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Sunday 11 December 2016

What Katie Did Next: In which I seek a showdown with some show-offs

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

Sometimes I imagine what would happen if the real world was like Twitter.

Monologues would masquerade as dialogues, emotional exaggeration would be commonplace and the already arduous formality of leafing through someone else's photo album would be an exercise in self-restraint:

"Here's a photo of my flat stomach just one week after having the baby, here's a selfie I took with my boyfriend when we were lying in bed on Sunday morning, here's a picture of my foot in a super cute ankle bracelet…"

Without the cornerstones of sincerity and humility, conversations would be fairly boring too. I drank this cocktail, I ate these nachos, I spotted this ironic billboard and then my cat did the cutest thing and we all lived happily ever after.

Muhammed Ali was known for saying "it's not bragging if you can back it up". It seems social networkers have reinterpreted this motto for a modern age: it's not bragging if you use your Twitter account…

You can validate your ego in a thousand different ways online. The #eatcleantraindirty brigade finally have an outlet for showing off their six-packs (previously they had to walk around the gym changing room in their jockstrap to establish their superiority).

Smug spiritual seekers can prove that they are completely in the now by posting inspirational quotes every five minutes.

Go-getters and over-achievers who bemoan that "there just aren't enough hours in the day" somehow find an extra half an hour to share this wisdom with the world.

Relationship braggers post photos of the breakfast in bed served to them by the #worldsbestboyfriend, but if the relationship was that hot, the tray would be on the floor alongside a pile of clothes.

For some Twitter Twats, it's standard practice to retweet praise that they have received.

How would this one translate in the real world? "Here's a thank you card I received from St Vincent de Paul thanking me for the €88 I raised from my cake sale…"

I'm not on Twitter so perhaps I don't understand the challenge of being restricted to 140 characters. Perhaps there is simply no room for grey area when you want to make maximum impact with minimum words.

Perhaps the minutiae of everyday life must be condensed into a front-page headline when it's barely deserving of a filler story on page 27.

I hope, for everyone's sake, that this is why the gentle art of nuance has been replaced by bombast, sensationalism and a dopamine feedback loop that lights up brain circuits like a Christmas tree.

Offline, self-promotion has evolved. When done well, it is subtle and artful. People are advised to write their bios in the third person so that they don't look like wankers, and when they want to big up their achievements, they tend to hire a professional.

Online, self-promotion is still at the early man stage of evolution. People are still banging rocks together as they contrive ways to validate their sense of self.

It makes me think of African tribes where wealth is measured by the amount of body adornment they wear.

It's primitive... and it's telling that the most advanced form of online gloating is the humblebrag phenomenon - Twitter posts that attempt to shroud shameless self-promotion in a veil of false modesty.

Lena Dunham demonstrates it nicely: "Q: what felt better, winning a#SpiritAward or removing those spanx? A: BOTH FELT AMAZING."

The social etiquette that has been drilled into us from a young age dissipates the moment we log on. We were all taught that "nobody likes a show-off" and advised not to brag about our acquisitions and achievements. So why are we compelled to type #wishyouwerehere when we go online?

A recent study by City University London, Carnegie Mellon University in the US and Bocconi University in Italy suggests that we are simply oblivious. Apparently, braggers overestimate how much their self-promotion will elicit positive emotions and underestimate how much it elicits negative emotions. Put simply: people don't think "what a life!" when they see a picture of you drinking a flute of champagne on the back of a yacht. They think "what a dick!".

Public relations professionals can learn from this when they send out product samples to 'key influencers'.

No doubt, you've noticed that certain members of the Twitteratti are constantly thanking x brand for y product, which they have also kindly photographed and, in some cases, even priced.

branded

I hasten to add that they have been asked to convey their gratitude for the 'gift' via their social networks by the PR in question.

It's an awkward situation, particularly when you're sent a delicious chocolate biscuit cake, you eat it and then you receive a phonecall from a PR asking you to photograph it and share it with your Twitter followers… True story.

My question is this: had I not eaten the cake and had I a Twitter account on which to post a picture, would you have bought into it?

Do these clunkily branded tweets make you want to rush out and buy the product or do they make you wish that the person would stop gloating about the hampers that land on their desk?

Rubbing a PR up the right way tends to rub people up the wrong way and if nobody likes a show-off, does anybody listen to a show-off?

Again, I'm not on Twitter so perhaps I just don't understand the dynamics, but as an observer rather than a participator, it strikes me that every Twitter user could benefit from asking themselves the following questions before they post:

Am I trying to garner praise? Am I trying to provoke envy? Does anyone really give a shit?

'It's not bragging if you use your Twitter account'

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