Does Mobility Make Us Narcissistic?

Photo by Rebecca Harris on Unsplash

What was the last tweet you sent out and what device did you compose it on? A recent study by Goldsmiths University of London has uncovered some interesting facts about our tweeting habits, including the fact that we are considerably more self-centered when tweeting from our phones.

The research paper, published in the Journal of Communication, reveals that tweets fired off from a phone are 25% more negative than the ones sent out from a computer. The explanation is as simple as you’d expect. People often use their handy smartphones to tweet about things that have just happened to them, or are happening to them at that very moment – like being stuck in traffic or having a bad sandwich. People love to complain and they have theur trusty smartphones to help with that now, says author Dhiraj Murthy.

One could argue that nothing major ever happens while sitting in front of the computer and we also have more time and more keyboard space to align our thoughts to compose a tweet. On the other hand, trying to be impactful while walking and typing on a touchscreen could make us more prone to think hastily. Or, perhaps being able to troll on the go gives one a sense of power.

The psychology of mobile tweeting

Murthy has been tracking Twitter since its inception in 2006, but the research focused on a six-week segment spanning 235 million tweets. In addition to being more negative, the tweets coming from mobiles were also more egotistical, especially after work hours. Accumulated frustrations from the workplace, perhaps?

The researchers borrowed methodology from social psychology to analyze words that are typically associated with egocentricity, including me, my, mine, and self. The study showed that, during weekdays, we are more prone to talk about ourselves on Twitter (as opposed to weekends), and even more prone to tweet narcissistic stuff, like selfies. On Sundays, we are less inclined to do so, the study found.

A side effect of living in the now

Murthy blames it on mobility. Because all our communication channels are right there in our pocket, it’s easy to reach out for the phone and tell the world what we are doing that very moment.

“Some of the thoughts we had before that we weren’t communicating are now coming through our mobile devices, and there’s a certain egocentric bias emerging from it,” according to the authors.

The full paper – Do We Tweet Differently From Our Mobile Devices? A Study of Language Differences on Mobile and Web-Based Twitter Platforms – analyzes not just egocentricity in mobile tweeting, but also negativity, positivity, as well as gendered and communal presentations of self.

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