What are you doing? A seemingly innocuous question, but… think again.


I’ve been studying with interest my 100+ friend’s status reports on facebook as they regularly change, and to a lesser extent my twitter followers responses to the question “What are you doing?“.

As most readers of this blog will know, I am fascinated with the way language constructs identity and the sorts of discourses that can be revealed about identity through a grammatical analysis of text.

This is easy to analyse with some accuracy in facebook status messages as they get fed into the news feed and changes pop in in a seperate window if you allow notifications and enable the pop-up through firefox extensions.

Chris Finke did a twitter analysis of the verbs people used to reveal what they were doing and discovered the following top 20 verbs.

1. going 8271
2. watching 5248
3. listening 4870
4. getting 4694
5. playing 4085
6. working 3634
7. trying 3599
8. reading 3269
9. waiting 2558
10. looking 2487
11. doing 2312
12. having 2215
13. being 2098
14. thinking 2072
15. wondering 1866
16. eating 1862
17. heading 1710
18. feeling 1705
19. making 1541
20. meeting 1452

What I am really interested in is any grammatical patterns I can find within groups that are common in defining their identity. Are the educators all using thinking verb? Are males all using action verbs? Are females using sensing and existential verbs? Do older users do this consciously as they have an identity management and reputation management system already carefully constructed? Do younger users think at all about how even their verb choices in their status constructs their identities in certain ways?

And this is not to mention the implicit communicative function of status messages, which would be more evident in twitter by a direct use of the @ symbol – but I see people in FB sending semi-coded, semi-public messages to each other through their status messages to create a blended kind of private/public dialogue.

And whilst twitter is poetic micro-fiction narrating the every day lives of your followers, the status message is more like an in joke, where threads of several messages relate to threads of others, and its like a cross-media narrative and puzzle to work out what all the relationships are.

Check back on your status messages and twitters and let me know – how are you constructing your individual or group identity, what processes are you using, do you have particular subsets of friends in mind you either explicitly or implicitly hope they engage with you.

One of the significant things for me is that people are learning how to do these practices within the community of practice. There is a seeming lack of “rules” to it, which provides scope and freedom for people to be innovative and playful with it. Precisely because it is an amusement, people don’t even necessarily use the words themed as the starter for the sentence “User is….”.

So… what are you doing?

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