Thursday, March 12, 2009
Twitter, Twitter, Twitter.
What can I tell you about Twitter that hasn't already been said by online news sources, annoyingly persistent traditional media, the drinkers of Haterade, and those in the book marketing biz?
What can I say that is more poignant or true than what Twitterer extrodinarie and all-around role model to the geek Stephen Fry says about Twitter and all social media being a threat to the media as we know it?
What uses of Twitter could I point out that you couldn't easily Google on your own?
Yes, I know. It's the Next Big Thing that all the hipsters are doing, so it sucks. And it seems stupid and useless to most of you, and 140 characters (not words, characters) can't possibly help a human being communicate a successfully nuanced thought. And of course you're angry about what this all means for the future of language.
So I'm going to ignore all that. Because you can argue about all that on Facebook, which, if you recall, lots of people resisted with vigor and stubbornness when it first arrived. But I won't mention that either!
I'm going to tell you a story about the power of Twitter.
It's a cautionary tale, an urban legend that I think holds in its grip a microcosm of the human condition.
For nearly two months, I impersonated an obscure British celebrity on Twitter. Well, impersonate is a strong word. "Fucked around as" is better. You can read the tawdry details here, at a blog I'm writing with some friends who want to chronicle the awesome things we can accomplish. I listed this as an accomplishment because I reached 1,000 followers on Twitter all by just tweeting stupid jokes. I thought that was impressive at the time.
But when I deleted the account two days ago, this was the final tally.
I deleted the account because, at a very simple level, dicking around online with other car enthusiasts and trading stupid jokes wasn't much fun anymore. The fun had been overshadowed by the sinking feeling that no one on Twitter understood that I was a fake, that this was all for laughs. For every @Reply I received saying "Good one, mate" I got ten asking me when my TV show would be back on the air. I tried to explain to those people that I wasn't real, but there were too many of them, and 140 characters is not a lot of space to say "Look at a bio, you twit" without sounding mean.
I eventually had to ignore all those questions or else I'd lose my mind. Then there were people who would bluster around like the worst detective in the world, trying to unmask me, even though the confession was right there if they cared to find it. One man tweeted me to say, "I went to high school with someone who knows the real Clarkson, and if you can tell me this obscure fact about him, I'll know you're not fake."
I replied, "Look, mate, maybe you should read my bio. Here's a link to it, even."
His response? "SO YOU CAN'T ANSWER THE QUESTION, CAN YOU?"
Whoa there, Sherlock. Pace yourself.
Look, I know people are, on the whole, idiots, but that idiocy seems to be multiplied on Twitter, when they're restricted to such a small space to express themselves. In the inverse fashion, brilliant people have their brilliance magnified by exactly the same format. It just goes to show.
At any rate, I came to understand that the people who didn't get it, who weren't bothered to check out simple litmus tests of fact, weren't ignorant of the internet or naive about online exchanges. I couldn't be mad at them for not following directions or taking me at my word. Now I think that they simply didn't want to know the truth, because it was more fulfilling to them to believe that I was really a man that they loved.
But I wasn't. So I ended it. I hadn't set out to deceive or trick; I had wanted to entertain, but now I see there is nothing about the Twitter platform that makes it an ideal vehicle for terribly bad comedy. Twitter should be, I now theorize, about connecting to and sharing things with people who care about the same things. It should be about being real, I guess. In whatever way that makes sense to you.
Use Twitter, or don't use Twitter. The world won't end either way, I'm sure. If you do use it, use it in a way that is representative of you and your work. Connect with people you would want to speak to if you were at the same cocktail party. Try to be nice if you're a nice person; if you're a douche, run free, my friend.
If you don't use Twitter, then that's okay too. But I would tell you not to be afraid of exploring it. There's nothing to be scared of. It's nothing as confusing as the first time you linked to something on a blog, or as difficult as the first time you played Oregon Trail.
Worst comes to worst, you can always delete yourself.
Tiny self-aggrandizing endnote:
You can follow TJ (the real TJ) on Twitter @tjdietderich.