Posted by: Mark | February 27, 2009

Existentially a’Twitter

I’ve been meaning to formally write my thoughts about Twitter for a while now, but since Twitter has really picked up steam in the last week or so, I figure this is the time. (And by “picked up steam,” I mean that now many of my students are on it, it’s almost unavoidable in the press, etc.) To start with, I love Twitter. I am on there all the time and have a blast updating, meeting people, replying, etc. However, this is not to say that I don’t have some things to criticize about Twitter, and as a non-programmer I’m not talking about how it actually functions, but instead how it has evolved in its use. I think a post like this is important to reveal that I do have some skepticism of social media whilst wholeheartedly engaging it, and I’m not just thoughtlessly throwing myself out for public consumption. If I was to give a balanced post, I’d be mentioning the many things I love about Twitter, like the fact that I’m much more thoughtful and insightful in my own life as a result, I know more about my friends, I meet awesome people, it’s just flat-out fun, etc. But I’m not gonna be balanced, I’m just focusing on the critique. So here goes, my short list of complaints:

1) Twitter feels like a popularity contest. The very public inclusion of followers, and now with the evolution of the hashtag #followfriday, the service seems to have a concrete and quantifiable number that shows how many people like you.

2) Celebrities are now on Twitter. This can be cool. Getting tweets from Shaq, Rainn Wilson (the guy who plays Dwight Shrute) Lance Armstrong…that’s cool stuff. Shaq in particular is absolutely hilarious to follow. Celebrity follow counts are obviously extremely high, in the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands, and I think that this reality only exacerbates my first point. Celebrities have a lot of people following them, and so of course that makes me want more people to follow me…and it makes Twitter feel even that much more like a popularity contest.

(Long side note, which is actually the crux of my argument: this, I would argue, is one of the noticeable downsides of Web 2.0. Everyone feels entitled to be famous through the web, be it through making stupid youtube videos, posting a blog, whatever. I am absolutely guilty of this exact same expectation, as a video-maker and a blogger, and of course I can’t help but to hope that people will read this, watch my videos, whatever, and get excited and pass them around. The problem is that when you don’t become famous, when the followers don’t stack up, or when your blog stats stay the same, well…you start to feel let-down, the type communicated perfectly by the tone of Radiohead’s song of the same name. While we all feel entitled to stardom, precious few get there, and it seems like it’s only the “early adapters” that get there for doing the exact same thing that you want to do. In other words, people who started blogging 10 years ago in a similar fashion to what I do are huge and well-known just for the sake of being around for a long time. Ranting about this reveals an insight into humanity that has been festering in me for a while, which is our basic desire to be acknowledged for existing, and Twitter [which asks what are YOU doing] validates my feeling that my existence is important.

It’s good that my existence is important and that I can share it with people, but it’s almost amplifies the burden we all deal with in examining just how “important” our importance is. In other words, if we have the platform upon which we can voice ourselves, then just how many people will listen to me? I can stand in an empty cave and scream till I am hoarse, but no one will necessarily hear me. In the same way, I can tweet and blog my heart and soul to exhaustion for no one to ever read it. And since I am blogging for public consumption as compared to privately writing in a diary, there is an obvious hope for readership. As such, at the same time that I am finding an audience I have to constantly be satisfied with the scope of content of my audience, most importantly, with myself as my own audience. Do you see my point? It’s getting complex here, but in some ways Twitter seems to make that much more real and important the exact question that it asks: what are you doing? And, as an addendum, is what you are doing worthwhile? or put a less diplomatic way, why should I care?)

Whew. Deep breath. That was a big side note. Back to my basic list…

3) There tends to be so much said that what is truly of substance can be hard to track down. I’m following about 250 people, and am followed back by a similar amount, but I can only imagine that amount of insight that I am totally missing out there. I just don’t necessarily know how to find it. Of course, there are sites that can help, but I always find myself thinking of all the people I haven’t connected with yet who would be worthwhile doing so.

4) Companies go on twitter and spam. This is just annoying and doesn’t need much explanation.

5) Not all people get as into Twitter as you do. This is totally disappointing. I’ve been really siked when some of my friends join, and then let down when they do basically nothing on it. *Sigh*

Those tend to be my big issues with it. Twitter, like almost all Web 2.0, is being voraciously used and consumed before society can really examine the long-term effects it will have on our psyche, and I’ll be curious with how humanity continues to evolve in answering this all-important question: What are you doing, and why should I care?


  1. Mark, a nice evaluation and thoroughly enjoyed reading the side note. Many of us have those thoughts, emotions, feelings regarding publishing on the net. It is only human.

    The advice I have read and received is blog for yourself. Write for yourself. Simply blog about things you have done. The audience will come, whether you know it or not. It may be small or even large. That is not important.

    Recently I have been focusing on that little group of bloggers and twitterers that comment on my blog and respond to my tweets. Do not worry about the ‘big knob’ bloggers out there. Who cares? Focus on that loyal group of followers or commentators. That is when it really kicks in.

    I think you have the best Twitter avatar of them all. Is that you in the picture? Your avatar immediately grabs my attention and makes me take notice of what you have to say or share Mark. Blog on!

    Cheers, John.

  2. Hi Mark. I liked your article. V profound. In the nature of these things it may already have been voiced elsewhere in the internetverse, but hey, maybe it hasn’t and you’re blogging what a lot of us are thinking/sensing even if we don’t feel fully aware of it. I enjoy Twitter too. Not been on long and became concerned about it becoming HIGHLY addictive, but I also feel that if you filter out the ones that are purely self promotion (I’m guilty of some but I hope try to link to some interesting stuff and help people if I can too) that it can be enlightening, funny, you can meet some new people, learn about some good things going on in the world that you had no idea about and interact with people you never dreamt you would……I mean we don’t even know each other right? Take good care Mark. You seem like a nice guy.

  3. […] has written a post in which he evaluates Twitter and writes rather astutely about that audience that many bloggers and twitterers ponder upon, seek or desire. It is a good read, like all […]

  4. Twitter doesn’t ask what you are doing. Twitter doesn’t ask anything. You have defined it as such. But it is much more blank than that. You make of it what you will — as you do yourself.

    Maybe Twitter asks:

    What is the world doing?

    What am I doing despite myself?

    And Celebrity has always seemed to me a Great Illusion.

  5. I agree that Twitter is what you make of it. And I actually think there are real benefits to keeping your Twitter circle relatively small rather than making it into a popularity contest.

    As for spam, you can always report spammy users. And I recommend keeping your updates protected so that it’s easier to weed out spam followers.

  6. […] I know, but I figured that after critiquing Twitter from a philosophical standpoint in a previous post, I needed to throw out there a cool Twitter story of productive networking to balance things […]

  7. […] I know, but I figured that after critiquing Twitter from a philosophical standpoint in a previous post, I needed to throw out there a cool Twitter story of productive networking to balance things […]

  8. […]  […]

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