed its UI recently.

And it caused a big hoo haa on the web.  Lots of folks were dismayed that they now have to spend more money and time just to resize those icons onto those round containers. Square icon lovers were aghast against the new direction in which rounded icons took. People who had round faces that had Twitter’s square icons cover up much for them suddenly found themselves exposed, thus faced  avatars were quickly replaced by pictures of pizza, Sauron’s evil eye and other round objects resulting in even more pseudo identities. No one wants to be identified after Twitter’s UI upgrade that amplified everything that is to hate about being round.

Yeah, I jest and exaggerate a bit.  But you know what the worse thing is? It is that the users do not have a choice to go back to the old behaviour. Yeah, there are choices where you can install plug ins or add ons above twitter’s official clients to get back the old behaviour, but these are more like hacks than something that should have been officially supported.

That brings me to the philosophy of Twitter nowadays. I speak for myself and this is my own opinion but I think quite a few do share with my sentiments that twitter is no longer the small and friendly social platform that we hoped it should have been.  I have never used the official Twitter client, but it wasn’t as if I had not tried.  I just gave up because it was really hard to use and it’s not natural to me. What’s worse was that I don’t have the capability to adjust things on Twitter’s interface to make it suit my preference.

Thus, I have always used 3rd party clients. And when they start restricting choices/stopped evolving to meet Twitter’s ever growing list of restricted features, I had to switch.  Currently, I’m using TwitPane. It’s pretty bare bones, but it’s flexible.  And I’ve been a Twitpane/twicca plugin user for a long time. Plugins are fun. They sometimes automate things and do stuff unlike that belief that you have to “write an API” just to tweet a tweet you tweet often.

I have penned some of my thoughts here.

And it’s not just Twitter, sadly that is doing this. Google (infamous for their read-only policy for their API) and Facebook (tie ins, we control what you view, we want to be big brother approach) are also in the “corporatization” of social media.

I don’t know, but they have really taken the social out of social media, and replaced it with what they think and label it “social”.

how sad.

If this continues, we might really need to revert back to the IRC days.  IRC was cool, just that probably its user experience was quite archaic which can be counter intuitive and occasionally gets in the way of being naturally social.  If current social media giants take a step back and see what was social they had lost after all that interference as compared to IRC, perhaps they would get a grip and make social platforms social again.

To the social corporations, I have this to say:

You can’t own something that is social,  you facilitate the platform, but please do not facilitate until the platform loses its social functions altogether because of facilitation overload.

Social Psychology

Talking about social, and away from user experience, here’s a different part of the user experience that cannot be resolved by css or other web UI tweaks.

This is about the social psychology of Twitter’s influence.

Social psychology is defined on Wikipedia as the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.

On Twitter, this is the part where it is probably the science of why there are interest cliques, the phenomena of social influence on product marketing, and the wonder of people reactions to things.

Emotions like rage, pity, empathy, encouragement, sadness, cheerfulness etc..  are collectively expressed over an event based on a tweet. It is therefore interesting to observe the collective influence of just a few choice words. And then there’s the influence of “influenzers” and “social justice” (SJW) or keyboard warriors and why they play an important role in this social ecosystem.

Like I’ve said, there are people who are influencers,  and then there are those that also get influenced easily.  So it is natural on Twitter to collectively feel/react for certain things.  Like the “covfefe” fiasco, regardless whether it was deliberate or accidental, it sure bought a lot of laughs and scorn at the same time collectively for many Twitter folk. It also bought a lot of creativity and speculation. But it is a good example of people reacting collectively.

There were also instances where sensitivities of a country is being misunderstood and unwittingly “insulted”.  Especially stuff like food and its disputable origins in the Singaporean context. And also when SJWs start reacting vehemently whenever there is any excuse of anything that can be made racist or culturally inappropriate. RAGE seems to be the fad nowadays on Twitter, like if you are not raging, you probably are strange or a social media misfit. It’s like it’s the next in thing tantamount to a rage room where you go and smash things.

To be honest, if it was an occasional rage against the machines, I guess we could live with it.  But when it happens on a regular basis, you wonder what’s happening to the world we live in. Do we just live for rage? Or is the world making us so angry all the time that we do not know how to smile and laugh any more. It does seem like everyone aspires to be an SJW of sorts. And this is an interesting article about them here which I agree somewhat, although the focus of this blog entry is not to dwell on this.

And then there is the unending echo chamber twitterers.  It has been said by quite a bit of folk that to them,  Twitter is basically an echo chamber – where you just tweet your own thoughts for your own benefit, for your own pleasure.

Basically, it just means that to many, Twitter is just keyboard masturbation.

Well, personally, it is a good thing – having something as a form of diary/echo chamber, where you can verbalise your thoughts freely without inhibitions, but you know what they say (myth, yes) with regards to masturbation – Too much masturbation and you’ll go blind.  And figuratively, yes in this context.

Too much treating of Twitter as an echo chamber will make you blind to the fact that there are people out there who share the same thoughts as you, but have progressed onto other things, who have matured, who have seen the light and maybe do not share such dark thoughts.  Therefore, Twitter should be more than just a place for mental masturbation, it is a place to share, to discuss, to empathise, to have an opinion with without arguing mindlessly. It is social.  If I want to just have a place where I can just pen my thoughts rather than have everyone reacting to intimate facts like (OH I DIDN’T KNOW CALEB HAS NUDIST TENDENCIES), I might as well just setup a private wordpress blog or even make it protected just for family members or close friends where I know everyone agrees with me.  If WordPress is too yesteryear for you, there is also Journey. which has an Android app, Chrome app among a shiny new modern interface with zero effort setup and cloud syncing and all the wonderful works.

This is subjective, but I never advocate (and I think Twitter used to share this viewpoint) Twitter accounts being protected. I mean, i can have a public account and can pseudo-microblog it until it becomes really an alter ego of me, not my real self. Isn’t that almost the same as being protected? Sure, one can agree that by being protected, I can be my truthful self and I can hide myself from assholes and trolls who have nothing to do except to shame and criticise you as a form of sport.  However, how much can you really hide to be honest? Nowadays, people can just screenshot any private account and it becomes public already. What’s worse is that the probability for being misunderstood can be even greater because the probability of taking it out of context is much more.

I personally prefer to block or mute people rather than set my account to private.  And I think that is everyone’s right and prerogative. But I can understand that people have different ways of looking at the situation and also, you need not deal with the negative connotation of being blocked (hence, muting sometimes is a good way to have some temporal respite).

It is thus no wonder that some people eventually want to quit Twitter altogether. Imagine being in a rage room 7 days a week or in a cave full of echo chambers daily.

Therefore, it is understandable that people who post interesting and read worthy tweets eventually commit twitter suicide. If you are not being angered far too often, you will also be “drowned in the echos” and get very lost and disoriented.  I agree and empathise. But I could also offer an alternative. It is the friends you choose to follow and the ones you choose to put aside that would save your sanity and not lose faith in such a wonderful platform as this.

For example, on my Twitter account, I have grouped my followers into groups/list that:

  1. I think I should follow closely
  2. I think I should just read when I’m bored
  3. I should not read unless I’ve nothing else better to do or I want some provocation in my life ?

Sure, this takes effort and it’s initially tedious, but it does help keep my sanity in check.  But what if you find yourself hooked on arguments that go on and on and you’re stuck in its tangled web. Note that you have every right to stop when it gets too annoying for you, or just do something else altogether. Technically, there are of course many other ways some folk have done this to prevent Twitter fatigue, as I would have called it.

I mean, it’s really reflective of the world offline isn’t it? Just because the world is full of bad news and terrorists now, does that mean you become emo and depressed like the world ought to be according to their intent? No, definitely not. You go read a book,  exercise, bake,  have sex, do something that you enjoy doing or at least with someone intimate that you know that can have control overall or somewhat.

You can’t avoid the world and it’s rubbish, but that does not mean you have to quit the world.

The world was created for you, it is what you make of it, don’t make it make you.

Similarly, with Twitter. It was created for you (hopefully, it stays that way), it is what you make of it.

Don’t make it make you.

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