I don’t know about you, but I was always taught not to try to put people into pigeon holes or otherwise use stereotypes. But over a period of time I have noticed that people tend to put themselves into pigeon holes. Isn’t that just as bad?
Over quite a long time now I have noticed how the people who follow me on Twitter tend to use pigeon holes in their biographies and the same ones tend to crop up time after time. Intrigued by this notion, I carried out a quick survey of my followers and found that out of 100 of them (give or take a few) they used a surprisingly narrow range of personal descriptions.
Now, I’m not in any way suggesting that my findings are scientific. I just read the first couple of words in my followers’ Twitter biographies and allocated them to a category, adding new categories as I identified them. I found that there were about 12 categories in all.
For the record, the categories I identified were: profession, reader, writer, tribal, parent or other family, academic, philosophical, political, religious, sport, pets. Astoundingly, some people even defined themselves by their state of physical fitness.
Why the first words? Well, given the limited word count available (160) to create a Twitter biography, I’m guessing that the first words people use to describe themselves are probably the most important aspects of that person’s life, as they see it. They then add in other personal qualities in descending order of importance. For some people being a reader is the most important aspect of their life, then perhaps their job or hobby. For others, it is job first and everything else afterwards. IMHO, these descriptions don’t present a picture of well-balanced people, they put those people in pigeon holes.
Of course, Twitter is an artificial environment, so you don’t introduce yourself in the same way as you would in real life, but how early in a real life conversation do you introduce your job, your family or your political or religious ideology? In other words, how quickly do you define yourself to the person you are addressing?
The geographic category is an interesting one. Here I think people are identifying with a tribe, rather than defining themselves. It may be a big tribe (Australian, British, American etc) or a smaller tribe (state, county, town) but it’s still a tribe. Does your tribe define you?
Unsurprisingly, as I follow a lot of authors, about 50% of all the people I follow on Twitter start their biography by saying that they are authors/writers/poets. I know that is an unrepresentative number, as I actively seek out writers. So, for them I have to take a look at what else they have to say. Many then introduce their marital status, their children or their other employment as the next most important definition of themselves.
At least 40% of the biographies I looked at had a job or profession as their major identifying feature. This included those people who prefixed their profession with ‘retired’, as in ‘retired lawyer’ etc. That’s quite a lot of people who seem to define themselves by their past or present jobs. Included in this are a lot of people who are using Twitter to promote their services, such as bloggers and internet marketers. A person is not their job. A person is far more than that – so why do these people define themselves in such a narrow way as employment?
I have to admit that I, too, am guilty. The first words of my Twitter biography describe me as an author.
Are these people really defining themselves by their love of animals, subjugating all other personal qualities? It appears they are.
Political and religious affiliations also come in at a surprisingly high level. People seem to take pride in defining themselves in terms of their political or religious beliefs, as though that sets them apart from others in some way. It is, as I mentioned before, another tribal affiliation. But both politics and religion are about beliefs, not facts, and adherence to a political party or religion is no more a defining feature of one’s self than adherence to a particular sports team – yet another tribe.
Being a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Socialist, Communist or Fascist doesn’t make you a better person than anyone else. It just means you aren’t open to the beliefs of others. The same applies to vegetarians, vegans, feminists, misogynists, LGBTQ and if I’ve missed anyone out, then feel free to take offense over the omission.
Then there are those who don’t tell you anything about themselves, but instead put something enigmatic or pseudo philosophical as their biography. Around 8% of the people I follow did that. I wonder if they’re really as interesting as they’re trying to make themselves sound. I’ve looked at their Tweets and drawn my own conclusions.
As I said earlier, this is in no way scientific, but if you believe that people shouldn’t be pigeon holed or stereotyped, perhaps you should take a look at your Twitter biography (and those you use on other social media sites) and see in which pigeon hole you have placed yourself. Can you blame others when they do the same to you?
(I know the percentages don't add up to 100. Some people fitted in more than one pigeon hole.)