Monday, December 8, 2008

People, Sheeple, Tweeple

There have been many generations whose members proclaim their fierce individuality while all the time belying their group indebtedness. My own first foray into social consciousness was awash with propaganda insisting I was part of the Age of the Ubiquitous Teenager. While everyone was convinced of the necessity of individualism during my high school years, a quick glance at the uniform of the generation assured me it was otherwise. If we were so individualistic, why the strict adherence to the same jeans-and-T-shirt routine?

That became my first inkling that there is a difference between the terms “persons” and “people.”

Somewhere down the line in my education in sociology, I heard someone mention the term, “sheeple.” That, catchy as it might be, was an organizer’s slur of those who follow blindly, “ignorant” as sheep. Of course, the individualist part of my personhood bristles at the suggestion that I might be no more than mere animal. But perhaps it is true that humans tend, in one degree or another, to be highly sensitized to what others around them are doing and saying. Needing the dependence.

However, social as we may be, I can’t think of a good excuse why people lend themselves to being so malleable, so persuadable, so un-individual as to fluidly transpose into whatever shape some outside force dictates. But they do. Think of advertising. Think of celebrity worship. Think of listening to the dominant media during the last election season. Think of Twitter.

Think of Twitter?

Basically, Twitter is “a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” For the average joe, that melts down into the following type of “tweets”:

Tweet 1: to the kitchen to make me a sammich.

Tweet 2: Turkey again…ugh.

Tweet 3: Can’t do it. Anyone hungry?

That’s right. I needed to know that Joe was making a sandwich right now. I needed to know that he’s sick and tired of turkey. (Isn’t everyone right about now?) And I couldn’t have come up with the idea on my own to go out to eat without his prompt. I would have been clueless otherwise. The direct route, calling (or texting or whatever) and saying, “Hey, wanna meet at Quizno’s for a bite to eat?” would be too…aggressive?

And does everyone need to know about Joe’s sandwich? With the obvious drone, I don’t see much ingenuity broadcast over this medium yet. Maybe it’s the circles I run in. Maybe it’s the early adapters’ conundrum: neat trick, but what do you do with this toy? (Ever gotten one of those pricey phone calls from 35,000 feet: “Hey, honey, bet you can’t guess where I am?!”)

There are people smart enough to maximize the power of this tool. Supposedly, it was the new wave for this year’s election: Twitter is to O as Blogs were to not-W. Non-profs use it for organizing, fundraising, tag-teaming. Tech workplaces thrive on it, supposedly. And the dedicated are vigilant against commercial encroachment.

How can that be? Would a simple celeb tweet influence all “friends” to rush out and buy that same product? Some people think so. The chatter is incessant. Think of the multiplied sales possible with endless iterations of social links. Think of the capacity for brainlessness that unquestioning compliance presents.

Every generation seems to have a uniform hiding behind their fa├žade of independence. Our times are no different. Forget sheeple. Introducing: Tweeple.

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