Heidekolb's Blog

C.G.Jung, Twitter and its Shadow | November 3, 2009

The Rubin Museum of Art in NYC is currently offering a fascinating event series, the Red Book Dialogues. Today’s program was a dialogue between Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and my colleague, Jungian analyst Doug Tompkins. It was an inspiring evening in a serene, beautiful setting. Both Jack and Doug were logged on to Twitter and so was the audience who could send questions and comments via their mobile devices, which were then projected onto a big screen. Twitter and Jung? Do they have anything in common? Doug rightly commented that most Jungians were somewhat technologically challenged. But Twitter is not about technology. It is all about communication. Fast communication, with a lot of people and entities. Doug introduced the very fitting archetypal image behind Twitter. It is the winged god Hermes, the messenger from the underworld, who rules all aspects of communication and commerce. He is flighty and fast, I can almost glimpse him in the 140 character tweets that swoosh past me on the screen. He is often depicted as a youth with winged sandals and it was not lost on the audience that he lives right there in Twitter’s logo of the little bird. The moderator remarked that the German word for Twitter is “zwitschern” but that he could not find that word anywhere in the Red Book. That may be so, but let’s not forget that the Red Book was left unfinished because Jung became fascinated with alchemy, which he translated into the dynamics of psyche. Alchemists communicated in an oblique writing style that became known as, guess what, the “language of the birds”.

But Hermes is also a trickster and thief who can cross our path just when we think we have it all figured out and under control. I bet he was to blame when my iphone just all of a sudden refused to function and would not connect until after the event! Go figure! It is said of Hermes that he lives in the in-between places and that he bridges  boundaries. Hermes also trespasses. He will not be confined in neatly ordered places. Maybe Hermes’ inspiration could help to bridge the seemingly different worlds of Twitter and Jung’s Red Book.

People send their “What are you doing” tweets into cyberspace in the hope to find or connect with others. In the process an interconnected web is being woven that brings the immediate experience of its participants to the forefront.  As just one example I am thinking of the transparency the tweeting community brought to the recent elections in Iran. An anonymous mass of people were suddenly individual voices, which were heard. Now to Jung’s self-experiment as documented in the Red Book. I wonder if the cyberspace of the tweeting community is not the equivalent to Jung’s collective unconscious out of which he wrestled images and meaning and thereby created a structure and road map that allowed him to negotiate a world much larger than himself.

By far the most interesting question came from an audience member who inquired about Twitter’s shadow. The question kept lingering in the room. Nobody had a clear answer. I don’t have an answer. Twitter is such a new tool,  it might be too soon to tell. The shadow by definition does not want to be seen. But from a Jungian perspective, we also understand that everything has a shadow. As a start, I suggest that we might want to look at what we project onto Twitter. If I see it as a means to connect with great speed to others and allow others to make contact with me, “follow” me, with little discrimination of who they are, then I am at risk of being flooded, overwhelmed and losing my bearings. Could one shadow aspect of Twitter be the disintegration of boundaries and the loss of a container for private, sacred space? When Jung traveled into the depths of the unconscious he was  aware of the dangers. He sensed the treasures the invisible world held, but he knew that if one got lost in it the price was disintegration and psychosis. In lieu of clear answers I may have to live with the questions a little longer. Hermes is a trickster god, but he is also the only guide we have when we enter new territory.


  1. I’m surprised that no one mentioned the obvious shadow aspects of Twitter:

    Spam of scams and porno come ons.

    Link shortened IRLs that hide links to sites that load virus, Trojans, Keyloggers and other malware onto your computer.

    People that harass and intimidate with malicious tweets, especially as direct messages.

    I’m sure the list goes on.
    As I often like to say,
    The brighter the Light, the darker the Shadow.

    Comment by Charles Kress — November 3, 2009 @ 9:27 am

  2. Great article – Hermes is always an interesting force to be around 😉

    I’d suggest that Twitter’s shadow might be an extreme version of the internet’s shadow, indeed the shadow of computing in general. Somewhere in the following, there’s a shadow or two lurking:

    – the effects on psyche and soma of sitting in front of a computer for hours at end!

    – of communicating in virtual space without tactile contact.

    – of the leap in demand for the rare earth minerals that computer circuitry require…

    – of the power consumption of billions of laptops & PCs…

    I am relatively new to Twitter and am delighted by it, by playing my part in the grand neural-like network of it and feeling the paradigm shifts that come with different ways of using it. But even as I sit typing this, I’m aware that the sun is coming up over snowy Midlothian: that’s a reality I’m more comfortable with and more connected to than any number of followers or distant contacts. Twitter is mind-food – the shadow of mind-food is, I suggest, its effect on the physical world.

    In Celtic myths, if you eat the food that the little people give to you, you’re tied somehow to their world. What *is* the world of Twitter? What might it mean to be tied to the realm whose emblem is a bird and whose underlying archetype is as slippery and tricky as Hermes?

    More ruminations than answers to the shadow question, for sure.

    Thanks for the article, Heide – I am fascinated with this question of Twitter’s shadow. Where there is such evangelism among its users, my first question has always been: ‘where’s the shadow?’

    As an aside, I staged a storytelling show during the Fringe in Edinburgh this year called Coyote Bardo which had the myth of Hermes’ birth as its beginning and end – it was a melange of Trickster tales from around the world and an exploration of the power of Trickster in these times. I think you’d have liked it.

    Now out into the visceral world of snow and ice and lurcher-walking (Macha doesn’t think much of Twitter, its shadow or anything you can’t chase or eat or feel…)

    See you in the Twitterverse 😉

    Comment by @coyopa — December 30, 2009 @ 4:36 am

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