The Very Best of Twitter
It is easy to bash Twitter. Oddly enough, it is just as easy to bash Blogspot or another top ranked blogging site, but fewer people do so. Both contain a lot of people expressing themselves poorly or shamelessly promoting something. Most are barely coherent. Most feature poor spelling and a distinct lack of proper English. Blogging has been around longer than tweeting, so why does Blogspot get a pass while Twitter gets the shaft?
I tried to find some hard numbers to crunch about users and posts, but mostly found bloggers who seemed to pull the data out of thin air. The top five hits were also more than two years old, and hardly indicative of the present state of Twitter. In terms of its growth as a promotional tool, it would probably be better to compare Twitter to MySpace, but, again, there are no reliable numbers. In terms of its growth as a personal/social communications tool, it would probably be better to compare it to Facebook status updates, but good luck getting specifics from those guys.
There are a few things that distinguish Twitter from the others — and for the worse. For starters, when you encounter a tweet, what you see is all there is. We abandoned telegrams for telephones, and we abandoned pagers for cell phones. But whereas we have several ways of sharing abundant amounts of information online, millions are opting to revert to truncated messages. It forces people to ignore rules of grammar and punctuation. I’ve even seen posts on Twitter that have no vowels in order to make room for more words. People are intentionally choosing a service that provides less. Technology should not reduce our options, yet that is precisely what Twitter does.
I don’t wish to sound condescending, but I have a hard time imagining a thoughtful, intelligent person who would opt for Twitter over — well — almost any other option. Ideas can be explained more eloquently in a blog. Media can be shared more easily on Facebook or MySpace. I endeavored to find people I admire who use Twitter and follow their feeds for a while to see what they do. I created a generic Twitter profile and got down to finding people worth following. Ultimately, they can be broken down into two groups: self-promoters and jokers.
There were a few people I tried following, such as filmmaker Kevin Smith. A word of warning to those who might be considering following Smith on Twitter: He will inundate your feed. He posts a lot about where he’ll be appearing, but a lot of his posts are idle thoughts or answered fan questions. He is not alone in this. And if I wanted to know where Smith was at any given moment in time, or how he felt when he was kicked off an airplane for being overweight, then Twitter serves that purpose. But I enjoy Smith’s writing, and his writing is typically lengthy, complex, and not the sort of thing one could do on Twitter. The result is that the writing he does on Twitter is sub-par.
Whereas Smith is quick with self-deprecating, self-referential posts on Twitter, William Shatner is quick to promote himself, his causes, himself, his TV appearances, and himself. He just goes overboard. There is a way to market something (or someone) without oversaturating the public. After all these years, Shatner has yet to learn this skill.
In the last few years, some folks have made names for themselves from things they’ve posted on Twitter. “Sh*t My Dad Says” is a series of posts that is being transformed into a TV series starring the aforementioned Shatner. Much like “South Park,” once the shock value has worn off, there isn’t much substance to keep me engaged.
At this point, you have to have scrolled back to the top of this article and noticed that the subtitle “The Very Best of Twitter” does not seem applicable. Sorry about that. This article began with me wanting to highlight some of the better feeds on Twitter, but I didn’t feel I could do that without first pointing out that it is, by and large, a steaming pile of dung. The handful of people who have made the most of it are, for the most part, comics who have found just the right balance between goofy one-liners and promotion. They are good at something bad, so please adjust your praise or adoration accordingly.
Craig Ferguson and Conan O’Brien are talk show hosts/comedians who seem to share the same feeling about Twitter that I do. Nevertheless, they post consistently funny jokes while promoting their respective shows (in Conan’s case, his live shows). Both also make fun of Twitter in their shows, but seem to have conceded to the assumption that to ignore Twitter is to face social obsolescence.
Fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “RiffTrax,” or “Cinematic Titanic” would enjoy following Mike, Kevin, Bill, J. Elvis, and Frank. Their banter back-and-forth is good for a laugh or two. It is often like looking in on a group of talented but silly friends who are IMing each other.
A month or so ago, Roger Ebert appeared on Oprah to announce that he had found new technology to simulate his old voice. However, he didn’t need to, because he has clearly found his voice on Twitter. Here is perhaps the only example of a situation where Twitter can be beneficial — for those unable to share their brilliance or wit in the usual ways. Not everything Ebert posts are gems, but it is a chance for the man to comment on the world. I cannot help but think of Harlan Ellison’s insightful yet dark short story “I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream” when I think of Roger Ebert. Here’s a guy who made a living by being one of few on the planet who could rant articulately. Suddenly silenced, it is nice to see him find an outlet.
I would be disingenuous if I did not include another reason for the existence of Twitter: It is a safe and legal method of stalking people. This is the part of Twitter that I don’t understand, but am quite content to take advantage of. For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone, famous or otherwise, would want to post where they are or what they’re doing to anyone and everyone with access to the internet. But one cannot help but be at least a little bit curious about people, and if they are willing to provide insight into their lives, who am I to judge? To that end, Shannen Doherty, Meghan McCain, Ella Morton, Sarah Silverman, Marina Orlova, and Melissa Gilbert are all on my Twitter stalker list, not because they are all fetching reads (though some are), but because they are all fetching.
Last but not least, there are a few that I follow strictly as promotional tools. I am a big fan of radio, but I don’t listen to it often, instead relying mostly on podcasts. So I follow some radio stations and personalities in order to learn about upcoming shows or events. From Mitch Benn (singer/songwriter for BBC’s “The Now Show”) to Paula Poundstone (regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”), their Twitter feeds help me stay in the loop.
But that is basically it. Out of however many millions of people there are on Twitter, I follow less than 60 on an infrequent basis, and only 6 on a regular basis. I don’t post anything on Twitter because a quick Google search of my name returns nearly 15,000 hits. In other words, I am online enough already.
As is often the case, my “Best of” list will probably not match anyone else’s (even though I’m right and everyone else is wrong). I know there are those who adore Twitter and see it as invaluable to their lives. Honestly, though, if it went away tomorrow, who would miss it?
In the grand tradition of those who Twitter, I should not forget to promote my regular series of the worst of Twitter: Hollywood Tw*ts!