A Stranger In His Own (Digital) World: Understanding Heavy Twitter Use Among Digital Natives as Alienation

PAHILA, D.L. (2019). A Stranger in His Own (Digital) World: Understanding Heavy Twitter Use Among Digital Natives as Alienation, Unpublished Undergraduate Thesis, University of the Philippines Diliman, College of Mass Communication.

This study poses the question: how do social media sites produce users? Specifically, it looks at user identities and everyday experiences as sites of critique. In a technocapitalist setting that profits off users and imposes ideologies, how does the user think, feel, act, move, and cope? What happens to the user-laborer, and the self as a result?

Guided by De Certeau’s phenomenology on everyday life and the extensive body of work on alienation theory that specifically draws from Neo-Marxist ideas, I expose how users, including myself, are deeply fragmented in the engendering, continuous use of Twitter. This study analyzed the user’s relationship to prosumption, culture, and self/identity. Through drawing a line from the structural to the everyday and ordinary, I uncovered how alienation is felt at an existential level, which is both necessary and inherent to the ways of capitalism. Driven by external forces and pressures, results show that ordinary Twitter users are ridden with contradictions and an inability to recognize motivations. First, I connect the app’s schemes to prosumption, which showed how users are simultaneously hyper-aware and unaware of their actions, while surrendering a degree of agency to the site. The user’s relationship to culture reveals that the site is unconducive to connection—urging commodification and competition. Finally, I investigated the user’s concept of self, which exhibited varying degrees of frustration and loneliness, born out of a gap between the genuine and ‘ideal’ self.

This study used alienation theory to reveal how Twitter shapes its ideal users to benefit from their activity extensively, which degrades individuals and experiences. Hopefully, this opens the discussion on the race between new media technologies to capture attention and content for profit. I want to uncover the alien motivations in the role of the prosumer, as a path to resistance in a competitive system.

Keywords: alienation, phenomenology, Twitter, technocapitalism, user identities and experiences, everyday life