Can we be reduced to the sum of our tweets?
Wed, Mar 6, 2013 (2:38 p.m.)
On February 21, the Strip exploded. There were flames and gunfire, police and journalists, traffic and a disquieting lack thereof. In the weeks following the shooting that has captured national attention, the local media has been trying to fill in the gaps around what little we know about that night. Who were the men whose quarrel spilled out onto our city’s central artery, and what exactly were they fighting about?
In trying to answer that first question, the Review-Journal published a story last week citing posts from alleged shooter Ammar Harris’ now-deleted Twitter account. The tweets offer a snapshot of a man who was the victim of violence (a December 8 shooting in Miami) and who threatened to inflict it (“I b havin the urge to shoot n—s”). His tweets referred to women as “hoes,” openly supported prostitution and gave some respect to mothers out there (“y’all the foundation”). Reading them feels voyeuristic, like spying not on a single incident but an entire life.
It’s tempting to reduce Harris to the sum of his tweets—to feel like we know him based on the words that he typed. But his feed, like any other, tells a fractured story. I couldn’t help but wonder: What would my posts say about me?
So, I scrolled. On a site like Twitter, it’s easy to rewind the social-media clock—back to a fall relay race in unseasonably cold temperatures, a summertime obsession with the Olympics and countless thoughts on countless meals that probably lost me a follower or two. Read en masse, the nuances of my outbursts fade and a few strong interests dominate: running, food, Vegas, my freakishly adorable dog. And I can’t help realizing something else: My tweets are pretty boring.
But they are me. Or rather, they’re a heavily edited version of the real deal, scaled down and tidied up for quick public consumption. While the feed sketches a rough outline, some vital points are almost completely absent: that I consider learning Spanish one of my greatest accomplishments, that I think my parents are the coolest people I know, that I worry I’m getting too old to run away and live in South America, that I’m terrified of someday getting divorced. Boiled down into 140-character screeds, I have no dreams, no fears, no aspirations. I’m just a collage of iPhone photos and half-thoughts. Someone you think you know.