I was just looking at a few Twitter accounts, I was reading that people are professors, dads, mums, runners, researchers, theorists…So many labels, my head was spinning. Yes, I am a ‘dad’. This label describes such richness of experiences, emotions, events, memories, and, I don’t know, photographs. All conveyed in a myriad of stories, some joyful, some excruciatingly sad, some funny, some for everybody, some for closest of friends. All supposed to be rendered by the label ‘dad’ under the Twitter photo. No, ‘dad’ doesn’t do justice to the deepest of sorrows and and the most wonderful elations I’ve experienced as a ‘dad’. Or to the photograph of one bench on the University of Exeter campus, or a walk down Gower Street past the University College London. Yes, it’s all part of ‘dad’.
But the Twitter account asks its users to describe themselves in a few words, just to render what is important to them. And then it struck me! That’s a diagnostic label. Depression, SCZ, bipolar. All so simple, all squaring the ‘unsquareable’. Yes, yes, we all know that F20, F31, F33 don’t really describe the person (wink, wink), yet I heard so many times phrases like ‘The F20 in room 3’ (this expression deserves another post).
And so I was struck by the affinity between Twitter accounts and the ICD, shall I say, accounts in the green book published by the WHO. Twitter nosology, psychopathology – it has a cool ring to it.
Update. After I tweeted a link to this post, I had a very interesting response from Anne Cooke from Canterbury (here is her blog). She suggested that there is a significant difference between psychopathological and Twitter labels. The former ones are given to us, the latter we give to ourselves. Of course, I agree with this. We could add other differences. The stake in psychopathological labelling is massively different from the one on Twitter. So are potential consequences – the label of F20 can wreck my life, a label under a Twitter account is very unlikely to do.
These are very significant differences. But what I wanted to point out is that we cannot simply ignore the fact that this kind of labelling we do ourselves (I’m putting aside the fact that language consists of many a label). Contentious, politically charged labelling, reducing us to…yes, to a label! Labelling that we do ‘unto ourselves’ is not dissimilar to what nosological labels do to us. In that sense of course diagnostic labelling is very ‘natural’, it is communicatively attractive. After all rather than going into an account of Julia Kristeva’s book Strangers to Ourselves where she offers a wonderful account of living between nationalities, I prefer saying: I’m Polish.