Recently, a colleague stopped following me on Twitter because, he says, keeping up with my feed is â€œemotionally exhausting.â€ Others have panned the practice as banal, self-indulgent, time-consuming or narcissistic. And then thereâ€™s this video, which successfully, and hilariously, paints Twitter as absurd in the extreme:
All of these folks make good points. And, as most who know me are aware, I am nothing if not banal, self-indulgent, time-consuming, narcissistic and otherwise emotionally exhaustingâ€”but thatâ€™s me, not Twitter. Twitter itself is nothing more than a medium I use to disseminate my narcissism, banality, etc., and like all other media, it can be used well or it can be used poorly.
When used poorly, you get the Twitter described above. But when you use it well, Twitter becomes something more than yet another social networking site; namely, a real-time, collaborative mental sketch pad that allows the user to take an idea, throw it in the hopper, and see what comes back. At itâ€™s best, Twitter isnâ€™t about getting to know each other so much as it is about sharing ideas, shaping a larger dialogue and watching the cultural zeitgeist develop in real time.
The beauty of Twitter, and what separates it from the navel-gazing echo chamber of social networking, is that Twitter relationships arenâ€™t necessarily reciprocal. I follow plenty of people, from the actually famous (@clairecmc, @the_real_shaq) to the microfamous (@JessicaValenti, @AriMelber) to the not at all famous (@provenself, @WeeLaura), who donâ€™t follow me back. That the relationship is one-sided isnâ€™t any skin off my noseâ€”I certainly donâ€™t expect that every blogger I read logs on Urbzen.com. I follow them because Iâ€™m interested in what they have to say, not because I think weâ€™re somehow going to become internet BFFs. Good content is good content, regardless of the medium.
Similarly, I donâ€™t automatically follow everyone who follows me. I feel very fortunate that a relatively large number of people are interested enough in what I have to say to make it a part of their Twitter stream. But their decision to read my tweets doesnâ€™t make me any more or less likely to want to read theirs.
The Current video makes a good point that Twitter opens the door for a lot of banality. â€œI just put my socks on.â€ â€œItâ€™s raining.â€ â€œIce cream is delicious.â€ and thatâ€™s where the nonreciprocal nature of Twitter shinesâ€”Itâ€™s an intellectual meritocracy. Good content is rewarded, while bad content is ignored. And everybody gets to define what good and bad means to them. Itâ€™s like a personalized RSS feed of other peopleâ€™s brains.
Another advantage of the not-necessarily-reciprocal nature of Twitter is that itâ€™s allowed me to build a much more interesting and diverse community than I have on, say, Facebook. The fact is that most of my friendsâ€”on Facebook and in â€œreal lifeâ€â€”are a lot like me: youngish, professional, liberal, childlessâ€”which creates a sort of social echo chamber. On Twitter, by contrast, I can and do choose to follow and engage with people who have vastly different experiences and ideas than I do, which creates a much more invigorating conversation. Iâ€™m certainly not â€œfriendsâ€ with a lot of these folksâ€”many of them would probably like to throttle me, honestlyâ€”but the debate is interesting, and we keep each other sharp.
Maybe Twitter is a fad. Maybe itâ€™s not. Either way, donâ€™t use it and youâ€™re missing out on one hell of a conversation.