Aggregator of Novelty


A few months ago I created a Twitter account. I wasn’t really interested in Twitter, but a couple of people who don’t do Facebook asked me to post (errr… ‘tweet‘, I guess) when I put up new articles, and I try to be accomodating when it comes to that sort of thing. I don’t like doing anything overt to promote my site, but if somebody wants to read the new stuff, it seems like the least I can do is make it easy for them. If you’re interested, my Twitter username is @kenthomasdotus – as in “Ken Thomas DOT us” – like the website. See how clever that is?

It was kind of interesting at first. I enjoyed coming up with a background for my home page, tweaking the fonts and colors so it was kind of consistent with my website – I always have fun playing with the graphic design elements. Deciding who to follow was fun too. Everybody who is anybody has a Twitter account, so it was mostly thinking about who might have interesting things to say, then seeing who they follow.

After about 2 weeks I was bored with it.

You can’t help but compare Twitter to Facebook, since both claim to be part of the Social Networking Phenomenon. The perception seems to be that Facebook is a blue collar, low-class sort of affair. Twitter on the other hand, is what all the cool kids are doing.

In the 1970's, every bathroom in America was required by law to have this poem hanging on the wall.

I understand where that comes from. You know who’s on Facebook? Your cousin is on Facebook. The one who plays Farmville, posts hideous pictures of angels and puppies, inspirational poetry so bad that it makes Footprints in the Sand look profound, and claims to be ‘wild and crazy’ every time she has a margarita at the Olive Garden. That guy you went to High Scool with is also on Facebook. The one who gained 400 pounds, collects a disability check because he’s too goddamned fat to fit in a car, and spends approximately 22 hours out of each day posting links to YouTube videos of 1980’s hair bands.

Twitter, on the other hand? Ashton Kutcher is on Twitter. Lady Gaga is on Twitter. Conan O’Brien is on Twitter. Stephen Colbert is on Twitter. Cormac McCarthy is on Twitter, and Stieg Larsson would be if he wasn’t stone dead. Let’s face it – these people are much cooler and more interesting than your actual friends, and on Twitter you can follow them and sort of somewhat pretend you know them a little bit.

I guess it’s the ‘follow’ part that kind of rubs me the wrong way. If I send you a Friend Request on Facebook, it carries the implication that I’m kind of interested in what you have to say. By accepting the request, you’re saying you might be interested in my thoughts as well. It’s a shallow relationship, but at least it’s reciprocal. On Twitter, you don’t Friend people, you Follow them. You can Follow anybody, and anybody can Follow you. It’s a big series of one-way conversations. Of course, two people can follow each other, and that seems to happen fairly often, but it’s not an implicit part of the system.

I remember that when I started messing with Facebook a few years ago, one of my complaints was that it seemed like a vehicle designed to encourage self-expression and discourage real communication. Facebook doesn’t hold a candle to Twitter in that regard.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all bad. Some Twitter feeds are genuinely fascinating. Guys like Grant Imahara and Adam Savage from Mythbusters, author William Gibson, and magician Penn Jilette really make the most of the medium. I think it gives them the chance to talk about things they find interesting, that are kind of outside their normal career channels. I enjoy that, but it’s not the kind of thing that draws you into the conversation. It’s a very one-way type of communication. It is in effect, a form of marketing, even if the only thing they’re marketing is themselves. Believe me, Twitter is a marketing vehicle first and foremost.

I’d also have to admit that the quality of the posts (I have a hard time saying ‘tweets’) is better than I thought it would be. Before I started messing with it, my feelings about Twitter could be summed up with the following statement: “I don’t give a rat’s ass what Charlie Sheen had for breakfast, and nobody wants to hear about my bacon and eggs either” – but it isn’t usually that mundane, at least not from the people I’ve been following. Mostly what people ‘tweet’ is links. Links to photos, interesting articles, weird facts, things that reinforce their opinion, stuff like that. William Gibson (whom I think we can all agree is one of the sharper knives in the socio/cultural silverware drawer) has said Twitter is an “Aggregator of Novelty”, and I believe that’s one of the most accurate descriptions I’ve heard.

Talking heads and pundits are simply awestruck by Twitter’s ability to provide real-time news and updates from people who are on the scene of disasters and wars and things. They go on and on about it. I followed some of that during the Japanese Megaquake last month, but to tell you the truth I didn’t find it all that interesting or useful. If I’d actually been in Tokyo and was trying to learn whether or not my children were going to glow in the dark, I probably would have felt differently, but I’m not in Tokyo. I’m in North Carolina, and I’ll happily await the morrow if it means I get to read a full article that’s been researched, verified and edited, with some background and context thrown in. In my experience, live coverage isn’t necessarily reliable coverage. The medium seems to facilitate hysteria, and when it comes to stuff happening halfway around the world that I can’t influence anyway, I’m pretty comfortable waiting until the facts come out.

And now that I think about it, that tendency to want a little more depth to my information may lie at the root of what I don’t like about Twitter. I like blogs. I like it when people put some thought into it. A little effort. A little articulation. Give me something worth reading. A little meat to chew on, you know? Food for my own thoughts. A quip or a witticism are nice every once in awhile, but unless you’re a Haiku master, the odds are good that if you can say it with 140 characters, I probably didn’t really need to hear it.

I guess the upshot of all this rambling is just to say that I’ve tried Twitter, and it really isn’t my thing. If that makes me a loser doomed to hang out with the proletariat on Facebook, then I’m cool with that. That crowd is more my speed anyway, even if they do want me to pray for their stupid cats and they send me polls with questions about American Idol contestants.

As a courtesy to those who requested it, when I post a new article here on the site I’ll keep using Twitter to pass on a link, but I think that’s going to be the extent of my involvement.



2 comments to Aggregator of Novelty

  • I can’t seem to get Twitter to grab my interest. I can’t get smart phones or ipods/ipads to grab my interest either though, so maybe it’s me.

    With my blog, I could care less if anyone ever reads it. I’m happy when they do and I consider replies and comments a sort of gift from people taking the time to share their input, but it’s something I can look back on and appreciate for myself if nothing else. It’s an actual piece of property that I created. What do you get from Twitter? A bunch of one line posts that don’t even belong to you. I only see it as another way to promote a blog and there are better ways.

  • Oh, I SO agree with you! I signed up for Twitter about a year ago and I find it so boring that I forget to even look at it for weeks at a time. And I rarely tweet.