I was speaking with my good friend Howard Lindzon, my partner in several Twitter-related investments, about the differences in the way people communicate on Twitter and Facebook. Howard’s sense is that everybody lies on Facebook; that people represent a kind of “false self,” so that it is hard to really know what a person is like from their Facebook profile. He feels differently about Twitter, however, holding the belief that people’s tweets are a much closer representation of their true self than Facebook. So that someone who is a jerk on Twitter is likely a jerk in real life, and someone who is thoughtful and careful in their tweets is also like that offline. After considering Howard’s theory, I am convinced that he is right. Then it hit me. There is a framework for conceptualizing the differences in peoples’ communication between these two media: Freud’s structural model of the psyche. In short, Twitter is the id, while Facebook is the ego.
The Twitter experience is one of quick bursts, rapid-fire communications that flow from one’s brain straight out to one’s fingers and onto the screen. For most, there isn’t a ton of premeditation that goes into one’s tweets. As we’ve learned with email, there are things people will say in an email that they would never say to someone’s face: this has cost large corporations hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and billions of dollars in lost market value resulting from thoughtless, unmediated behavior. An entire industry, email monitoring, has emerged from the disasters of Wall Street and other businesses where impolitic, hurtful and downright stupid communications have been dredged up in discovery associated with myriad lawsuits. While real-time messaging behind the corporate firewall is now aggressively monitored, the lion’s share of message volume is out in public for all to see. And there isn’t a ton of motivation for mediating one’s tweets; also, given the bounded nature of the messaging, it often results in a quick stream-of-consciousness that reflects the need of the tweeter to be heard and/or their desire to impress or shock. Consider Freud’s description of the id, circa 1933:
It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learnt from our study of the dream-work and of the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of this is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We all approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle. [Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933).
In short, it is all about me, I can’t really control it, and it feels good. This seems to me to be a pretty interesting way to think about many peoples’ use of Twitter: “I’m getting a coffee;” “I just had a lousy subway ride;” “Check out this article, it’s really good;” “isn’t Congress missing the boat on this issue?;” etc. I WANT TO BE HEARD. I WANT PEOPLE TO CARE. I WANT TO FEEL IMPORTANT. READ ME! READ ME! Do most people actively manage their image on Twitter, or is it merely a reflection of one’s inner self? I’m going with the latter.
Facebook, conversely, requires a much bigger upfront investment to get value out of the medium. A user needs to create a profile, invite friends, join groups, and establish an identity. This is a deliberate process, one which prompts at least some thought (at least among those over the age of 21). It is clearly not the ADD Twitter experience, where one need take no more than 5 seconds to rip out a tweet off the top of one’s head. The user has enough time to use their conscious thought to create and maintain a Facebook presence, leading to an output that is more reasoned and more calculated than their Twitter identity. This sounds a lot like Freud’s description of the ego:
…The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world … The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions … in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego uses borrowed forces [Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)].
With a Facebook identity representing a stake in the ground, it takes on a sense of permanence, of solidity. This is something that begs for more time and consideration than the Twitter stream, a constant cacophany of jabs, jokes, jousts and jeers. A mountain versus a river. A stock versus a flow. Their characters are entirely different and appear to tap into different parts of our make-ups. It is the difference between what we want others to see and what we can’t help showing. The ego and the id. Our mediated self and our raw, inner being.