Tuesday, October 23, 2012

the Twitter thing

I've gotten a few emails about this over the last couple days, so---

Reprinted with permission, as always.

Twitter is a medium and to a certain degree you have to divide criticism of a medium's use from the medium itself. But it's also true that there are certain uses which predominate with any medium, and that's especially true of Twitter, which has always famously been dominated by a small number of power users who define it. My criticisms of Twitter as its used are multiple, but largely they boil down to this: Twitter is used as a kind of consensus machine where the like-minded band together to dismiss opinions or criticism they don't like, by creating the illusion of consensus. If a particular group of socially or professionally connected people don't like a story or post or whatever, someone will tweet something disparaging about it, some other people will retweet it, some people will give an attaboy.... So you can easily create the impression of consensus. Now, you might say that Twitter is an open medium, and anybody can join. And that's true. But not everybody can actually get into the conversation. The system of followers means that rebuttals or responses are only broadcast if the people making them also have a big audience, or if an individual tweeter is principled enough to reply to criticism from people who aren't well connected. It can be kind of a closed loop in that sense. And one of the funny things about it is that people often behave exactly this way when I complain about it-- they prove the point in trying to refute it.

There's also a lot of fun and interesting content on Twitter, and when people aren't falling all over themselves to show how clever and above everything they are, it can be a useful medium. Unfortunately 90% of tweets seem intended to prove just how achingly savvy and condescending the given person tweeting is, and I find that kind of exhausting.

So I would turn the question around the other way: why on earth should I feel apologetic or embarrassed for responding to what's written on a public medium? Tweets are public. They are broadcast on the Web in exactly the same way as a blog or the New York Times. Sure, occasionally I'll do a Twitter search for my own name, and I follow a few Twitter feeds from people I think are interesting. It's a public medium! That's what it's there for! Do you think the people teasing me don't have a Google Alert on their names? I don't have a Twitter-- I did for awhile, but as a guy with no impulse control and a long history of instantly regretting the stupid stuff he's said, it's not a good idea-- so if I respond I'll respond here.

I think when people make fun of me for reading their tweets, they give the game away: they are essentially admitting that they want Twitter to give them the thrill of public expression without public accountability. Which is, you know, not that big a deal. There are worse sins. But the idea that I am being somehow silly in responding to tweets is built on an unhealthy understanding of public expression. Still, the most important point is always that the Internet is not real life and shouldn't be felt in the emotions of real life. As far as people throwing shade in general, hey, it happens. If I wasn't ready to get hit I wouldn't be willing to fight, and as long as the fights are gnarly I don't mind losing sometimes. Besides-- the people making fun of me for watching them are watching me watch them, after all.... 

If people hate on Twitter, you have my permission to tweet them the official Freddie deBoer (and Suavecito) Deal With It gif:


nancydrew said...

Freddie, I've no opinion about your twitter responses. But looks like Suavecito is a "ragdoll" kitty. They are the loviest of the lovies. Cuddle up. :)

bmcmolo said...

"Still, the most important point is always that the Internet is not real life and shouldn't be felt in the emotions of real life. "

Well-put, as usual!

Brendan said...

I think the best way to respond to twitter would be with a twitter of your own.

I'm not on twitter either so my opinion counts for little, but: I don't really buy that twitter is any worse about enforcing consensus/in-group thinking than any other medium, from what I've seen.

Son_et_lumiere said...

One of the things that annoys me most about Twitter is how hard it is to follow a longer conversation between people. You know when there's a couple of people on your timeline, @ing back and forth at each other, and you're trying to follow along. But the way it's laid out is so unwieldy, and then you go too far down the tree and the flashy javascript breaks down and you have to refresh the page and then you've lost the conversation.

It's really not that hard Twitter, BBS and forums perfected this technology 20 years ago!

There aren't really any proper discussions on Twitter, you're right. It is just a smart-jerk echo chamber where people try and say the snarkiest little one-liner and get as many retweets as possible. I mean sure, some of them are cute enough, and it's mildly diverting to read what random interesting person x is doing of a day, but jeez. The discourse on Twitter is generally about the level of your average soap opera.

Dave said...

Everywhere Freddie looks, he is astonished and dismayed not to find a Habermasian utopia. Maybe it's just you, mate.

Freddie said...


Anonymous said...

You missed the basic point that you mischaracterized Sunkara's tweet -- especially since that was an instance of him using the medium to attack a piece everyone else was lauding, seems especially ironic.

Consensus making / pressures all exists, just bad example.

elizabeth said...

I want those sunglasses for Suavecito in real life.