I have never met Biz Stone, Rachel Sklar, Susan Orlean or Jay Rosen, but every morning when I sign onto Twitter, there they are, whispering in my ear with a disconcerting intimacy, telling me about their lives, what they are concerned with moment to moment, their fears and desires. I would have to say that I’m getting to know them on a daily basis, better perhaps than my own husband. Recently when Susan, a New Yorker writer, complained about the humiliations of acquiring blurbs for her new book, I could feel her pain. And when Jay, an NYU journalism professor, and Richard Nash, the former Soft Skull Editor, worried over the future of publishing, I hung on their every word, and chased down their bit.ly and TinyURL links and retweets.
When I compare this Twitter feed to the stream from my real life, I wonder if I would even want this sort of continuous consciousness-updating from my family and friends, say from my husband, for example, who at the moment is worried mainly about his aging parents and making a living in a down economy. The Top Twitterers, though, they are concerned with things much more interesting and current. Recently, when former Huff Po editor and media diva Rachel Sklar was flitting about the social scene, I followed along. And when actor/writer/director Kevin Smith went to that film festival—to say nothing of his smutty posts about sex with his wife—well, I wish I could say that I looked away. I didn’t.
The truth is, I get far too much vicarious pleasure out of tagging along with this crowd of thought leaders and media and tech celebrities, and it feels highly voyeuristic to me. But I refuse to shut it off, perish the thought. Why? Because I am the sort of writer who usually works in more than 140 characters. I am busy churning out two to three essays or long-form blog posts a week, as well as penning assorted poems and stories, and usually maintaining some kind of longer work in progress.
My daily life consists mostly of me and my computer holed up in an office in my small overheated Cape on Boston’s South Shore, with trips out only to walk the dogs, pick up my son from school, and teach two writing workshops a week. I admit it, there are days—too many really—when I don’t find the need to wash my hair or put on something other than the yoga pants I slept in. For a shut-in writer like me, the allure of the Twitterverse is almost too much to stand. I think of it as “my feed,” by which I mean, “my fix,” and I ration myself to two or three sessions per day.
I rationalize that I need Twitter because I have to publicize my own blog and writing. But my posts seem anemic by comparison with those I’m following. I’m not adding a link where you can catch me on YouTube talking to Colbert. And when I sign on, doesn’t my pulse beat a little faster, as I step onto the fast lane?
As is the case with all voyeurism, Twitter gives me the sense that I’m sharing in the immediate experiences of these other people, even though I’m really not. And you feel all those same confused feelings on Twitter that are usually associated with voyeurism: fascination, jealousy, vicarious participation, secret thrill. Because I don’t actually know any of these people in the flesh, they take on the tantalizing glamour of things appreciated from afar. One feels that they are “in the know”—that they understand better what is happening in the world, and that, I guess, is a certain kind of power they hold over us. The kind that in the old days drew people to fashionable salons. We summarize this now by saying we want to be “part of the cultural conversation.” The truth is, we want to be in there with the cool kids. If this were high school, the Head Twitterers would be the in-crowd.
The funny thing is that the most fabulous of the Twitters were probably themselves super nerds back in high school. And that’s actually one of the things I adore about Twitter. Our American culture has long been obsessed with celebrities, but it has generally been at the level of twenty-three-year-old party girls with store-bought breasts and hair extensions. Now, suddenly, with Twitter, the arts, tech and intellectual class has our own equivalent. The Twitterati. You can pick who you want to follow from a collection of Twittering writers, college professors, journalists, and tech geeks. This has always been a class of people with too much to say and too few people to say it to. Now suddenly they have a growing audience, and Twitter is doing everybody a favor by limiting us all to 140 characters, which forces a much needed level of distillation and wit. If you want more, there’s the blog post. But who has time for that? I am actually a bit disheartened by the appearance on Twitter of real gold-plated celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. Please, I want to say to them, leave Twitter to the nerds!
If you are having trouble getting started microblogging, check out Twitter for Dummies and Twitter Top Success Secrets and Best Practices by Paul Hall. Amazon also lists the following books about business marketing on Twitter: Twitter Means Business: How Microblogging Can Help Or Hurt Your Company by Julio Ojeda-Zapata and Twitter Power: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet At A Time by Joel Comm, et al.