What Is It About Twitter (Update)

It never occurred to me before, but Venkat Balasubramani is absolutely right.  It’s like there’s some koolaid you have to drink first that makes you all, uh, nice.  What’s with that?

Twitter is a big place, and I can’t speak for much of Twitter, but my impression is that the mainstream Twitter user is overwhelmingly positive.  Positivity certainly reigns supreme in the corner of the Twittersphere that I frequent, and my impression is that there are other pockets of it that are overwhelmingly positive as well. Twitter is all about highlighting positive things and people.  The virtual high five or pat on the back is currency on Twitter.  Indeed, research is passed around which shows that “negative remarks lead to fewer followers.”  In my (admittedly anecdotal experience), while there are a few people who call it like they see it, most legal birds are effusive in their praise and quick to withhold criticism.  And this extends to points of view taken, articles passed around, etc.  It’s almost as if it’s socially unacceptable to say that something sucks. 

The net effect is that you can’t trust much of what people twit.  As Venkat notes:

But I will say one thing.  I do note the negative effects of overwhelming positivity:  bad content gets passed around freely and praised.  Bad ideas too.  Bad conferences.  Bad people.  Bad media. Blogs are a much much better filter of stuff for me (granted you can say more when you are not limited to 140 characters).  On Twitter, I’m routinely disappointed with what someone (or many people) often describe as a “great article!” 

I don’t follow too many people on twitter, largely because I find the new twit sound annoying and don’t really want to know what people are eating for lunch or plan to do with every moment of their day.  But I do follow a select few, some of whom are inclined to retwit other people’s posts (OPPs).  It seems to me that if someone retwits a post, in the absence of some qualifying additional language to the effect of “you can’t believe how stupid this is,” it reflects a vote of approval and a recommendation that others should spend a very scarce resource, free time, reading it.

The Social Media Maven pronounces (2010)
Oil on Canvas

In the Collection of @ScottGreenfield

What are they thinking?  Some are just totally insipid.  Others are worse.  Some people retwit anything written within a genre or topic in which they have a significant interest, but do so without editorial comment.  I don’t know what that means to anyone else, but it says to me that you endorse it. 

So I read the post that someone I respect retwitted and think to myself, “How can I ever get that three minutes of my life back?”  “Why am I following this person?”  “How could I have been so incredibly wrong to respect this twit’s opinion?”  This may be the newest, bestest, quickest way to make me lose respect for someone.

But Venkat is right, I don’t twit back that the post sucked and the person who retwitted it is nuts.  At least not too often.  While I’m not on twitter to collect followers, and frequently lose followers because I won’t follow back, I’m also not there to pointlessly piss people off either.  If my writing is critical, it’s for a reason, with some point to be made in the process.  It’s not just to be mean, no matter what others may think.

The problem is that twitter just isn’t a viable medium for expressing critical thought.  It allows for the snide remark, but not the reason behind it.  It would be great to make enemies, but poor to challenge ideas (or the lack thereof).  Which means that it’s a fine medium for a pat on the back, a cute statement, some fun chit chat.

But all of this is what’s led twitter down the positivity path to pointlessness.  Does it not get boring, really quickly, to engage in some half-witty repartee with people you don’t know about things that don’t matter?  Why do we engage in pleasantries with a disembodied name and avatar when we could be speaking to actual people whom we know to have some value to our lives?  It’s not to call these unknown twitteratti worthless, but rather to say that their relevance is (a) as yet undetermined, or (b) too superficial to be worth the time.

My sense is that the whole positivity thing on twitter reflects some odd need for validation, even if from people you don’t know and with whom you will never actually engage in real human interaction.  It’s cheap affirmation to bolster some gaping hole of self-esteem amongst people who either don’t get out enough or, if they do, aren’t getting the sort of reaction from others in real life that sates their fragile self-esteem.

If you’re a really big twitter fan, then you likely will disagree with me and think that I just don’t appreciate the “networking”, tribe-thing and community that has developed within twitter.  To which I shrug and say, “if that’s the best you can do for companionship, then you’ve got a problem.” 

Get a dog.  Even if he doesn’t twit.  At least his affection is real.

Update:  From CharonQC, shamlessly stolen from him wholesale, secure in the knowledge that he’s out at the post office shipping a painting to me and won’t find out about my theft until it’s too late:

16 thoughts on “What Is It About Twitter (Update)

  1. Jon E Lewis

    For me, I think you miss the point of Twitter. I have been able to use Twitter to actually connect with people locally and meet people I otherwise would not have met – in person. It brings it all to life.

    If all you are doing is tweeting what you had for breakfast, no, Twitter is not a good medium. But, if you are engaging people, having good conversation, and meeting other intelligent people in your community, it is invaluable.

    Also, while everything cannot be positive, there is so much negativity in this world and news, isn’t it nice to actually have somewhere to go for positive attitudes?


  2. SHG

    This comment is precisely the sort of insipid, mindless garbage that makes me want to stick needles in my eyes. Thanks for sacrificing your crediblity and any potential semblence of self-respect to serve as an example.

    By the way, I deleted your website marketing URL from the comment.  You’ll have to get juice for your personal injury practice elsewhere.

  3. Antonin I. Pribetic

    Hold on a second, Scott. Are you telling me that if I RT (retwit in your parlance) something on Twitter without editorializing, I tacitly endorse the content? I didn’t know there were “Twitter Rules of the Road” but I’d like to read them. I recall that you have previously criticized Twitter as a means of exchanging meaningful ideas or fostering valuable dialogue on an issue, due to its 140 character limit which eschews reasoned argumentation (it may have been a 22Twts debate, but who can remember without checking back 1000s of twits from months ago?). Suffice it to say, henceforth, if I RT an article, blog post, recipe, or weather report, it in no way constitutes my endorsement, approval, acquiescence, or condonation of the originator’s content. The views expressed are solely those of the twit. Great post, by the way.

  4. SHG

    That’s my rule and I’m sticking with it.

    There actually was a discussion about the meaning of a retwit (RT in your parlance) a while back, where it was generally understood that a retwit without editorial comment was an endorsement of the retwitted post.  If you wish the differ with this general rule, you will be required to include a disclaimer in every retwitted twit.

  5. Antonin I. Pribetic

    I prefer to revise my Twitter bio, instead. Then again, who gives a rat’s ass about Twitter? I deleted my previous Twitter account after amassing over 4200 followers. To paraphrase a reference to Motorhead: I have nothing to say and 140 characters to say it with. I prefer to disclaim Twitter altogether for what it truly is: a circle jerk of epic proportions. Now that’s a social marketing slogan that I can subscribe to.

  6. Keith Lee

    Having never really used Twitter before I started blogging two months ago I jumped in with both feet first. I was following around 100 people initially but that lasted all of two weeks before I got tired of it. I’m down to following 37 people at the moment and that seems like too many sometimes. I certainly couldn’t imagine leaving Tweetdeck up all the time, that thing is annoying. It’s bad enough I have to look at Outlook notifications all day long.

    I turn Tweetdeck on 4-5 times a day, skim what’s been written, then turn it off. I might make a comment or two and rarely RT. Anything I really want to read is probably on a blog and I get that through my RSS reader.

    So count me in as another who doesn’t get Twitter – which I worry about on some level because I’m 30 and am supposed to be into new-fangled tech crap.

  7. amy l

    Bravo!! Thank you for exposing the irony of social media, which leaves you socializing w/your gagets rather than … um … a real-live girl/boy, who may not have anything positve to say about you in person. Never tweeted. Never will. Tried FB once and felt similar needle to eyeball urges. Here’s to developing relationships (i.e., clients) over pasta and vino regardless of how often the restaurant’s been tweeted,followed, liked or Yelped!

  8. Evie

    Good blog Scott. Why do you use Twitter?
    I actually like the good manners that some people demonstrate on Twitter. It’s nice to know that in this day and age, that there are still some people with good social etiquette.

    If rude people end up being excluded from social media, then perhaps it is a good medium for teaching good manners.

    What do you think?

  9. SHG

    You’re confusing good manners with being vapid and banal.  This is the social etiquette preferred by rocks and dead people.

  10. mirriam

    It hurts my feelings when you talk like that about twitter. How do YOU know what rocks prefer? Have they told you?

    This post was so dumb I refused to retweet it without adding how dumb it was.

  11. SHG

    You do tend to get a bit caught up in your own feelings.  I’m sure there are drugs that can help with that.

  12. Evie

    Being vapid and banal may be preferred by rocks and dead people, but good manners and social etiquette are preferred by Evie. Fortunately Evie is neither a rock or a dead person (yet).
    Thank you for your reply sir.

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