126 Characters in Search of an Author: Twitter and Thinking Out Loud on Social Media, the case of the Indigo Children

But what do you want here, all of you?
We want to live.
THE MANAGER (ironically)
For Eternity?
No, sir, only for a moment… in you.

These lines are from Luigi Pirendello’s 1921 metatheatrical play, Sei Personaggi in Cerca D’autore (“Six Characters in Search of an Author”) where six unused and forgotten fictional characters insist on being put on stage during the rehearsals for another Pirendello play, Il Giuoco Delle Parti (“The Rules of the Game”). On Twitter the ‘rules of the game’ include the limitation of tweets to no more than 140 characters.  To maximise the amount of information and connectivity in a tweet an author can use social media ‘tricks’ such as automatically shortened urls, hashtags, and acronyms.

In this paper I argue that when a tweet is significantly shorter than 140 characters, only 14 for example, questions arise for the researcher. First, what is the motivation of an author who writes a tweet that is ‘missing’ 126 characters? Second, why are they choosing to use Twitter for their text?  This paper will examine the abbreviated tweets made by members of a loosely bounded community of New Agers in order to consider the ways in which Twitter is put to work by authors allegedly in control of their characters in a medium that enables a shortened route between thinking and publishing.

Brevity is the soul of wit… or do missing tweet characters matter?

During my digital ethnographic research on the Indigo Children, a concept from within the New Age Movement whose adherents are geographically disparate but socially networked through the internet, I encountered many tweets containing just 14 characters: just “Indigo Children”. Interviews with these authors through Twitter and by e-mail provided insight into the public/private double mindedness of the Twitter format that enables thinking out loud with increasingly mobile technology and near immediate posting times.

Interviewees also readily drew my attention to the place of the apparently white middle class Indigo Child concept within a wider black Hip Hop culture, and “shoutin’ out” or “reppin’” were among the reasons given for the 14 character tweets.  Reppin’ or Representing is done by individuals “constructing self-definitions to elevate their social status and align themselves with desirable persons, places, or things (e.g., friends, neighbourhoods, clubs, clothing brands etc.)” (Stokes 2007).  The sympathy between the entrepreneurial, self-making model of the Hip Hop mogul and the conception of the Indigo Child as an evolved form of humanity influences these kind of abbreviated tweets. Finally, as a tweet can be a momentary post forming a part of a larger conversation as an “ambient audience” of followers (Zappavigna, 2012) absorbs the post and reacts to it, the role of louder thinking, or ‘shouting’, to get attention for posts will be considered, with reference to the growing Attention Economy online (Bergquist and Ljungberg, 2001).


Bergquist, M. and Ljungberg, J. (2001) “The Power of Gifts: Organizing Social Relationships in Open Source Communities” in Journal of Information Systems, (2001) 11, 305–320

Stokes, C. (2007) “‘Representin’ In Cyberspace: Sexual Scripts, Self‐Definition, and Hip Hop Culture In Black American Adolescent Girls’ Home Pages”, in Culture, Health & Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care, 9:2, 169-184

Zappavigna, M. (2012) The Discourse of Twitter and Social Media, London; New York: Continuum International Pub. Group

Current Projects (Apart from PhD Thesis):

Right, now for a bit of work planning and summarising.  I find writing out lists like this reminds me to get on and write the darned things!

  • BASR/EASR Conference Papers (to be written for September 3rd-6th Conference):

Big, Bad Pharma: New Age Biomedical Conspiracy Narratives and their Expression in the Concept of the Indigo Child

5.7 million American children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Approximately two thirds of those diagnosed have been prescribed amphetamine based drugs such as Ritalin as a treatment. Diagnoses and prescriptions are also increasing exponentially in the UK. Diagnostic checklists include: fidgeting, answering questions before they are finished and being unable to stick at long and tedious tasks.

In this paper I will explore New Age conspiracy narratives which accuse the pharmacological industry, or Big Pharma, of collusion with schools to turn naturally active children into compliant drones. In particular, I will describe the category of the Indigo Children: allegedly a special, intuitive, spiritual generation appearing since the 1980s. This category celebrates the inability of some children to fit into mainstream systems while actively attacking the commercial machinations of ‘Big Pharma’ involving children: over-medication, but also harmful vaccinations and genetically modified foods.

Blame Sheila: The 2011 UK Census, ‘Other Religion’ and the Rhetoric of Narcissism

This paper will consider the 2011 Census question on religious affiliation, specifically responses under the category of ‘Other Religion’ where the public was able to write down a choice instead of box ticking. Answers included, ‘Jediism’, ‘Scientology’, ‘Wicca’, ‘Spiritual’, ‘New Age’, ‘Heavy Metal’, and ‘Own Belief System’, amongst others.

Parallel with an overview of sociological approaches to new religious movements and spiritualities I will discuss how the numbers in this category of ‘Other Religion’ have been reported on, including their changes from the 2001 census results.  I will explore how reactions to this part of the census have replicated a rhetoric of narcissism and individualism, such as seen in Bellah’s (1985) definition of ‘Sheila-ism, while they have also dismissed answers voluntarily made as cynical parodies or ‘spoilt papers’.

Bellah, Robert (1985) Habits of the Heart, (California: University of California Press; 3Rev Ed edition (7 Sep 2007)

  • Harvard Conference Abstract for October Graduate Conference (Submitted, waiting to hear, end of July)

The Indigo Child as Other, the Indigo Child as Self: Forms, Categories and Experimentations within a Contemporary Online Spirituality

…today’s children are different – more challenging, more intelligent, more confrontational, more intuitive, more spiritual, and in some cases even more violent – from any generation we have yet seen”.[1]

The Indigo Child is a category that has emerged within the New Age Movement that expresses several important religious and spiritual themes and scientific speculations.  Indigo Children are considered to be an especially psychic, sensitive and innovative generation which first appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Interpreted variously as psychic warriors, revolutionary trouble makers or messianic heralds of the New Age, Indigo Children are both a source of celebration and of parental concern.  The category has been used to explain behavioural issues in children, including those that the mainstream would consider biomedical in origin, such as autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and the therapies advised by Indigo experts represent technologies of the self and a way of employing scientific discoveries which has its origins in the broader history of metaphysical religion in the West.

However, the category can also be a description that individuals choose for themselves.

This paper introduces my PhD research into the Indigo Children as a contemporary spirituality, or New Religious Movement, and will problematize the distinction between self-labelling and the labelling of others, a distinction that is often unremarked upon by the community itself.  I have explored this issue through fieldwork with New Age groups, interviews with Indigos and their parents, and through a historical consideration of the origins of the concept from both New Age and scientific, secular source material.

[1] Virtue, Doreen (2001). The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children. Pub. Hay House UK Ltd.

  • Book Chapter: New Religious Movements, the Internet and Legal Pluralism: Scientology and Jediism (Title to be worked on! And it needs a new Abstract): Rewrites due end of September
  • Rewrite of journal article on Pro-Ana based on MPHil research for resumbmission (I have a writing course next week I am going to be using this project as a sample to work on, so hopefully that will get this project going again!)