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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Giving the power to the people

Graphic+by+Kaitlyn+Patterson%2C+20.
Graphic by Kaitlyn Patterson, ’20.

Polling out and giving up


I was slowly and surely falling asleep, yet I had to brush my teeth. I felt much too comfortable to move. This was a conundrum. Eventually, I just let it happen. I fell asleep—without brushing my teeth.

That’s what the people on Twitter told me to do.

For some reason (or no reason at all—I can’t decide), I had opted to give full power over my life to a couple  of hundred usernames on the Internet, people who occasionally enjoyed my semi-funny anecdotal quips about my semi-funny life and my retweets about food, dogs or music. I did this by way of Twitter polls, a crowd-sourcing feature that Twitter introduced in late 2015. I posted any time I was stuck on something and couldn’t decide for myself.

I had first experimented with this polling idea back in October when I struggled to figure out which Halloween costume I wanted to wear for my house’s annual party. I posted my Twitter poll and, 24 hours later,  the subsequent result,Tina Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers,” won by just a single vote. For a while, a picture of me in my costume was my most-liked photo on Instagram. So, thanks, Internet; I relished a brief moment of fleeting personage.

This time, I decided to push the idea to the next level, using Twitter polls to help me make decisions that spanned everything from daily mundanity to potential future permanence. I was going to give the power to the people—and the polls.

What should I eat for lunch? Pizza.

What beer should I drink at this gig? A new one that I’d never tried.

Is the fact that I’ve applied for roughly 70 post-grad jobs not enough, or too many? Keep going, [it’s] not too many.

Admittedly, my Twitter feed reflects my desire for action and reaction. I tend to view my life as one big joke, and I’m the comedian. I want everyone to be in on the punch line. In that same vein, however, I often think very seriously about the responses I can receive on my pages. If my tweet does not receive, at the very minimum, four likes or responses, then I will almost always delete it. It’s a sad Millennial truth—I want people to want me, and I want them to want my content.

Phyllis Anastasio, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, said that psychologists refer to this as the “spotlight effect.”

“[It] refers to how much we think others are looking at us and judging us,” Anastasio explained. “We think we are much more noticeable, and hence judged more often, than we actually are.”

Only a tenth of my roughly 630 followers responded to each of my polls. My most popular poll asked where I should be applying for jobs after graduation. Even then, only 59 people replied.

Twitter polls seem to be a fascinating exercise in attention-seeking (something at which I am fairly adequate) and decision-making (something at which I am sufficiently inadequate). In essence, you are capable of liberating yourself from the overwhelming burden of making pressing decisions such as what Halloween costume would be best or what should be on the menu for lunch.

Yet, while Twitter polls allow for control over the questions and the responses, they did not control the final results. It is a well-ordered freedom. The result must be accepted because, after all, you brought it upon yourself. Like, for example, the way in which you get around for the day.

Perpetually hopscotching across campus one sunny afternoon, I was seriously questioning my life choices. It was quite a workout, and I was certainly receiving a few weird looks from passersby. But, I had to do it because my followers had voted for me to hopscotch rather than to walk with a limp, skip or walk as I normally do.

In the month that I have given Twitter control over my choices, I have found myself thrown into similarly uncomfortable situations on more than one occasion . I did not, however, give up total authority over my day-to-day experiences and decisions.

That seemed to be the middle ground that Bill Wolff, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies, explained to me was important when it comes to social media. What’s most critical, Wolff said, is “Whether or not you’re consciously thinking about why you’re doing these kinds of things.”

Most days, I don’t know why I do anything, let alone why I post on social media. My go-with-the-flow attitude is both a blessing and curse. I am constantly seeking satisfaction, and if I don’t find it myself, I lean on others. Social media has magnified that tenfold.

I asked Wolff for his opinion on my most popular poll question: Where should I work post-grad? I told him that Twitter wanted me to stay local, and Wolff laughed. He said he believed that my followers voted based on their own desire for security.

As a matter of fact, Wolff disagreed with Twitter’s verdict.

“You need to get out of here,” he told me.

And so I applied to three jobs in Austin, Texas. Take that, Internet.

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