A couple days ago, I (along with a couple of other folks) stopped twitting. At the moment, I have about 1100 twitter followers, and not the slightest clue why. The content of my twits are largely worthless. As far as I can tell, not a single thing I’ve twitted is worth more than a glance or, on occasion, a chuckle. Your twits are no better.
This hiatus has allowed me to do some looking and some thinking. I’ve spent some time reading the twits of others, following twitter “conversations” to which I wasn’t a party. I put the word “conversation” in quotes because it’s used in the loosest of ways. These aren’t conversations at all, as they are inherently limited, whereas a real conversation can range from the sublime to the ridiculous. This is only the ridiculous.
It’s not that there isn’t fun to be had. Some people can be quite witty in 140 characters. Not always, but sometimes. Most of us, however, are not that witty. We may try to be, but we’re not.
There are also some troubling trends. The indiscriminate collection of followers, the initial badge of twitter honor, was never taken seriously by serious people. But I’ve watched serious people do something that strikes me as worse. Twitter “friendships” develop that involve what the social media gurus like to call “authentic engagement,” where a surprising level of intimacy is achieved between people who know nothing more about each other than their twitter bio and twits reveal. On the one hand, it shows a sweet level of empathy for others. On the other, it seems as if it reflects the absence of any real life friendships.
People twit at each other all the time. Some will twit all night long, until they finally sign off from exhaustion. They inquire of each other about the intimate details of their life, and the others tell them the details. This is all open to public inspection, though the details generally aren’t any more interesting than anyone else’s mundane life. It’s all reminiscent of old friends superficially chatting, but without the old friends part and without the underlying basis for connection.
It’s all the superficiality with none of the substance of real friendship. And yet people spend their evenings, every evening, doing this. These friendships crossed borders that would rarely be crossed in real life, with law students giving life lessons to old-time lawyers, and secretaries demanding the rapt attention of senior partners. Do they not have spouses, children, friends, family with whom to interact? Have we come to seeking, and finding, companionship in disembodied twits to fill the hole?
Another group that I’ve come to observe are the social media gurus. Before, I would learn only of snippets, usually via Brian Tannebaum, who was paying far more attention than I ever considered worthwhile. Instead, I set up a column in tweetdeck with the name of a young man whose recreated himself as a twitter expert when his law career fizzled. I found his rise, and acceptance, as a social media guru rather astounding, and quite impressive, given his dearth of qualifications and the general silliness of his endeavor. Still, if people want to buy pet rocks, who am I to stop them?
Following this column opened my eyes. Not merely the volume of people on twitter who paid close attention to the most banal and, dare I say it, idiotic nonsense, but the identities of the twitterers. From my remove, it seems as if this opportunistic crowd twits for no other reason than to announce approval and be embraced by the others. No one, ever, twits anything but absolute approval. Twit that you woke up this morning and got out of bed without falling, and a dozen will retwit it, adding their congratulations for the successful launch. Someone will push the envelope by adding “you’re awesome!!!”
Twits listing a passel of twitter names are the most common, as there is nothing better appreciated than having the twitter name spread far and wide. Whether it’s the #FF, or something new to me, the ReadMeDaily that appears to be all the rage, reinforcing the-mutual-admiration-at-all-costs as the price of admission to this group. Never have I seen such a meaningless circle jerk. Never has anything so utterly inane been embraced by so many for no reason other than to be embraced.
There is no aspect of human existence so banal or trivial that it’s not worthy of a twit, and won’t give rise to someone twitting their congratulations in response. It’s been explained to me that the reason for this is that some lawyers want to be loved by all others in the hope that they might refer them a case. The social media gurus teach that people hire lawyers they like rather than lawyers who are competent. Being liked merely requires liking others on twitter. Any idiot can do it.
But any lawyer who refers a case to another lawyer based upon their twitter relationship should be disbarred. Then beaten, tarred and feathered. If this requires further explanation, please let me know so I can block you on twitter.
Granted, my observations are limited to lawyers and those whose occupations are related to the law, whether by their efforts or their desire to sell themselves to lawyers. They maintain an obsession with numbers and superficial engagement, but what amazes is that they are well received, maybe even loved, for allowing anyone and everyone into their sphere who merely chooses to twit something nice at them. Whether this is peculiar to lawyers I can’t say. My experience is too limited to extrapolate, and my interest too limited to delve deeper.
I’m not sure what message to take from all of this, but I am disturbed by it. It’s clear that some, more likely many, are so hungry for interaction that they will take it from anyone. We don’t become BFFs with every person we meet in real life, so why would we do so with every person with a twitter account? Yet most do exactly that. If your bio says lawyer, then every other lawyer on twitter is expected to welcome you with open arms, follow you back, chat with you whenever you decide to throw a twit their way, and do so in a manner that pleases the happy twitterer. It’s like another planet.
Before some simpleton responds, “so if you hate twitter so much, just get out,” I add that I don’t hate twitter at all. Twitter isn’t at fault here. It’s just another technological marvel that allows people to communicate with others. This is about what twitter tells us about ourselves, in the way we use this tool to compensate for the isolation technology has formed around us, the elimination of barriers between us and anyone who decides to touch us, the desperate need for intimacy, even if it means being intimate with disembodied names of unknown persons of dubious origins.
Most people don’t have a problem with any of this. “It is what it is,” goes the uncontemplative twitterer. My reason for sitting back and removing myself from the clatter is that I, along with some other blawgers to whom I owe a debt of appreciation for making me think, were twitting the other night about how the vitality of the blawgosphere has changed significantly since twitter became popular.
We used to have rousing discussions on the blawgs. They rarely happen anymore. Synergies were created by blawging our nuanced disagreements about some complex detail in a case or trial practice. No longer. As one long-time blawger said, it’s gotten boring. It seems like everything has been said and we’re just repeating ourselves for the benefit of the newcomers. It’s not worth the effort.
We all agreed, however, that one of the problems was the dispersion of effort along the many formats available today. Writing a cogent blawg comment is very hard work compared with a twit. Engaging in thoughtful discussion requires thinking. Twitting requires nothing. Twit “hi everybody” and people will twit back, “hi.” The need for acceptance and approval is sated, and the community has embraced you to prove you are not alone and worthless. The twitterer is happy.
It’s not as though I expect anyone to give much thought to the nature of what they twit, or how it may divert their energies from more difficult, maybe even thought-provoking pursuits, No one would heed a curmudgeon when it comes to an appreciation of technology. But my interest lies in things that make me think, wonder, question and challenge ideas.
Twitter can be a fun toy from time to time, but it will never satisfy intellectual curiosity. It’s just not built to do so, and there is no indication that those people enjoying twitter’s munificence day after day, night after night, really care.