Twitter, for anyone left on the planet who doesn't know, is a free social network on which users update their "followers" about where they are, what they're doing or what they think - up to the minute. Essentially, it is a way to shotgun micro-blogs about your life (called tweets) to an audience of email pals you gather. Ashton Kutcher has over 1,000,000 people following his posts. I think my babysitter has about 100.
Twitter sounds like fun. It seems pretty harmless. And it's really catching on, with over 50 million monthly visitors and a growth rate far surpassing 1000 percent per year.
There's something troubling about Twitter psychologically, though. You could say the same for Facebook or MySpace and YouTube, but Twitter is potentially bigger trouble than any of the others. That's because it can turn people into instant, mini-reality show versions of themselves - into entertainers, removed a little bit or a whole lot from their real feelings, genuine thoughts and true connections to others.
See, sending out tweets to "followers" isn't a lot different than reporting your life as though you're your own member of the paparazzi. It presumes that people care what you're up to, which may not be entirely true and can be the growing place for narcissism. Narcissism, by the way, is unreasonable self-love, and it's reaching epidemic proportions in this country. Young people think the world of themselves, even as their performance academically and in many other arenas declines.
Reporting on your own life story can also make you tend toward the dramatic in your daily existence. After all, who wants to send out boring tweets? You need to be reporting on adventure, romance, and, above all, conflict. As any decent screenwriter will tell you, people tune out if there's no conflict. But when did we decide that being a human being, even an interesting human being, meant being "watchable" enough for people to "tune into" your broadcasts?
We didn't decide any such thing. The yielding of humanity to technology, the bleeding of our true selves into fake profiles we manufacture for semi-public digestion has been a largely unconscious slippery slope. Technology has pushed us there. Media has pushed us there. Celebrities hell-bent on making us worship them have pushed us there. But more than anything, our own discomfort with being real people, our own anxieties about whether we really matter, doubts about whether we are lovable and fear of our own mortality has pushed us there.
Recently, surgeons have gotten into the Twitter game. They are broadcasting complex surgeries with constant tweets written up by OR staff so families or the general public can get up-to-the-minute reports about kidney transplants and the like. Doctors even do little PR tours about breaking new ground with their twittering. Well, guess what? I don't want my doctor playing media darling while he or she is working inside my body. And I don't need nurses hoping to be mentioned on a tweet. I want them focused on reality, on life and death, on me.
Here's the really scary part. Twitter isn't the end of the self-broadcasting phenomenon. There will be son of Twitter. And we will be that much further along the slippery slope to being actors in our own life stories, devoid of anything real, looking only for drama.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's Web site at livingthetruth.com.