126 Characters in Search of an Author: Twitter and Thinking Out Loud on Social Media, the Case of the Indigo Children
Beth Singler, University of Cambridge
But what do you want here, all of you?
We want to live.
THE MANAGER (ironically)
No, sir, only for a moment… in you.
These lines are from Luigi Pirendello’s 1921 metatheatrical play, Sei Personaggi in Cerca D’autore (“Six Characters in Search of an Author”) where six unused and forgotten fictional characters insist on being put on stage during the rehearsals for another Pirendello play, Il Giuoco Delle Parti (“The Rules of the Game”). On Twitter the ‘rules of the game’ include the limitation of tweets to no more than 140 characters. To maximise the amount of information and connectivity in a tweet an author can use social media ‘tricks’ such as automatically shortened urls, hashtags, and acronyms.
In this paper I argue that when a tweet is significantly shorter than 140 characters, only 14 for example, questions arise for the researcher. First, what is the motivation of an author who writes a tweet that is ‘missing’ 126 characters? Second, why are they choosing to use Twitter for their text? This paper will examine the abbreviated tweets made by members of a loosely bounded community of New Agers in order to consider the ways in which Twitter is put to work by authors allegedly in control of their characters in a medium that enables a shortened route between thinking and publishing.
During my digital ethnographic research on the Indigo Children, a concept from within the New Age Movement whose adherents are geographically disparate but socially networked through the internet, I encountered many tweets containing just 14 characters: just “Indigo Children”. Interviews with these authors through Twitter and by e-mail provided insight into the public/private double mindedness of the Twitter format that enables thinking out loud with increasingly mobile technology and near immediate posting times.
Interviewees also readily drew my attention to the place of the apparently white middle class Indigo Child concept within a wider black Hip Hop culture, and “shoutin’ out” or “reppin’” were among the reasons given for the 14 character tweets. Reppin’ or Representing is done by individuals “constructing self-definitions to elevate their social status and align themselves with desirable persons, places, or things (e.g., friends, neighbourhoods, clubs, clothing brands etc.)” (Stokes 2007). The sympathy between the entrepreneurial, self-making model of the Hip Hop mogul and the conception of the Indigo Child as an evolved form of humanity influences these kind of abbreviated tweets. Finally, as a tweet can be a momentary post forming a part of a larger conversation as an “ambient audience” of followers (Zappavigna, 2012) absorbs the post and reacts to it, the role of louder thinking, or ‘shouting’, to get attention for posts will be considered, with reference to the growing Attention Economy online (Bergquist and Ljungberg, 2001).
Bergquist, M. and Ljungberg, J. (2001) “The Power of Gifts: Organizing Social Relationships in Open Source Communities” in Journal of Information Systems, (2001) 11, 305–320
Stokes, C. (2007) “‘Representin’ In Cyberspace: Sexual Scripts, Self‐Definition, and Hip Hop Culture In Black American Adolescent Girls’ Home Pages”, in Culture, Health & Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care, 9:2, 169-184
Zappavigna, M. (2012) The Discourse of Twitter and Social Media, London; New York: Continuum International Pub. Group
University of Cambridge