The Hidden Family Member

I’ve known for a while that there’s something special about Facebook when compared to other social networks. It’s for friends, but many of the people on there aren’t actually my friends. It’s for family, but it doesn’t actually involve much of my family. It’s serious, but I can never figure out why.

A perfect example of this is what and when I’m willing to share on Facebook. As an example, assume that I have just been diagnosed with a terminal illness (or, perchance to lift the mood, a non-terminal mental illness**). What do I do? I’d tell my fiancee. My best friend. My parents and some of my family. Work? Maybe. I might even end up telling strangers in the pub. But I don’t think I’d admit it on Facebook, ever. Because Becky – some woman I knew when I was 11 – might be reading it.

As if I care what she thinks, given that we’ve not spoken in nearly 15 years. I didn’t even like her back then, to be honest. What an asshole***.

It’s nonsense, but doubly so because Twitter’s a stark contrast. Twitter is probably the fifth thing on the list of “who I’d tell”, and even then only because my best friend does follow me on Twitter and that’d be a crummy way to find out. Let’s be clear here: many of the people who follow me on Twitter I barely know. In fact, some (very few) of them I genuinely dislike. Twitter is a much more open platform where I could accidentally reveal something about myself to all sorts of people I wouldn’t normally admit such things to.

Yet… I’d seriously consider even putting it in my Bio. Literally anyone could read that.

All of this thinking has lead me to an interesting conclusion: Twitter is my emergent family member. I mean that in the sense of “emergent behavior”, where a set of basic rules gives rise to properties which simply can’t be anticipated from the basic rules (see: Conway’s Game of Life). Despite all logic, I essentially treat my Twitter feed as the fifth member of my local family (Dad, Mum, Fiancee, Best Friend, Twitter [order negotiable]).

Contrast this to Facebook, where I essentially treat it as if it were the most far removed person in my “friends” network; Becky. I find this absurd because Facebook is supposed to be this network where I am allowed to be myself, but the properties which emerge from its design give rise to this alienation from my true self. On Twitter, I am myself. On Facebook, I am The Successful And Mostly Happy Steve, Who Is Totally An Adult Now.

But where am I really going with this? Back to Twitter, really. Something about Twitter’s emergent personality makes it a good friend. When I’m unhappy, I invariably find consolation from my feed. When I’m excited or successful, Twitter wastes no time making sure I know I’m right to be elated. Twitter puts up with my shit on the bad days, and in return I make the effort to be cheerful whenever my feed seems to need it. This is exactly the relationship I get from my local family.

Twitter is a family member. I’m grateful for that.

** Let’s be clear here – I haven’t, but it could happen to anyone. I am someone!

*** Becky is clearly a pseudonym.

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About stoove

A physicist, researcher, and gamesman. Likes to think about the mathematics and mechanics behind all sorts of different things, and writing up the thoughts for you to read. A competent programmer, enjoys public speaking and mechanical keyboards. Has opinions which might even change from time to time.
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