I’m not narcisitic, you’re eavesdropping

In many of the articles I read about the Social Web, especially Twitter, the author laments that they don’t care that I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich for lunch, or what I thought of the latest American Idol. I’ve long felt that these writers are missing the point and this week I came across two sources that articulate this better than I could have.

The first is Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody, he makes the point that with new advances in technology people mistake broadcasting media (1 to many) for communications media (1to 1).  New tools allow people to use broadcasting media for communication.  He gives this example – if you read a blog of someone you don’t know and see that they got wasted last night and today when shopping for clothes you think what’s the point? Who cares? Yet if you went to a food court in a mall and eavesdropped on the same conversation it would be clear that you are the weird one. We’re so used to the old web that we think if we can read it, it’s targeted towards us and with the new Social Web this just don’t hold true anymore.

The second is this article from The New York Time Magazine.

“It’s an aggregate phenomenon,” Marc Davis, a chief scientist at Yahoo and former professor of information science at the University of California at Berkeley, told me. “No message is the single-most-important message. It’s sort of like when you’re sitting with someone and you look over and they smile at you. You’re sitting here reading the paper, and you’re doing your side-by-side thing, and you just sort of let people know you’re aware of them.” Yet it is also why it can be extremely hard to understand the phenomenon until you’ve experienced it. Merely looking at a stranger’s Twitter or Facebook feed isn’t interesting, because it seems like blather. Follow it for a day, though, and it begins to feel like a short story; follow it for a month, and it’s a novel.

Both of these illustrated the point that just because you can read it, doesn’t mean it’s intended for you.  If you precieve something as blather, you’re probably not the target audience. This is a new occurrence that has developed with social web tools. The line between what’s public and private becomes blurred.  If you come across the blog of someone you don’t know and start reading it are you violating their privacy?  It’s out there for anyone to read.  What if they only started writing it to keep their family updated, and you’re not the intended audience?

3 thoughts on “I’m not narcisitic, you’re eavesdropping

  1. I think that if you put it out there, not protected by anything, then it’s free for anyone to read. You may not be the intended audience but who cares? 🙂 If you don’t want to share it, don’t put it online!! I think of it like reading someone’s graffiti or yard signs. But it seems like you equate it with reading someone’s postcards, is that right?


  2. Sort of, I’m trying to address the people who discount social web tools because they think the content is narcissist or blather. The important distinction is between communication and broadcasting. It used to be that communication was done one on one, say on the phone. In the days of the party line you could listen to someone’s conversation that doesn’t mean you’re the audience. But now social tools allow us to broadcast our communication. Because we’ve learned, historically that anything broadcast (think TV, radio) was aimed as us. The new web is different, communication can be broadcast now. So just because something is being broadcast doesn’t mean it’s being aimed at you. So you can’t really say someone is being narcissist by blogging about their lives, they are just have the same communication they might have had on the telephone with a friend in the past in the new media, which is broadcasting, allowing them have the same conversation with more friends at once.

    Now should or shouldn’t you read it is an whole different issue as is should or shouldn’t you use broadcast tools (blogs, myspace, facebook etc) to communicate with your friends, when it’s so easy for anyone to “overhear” what you’re saying.


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