i'm a white writer. in new york. original, no? i've been blogging since october 2002. this blog picks up in october 2008, when i moved from DC to NY...(and then I moved to Maine in 2012)

Friday, March 6, 2009

TWEET TALK: The Power of the Tweet, Part One

NOTE: If you are not on Twitter, simply substitute "party" for "Twitter," "hanging out" for "following," and "fellow partygoer" for "follower." Also, if you are not on Twitter, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU and here's a primer: Twitter is a place to give 140-character status updates ("tweets") that are read by your followers. You in turn read tweets of people you follow.

140-character version

Uh. Follow whoever you want. Or don't. Or follow them and then stop following them after a while. Just don't be neurotic, okay? And play nice.

long-form version

No. Seriously. It's that simple.

Okay, so you're on Twitter. And maybe you were cool enough to join before all the recent publicity about it.

The first person you "followed" was the friend who bugged you for weeks to join and who kept insisting it wasn't lame. The second person you followed was Shaquille O'Neal.

Then you sat back and waited for something to happen. Maybe you figured out how to change the color of your profile background. Then you waited some more.

Maybe you found some celebrities to follow, but you quickly unfollowed them because a) they have to be "nice" and everyone knows nice equals boring, b) they're never going to talk to you, and c) half of them have their assistants doing the tweeting.

Then you found the fake celebrities: Fake Rahm Emmanuel, Fake Michael Bay, Fake Nick Nolte. Much better.

You were excited to find Malcolm Gladwell, but you immediately unfollowed him when you realize he and his hairdo never tweet.

You couldn't wait to tell all your friends that David Lynch does a daily vlog of the weather. Then you got upset when your friends didn't believe you. Now that they've joined, they're following David Lynch, and you've been twelve kinds of validated as an "early adopter."

Now you're in the thick of it.

You've found the news. You've met the Fail Whale. You're following Rachel Maddow, Senator McCaskill, Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Krystof, Pete Cashmore, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone. You know what TED is. Sort of. You're following museums, theaters, publishers, green non-profits, Mediabistro and TheMime. You're mainlining Reuters, and you think it's stingy that Stephen Colbert has a profile but never tweets. You've learned to block all those hot chicks who love to party and are giving away free laptops.

You have the epigrammatic patter of the tweet down to a science, and you're continually asking yourself, in an affectionate, self-dramatizing way, "Is this tweetable?"

You understand that Twitter is a more powerful search tool than Google. You get it that Twitter is invaluable during a real emergency. You know people can get jobs through Twitter. You're disappointed that both Brian Williams and Jon Stewart are so foolish as to diss something they clearly don't understand. Twitter has become your first source for news, and you think it should become the first source for news for all major news outlets, seeing as they're hours behind Twitter in reporting breaking news anyway.

With newspapers folding and traditional media tanking, attention must be paid to the power of the tweet.

But back to you. Prescient, smarty-pants you.

You've gained followers, you've lost followers, all the while not knowing why.

Karl Rove has DM'd you. Twice.

Now you're leaving your real friends in the twittery dust. Maybe you even unfollowed some of them because they couldn't be bothered to upload a picture, or maybe they never tweet. It's like they showed up at a party in sweats and are slouching in the corner, picking at a muffin. Why should you have to look at their mopey face?

It's called "unfollow." And it's okay.

You're not obligated to follow your followers, just as the people you follow aren't obligated to follow you back.

The party metaphor has legs here...

Twitter is a party. A party of roughly 7 million people. The point is not to try to meet (follow) everyone, nor is it to have everyone meet (follow) you. The point is to have conversations that have currency, in every sense of the word. To wit:

1) At a party, you don't talk to the same people all night; same with Twitter.
2) At a party, you listen for a bit, contribute conversationally, and move on; same with Twitter.
3) At a party, if you never speak up, people will leave you by the fruit salad; it's called "unfollow" with Twitter.
4) At a party, if you babble endlessly, people will put you IN the fruit salad; it's called "block" with Twitter. (Or just unfollow if you're too nice to block.)

The key to being a good party guest is to listen attentively, and also to contribute something interesting. It's fine to offer up brief, witty, self-oriented epiphanies, but you're better off with sharing newsy bits, or book recommendations, or solutions to a problem someone's having.

But you can stop worrying whether someone you follow is following you, or whether someone who once followed you has now unfollowed you. And stop feeling guilty that you don't follow all your followers. Or go ahead and follow them all, because really, who cares? (If you're OCD, don't follow everyone because you'll never get anything done. Or use it to self-medicate if that's what gets you through your day.) Shape Twitter to your own purposes like the wonderfully malleable tool that it is. Give yourself and others permission NOT to equate following with personal self-worth. No one needs that kind of pressure.

After all, it's just a party.

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