Twitter is like Tutoring?!: Discourse-Making is Just a #Hashtag Away

Sitting down to write this essay without having any specific direction, just inspiration, I realize how connected I am to the discourses in my life: books are strewn around me; piles of papers and pdfs with my annotated scratchings looking up at me; headphones are in my ears lulling me into a dubstep process; and my phone lights up with a blue Twitter ping. Never in my life have I been more aware of my being wetwared. What does this mean to the purpose of this essay? For me, it means everything. Technology builds and bridges me to all of my discourse communities. Without any one of those in my writing process equation, I would have trouble writing. Without writing, I wouldn’t be able to share my translations of the world with the world.

Etienne Wegner says, “The importance of our various communities of practice can thus be manifested in two ways: their ability to give rise to an experience of meaningfulness; and, conversely, to hold us hostage to that experience” (84). Twitter is the practice of writing. As a social network, it connects people rhizomatically through the “interwebz.” Twitter is where discourse meets rhetoric—where we take what is said, and speak back to each other. Thus, I beg the first question: how is twitter a meaningful experience?

Connection makes meaning. Here I lead us into the realm of Twitter, to hashtags, and to the @ symbol. Bear with me, we are discourse-making.

I shall start by putting my bias down on the page. I have a preference for Twitter; it is my one and only form of social media. The reasons are because of their privacy policy (https://twitter.com/privacy) and their explicit refusal to turn over an occupier’s account

information (https://mashable.com/2012/05/08/twitter-stands-up-court-order/). But something entirely more discursive is at play in Twitter: the #.

The # is a semiotic representation of discourse; it symbolizes hypertextual conversation across the entirety of the site. Where’s Roland Barthes? Oh, here he is: “Of course, it is not any type: language needs special conditions in order to become myth: we shall see them in a minute. But what must be firmly established at the start is that myth is a system of communication, that it is a message. This allows one to perceive it as a mode of signification, a form” (109). Because # operates via semiotics, it establishes a sense of mythic discourse within Twitter—a rhyzomatic “system of communication”, or “mode”, that users can access at any point. The # is just a click or press away.

What does that mean for the @? In Twitter, the @ is the mark of identity. But not the kind we have out here in the “real world.” The @ is unidentity. The name attached to an @ is interchangeable. One can be who they are, or not. One can pick a gender or abstain. One can be an animal, a thing, a notion, a brand, a company, literally anything. There is no limit to the identity of @. The @ is free to be however the @ wants to be. The inability to appropriate a fixed identity on @ makes it a liberating projection of self. And if we connect that to the discourse of #, we have a completely radical notion of discourse.

To get there, we have to get social, absolutely social. Barthes, if you please,

Speech of this kind is a message. It is therefore by no means confined to oral speech. It can consist of modes of writing or of representations; not only written discourse, but also photography, cinema, reporting, sport, shows, publicity, all these can serve as a support to mythical speech…Mythical speech is made of a material which has already been worked on so as to make it suitable for communication: it is because all the materials of myth (whether pictorial or written) presuppose a signifying consciousness, that one can reason about them while discounting their substance. (110)

Silence makes up the auditory relationships within Twitter, yet sound is bypassed in favor of touch. I often struggle to reason with technological determinists[1] about the ability for us to reach one another in the Internet. But touch is a real occurrence in “cyber”space.

Barthes argues that mythic speech takes on a materiality. This means that it is tangible; we can physically interact with it. For those of us with touchscreens and smartphones, we know what pressing a finger to text feels like. The #s in Twitter work off of this sense of touch. An @ moves through discourse via click or press of the #. Thus, people unite through connection. We are able to see the entire history of a conversation of each # the moment we press it—an invisible aspect of the hyperlink exists. This is horizontal representation of interaction. Any @ can access a # at any time. There is no limit. (of course Twitter [K1] has been known to delete hashtags before, especially subversive protest hashtags connected with Occupy Wall Street.) When one clicks a #, one participates in “signifying consciousness.” I refer to this as meaning-making. And, here we are, making it every time we touch.

The symbolic act of reaching, if mythologized, can turn on us in Twitter, for nothing is sacred. Barthes continues,

Motivation is necessary to the very duplicity of myth: myth plays on the analogy between meaning and form, there is no myth without motivated form. In order to grasp the power of motivation in myth, it is enough to reflect for a moment on an extreme case…But what the form can always give one to read is disorder itself: it can give a signification to the absurd, make the absurd itself a myth. This is what happens when commonsense mythifies surrealism, for instance. (127)

All connection depends upon motivation, whether it is twitter or any other discourse maker. Many say that connection via technology is a myth, but here, with Barthes, we see that motivation can drive “the analogy between meaning and form.” Meaning is inherent to connection; they are unable to be separated. Conveyance and connection are interdependent. Knowing this, and going into twitter, the disorder is less chaotic, and reveals the various forms of the absurd.

Discursive play. @s # to establish a space for open connection, the # offering a rupture in all language that existed prior to it. The # can be a repeat hashtag, reopening a discourse that had been left silent for an indefinite amount of time. Or, it can start a conversation new. Jumping into the #, another @ connects to this rupture, breaching a path to making connection. This is sight. Sharing a # is seeing one another through language, saying “I understand you” or “I have something to say about this too.” Meaning-making. And all is fair game with #. More often than not, the # goes awry; it becomes absurd.

Take yesterday, for example. My twitter self, @tumblesweed, began a discursive rupture: #psychosisdanceparty. Several @s joined in on the dance, and we danced. Some linked songs, others hashtagged moves like #hokeypokey, #laughsandlineolum, #getdownonit, #funkychickendance, #funkyrubberchickendance, and #robot. Though not an actual dance shared on a floor together, there we were: making verbal dance move. The songs were nice too. You see, twitter lets anything happen. It need not have a point or an outcome—at least not when a # starts. But sometimes, some @ dares to #, and a whole new language begins. And that language brings many, many people together. It all depends upon who the @ decides to be, and what # they dare to speak.

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “Myth Today.” Mythologies. HarperCollins: New York, 1972. Print. (109-59).


[1] Scholar Nancy Baym’s discussion that technology imposes control over our identities, allowing us no means in which to utilize it; rather, technology determines our ability to relate to one another. As a direct opposition, the theory of  social shaping of technology discusses our interdependent relationship with our hardware, thus making us “wetwared.”


– The @ must # comes from a conversation I shared once over this: http://i.imgur.com/pVYjD.jpg
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