The audience delusion

You people should consider yourselves lucky that I'm granting you an audience tomorrow instead of 20 years from now. -Wizard of Oz

The notion of audience has never been more important. And online, its make up, never more elusive.

Why do we say what we do online?  Are we speaking to friends?  Colleagues? Our followers? Spam bots? 

Technology steathily woos us into believing these audiences are separate.

They're not.

Compounding the audience delusion further, we adapt ourselves dramatically based on who we think we're talking to, and in the context of a particular situation. A first date. A presentation. A Tweet.

Situationism maintains that people react to situations based on context rather than fixed psychological traits. Situations, and thus social order, are collectively produced by participants. (Garfunkel, 1967).

 Your readers on Twitter are likely much different from the people you think you're broadcasting to. 

Given the various ways people can consume and spread tweets, it is virtually impossible for Twitter users to account for their potential audience, let alone actual readers.  Yet, this inability to know the exact audience does not mean that tweets are seen by infinite numbers of people. As with blogs (Shirky 2005), nearly all tweets are read by relatively few people - but most Twitterers don't know which few people.  Without knowing the audience, participants imagine it.

So if we're making it up, who do we think our Twitterverse audience is?  Here are some responses from twiterati in #ldnont:

We assume a lot about our intended audience online.  What they know. What they're interested in. What they've been exposed to. All of these cultural references don't get deleted from our connected consciousness. They get stacked one on top of the other like 90's versions of Microsoft operating systems.

It wasn't that long ago that traditional media thrived on audience homogenaity. Our online audiences are far from one size fits all. 

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Unless his attention is what you're after. But how do you know?

Now which way do we go? - Dorothy