Vivek's blog: 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some frank thoughts as to why your Twitter feed sucks

Think about your best conversations. They were probably pretty damn special. You might have shared a moment of fury with someone as pissed off as you about an injustice. Or bonded over an amazing landscape or piece of music. Or, on your best days, co-created something brand new.

Those moments are awesome. They're also rare.

Most of our everyday interactions—even with our favorite people—are boring. We don't push ourselves, or each other, particularly hard. We don't learn all that much. It's pretty hard to convince yourself that you're engaged in a transcendent act of self-improvement when you're upside-down on the couch watching Battlestar Galactica marathons with loved ones.

Nevertheless, we enjoy each others' company, even when we're not doing anything particularly interesting. We've even invented an entire sub-language, "small talk," to keep us chattering when we have nothing important to say. This frankly inane banter (are you really all that freaking shocked by the fact that it's slightly warmer than it was last June? Why are you even devoting brain space to remembering the bloody weather last June?) is there simply because we are completely unable to hang out with anyone in silence. With exceptions.

Which is all totally fine. After all, that's how we're put together. If small talk lets us hang without gouging each other's eyes out, well, that can't be a bad thing.

Except that it has the TOTAL OPPOSITE EFFECT on social media.

Every single mindless piece of quasi-nonsense that allows us to enjoy other people's presence offline becomes a barrier to enjoying their presence online.

Take these three examples I've just pulled from my Twitter and Facebook feeds:

1. "Settling into my seat. Are they making these armrests more uncomfortable?"
Offline meaning: Hello, new airplane neighbor! Let us share in our mutual sorrow in being in this cramped, fart-filled metal tube for the next three hours. Heck, if you don't laugh, you'll cry. Am I right?

Online meaning: Look! Not only am I on a plane, but I've been on a plane before!!!

2. "I can't believe how much of that cake I just ate."
Offline meaning: I am vulnerable and self-deprecating, full of endearing human foibles. And sugar. Come, let us be nonthreatening together!

Online meaning: Not only did I eat some cake without you, but I'm bizarrely going to brag about my gluttony. Jealous yet?

3. "I'm so excited about my new shoes!"
Offline meaning: You and I have similarly stellar tastes in high fashion. Let's get rapturous about style!

Online meaning: I am so excited about my new shoes.

It gets worse. When we interact offline, we share experiences that we don't have to articulate. Because we're all there at the same time, actually doing those things.

Online, though, the context is stripped away. For some reason, we feel the need to add this context back in—despite there being absolutely no rational reason to do so.

Unconvinced? Some examples:

1. "I'm at [PLACE] with [PERSON]." 
Only your stalkers care. And possibly the IRS.

2. "I'm eating [FOOD], which looks like this: [LINK TO PICTURE OF FOOD]."
If I could eat an Instagram, the world would be a much, much better place, and Instagram would be worth the $1,000,000,000 that Facebook paid for it.

3. "Looking through some cool restaurants for tonight's dinner."
This adds absolutely no value to anyone's life. What WOULD be valuable is if you told me what restaurant you ended up choosing. Because I would NEVER EVER EVER go to that restaurant. Because when I got there you would be Instagramming the fucking amuse-bouche. (I have no idea why I chose to finally swear this far down the post. I mean, only my mother is still reading. Hi Mom! Sorry about the F-word. Let's Skype at the normal time on Sunday morning. Cool?)

The thing is, I still follow these people—not just because they're my friends (what a TERRIBLE criterion for deciding what authors to read), but because this is really, really hard shit. We are so conditioned to fill small social silences with the Styrofoam peanuts of chit-chat that it becomes nearly impossible to interact with a faceless community online without those crutches.

In fact, a lot of folks make such a valiant effort to avoid these behaviors, which they see as supremely narcissistic, that they fall off the opposite cliff: they become retweeting machines, simply passing on links and breaking news as though they were Reuters or something.

This makes me so sad. I follow people because they're people, not so I can learn the latest from Mashable. (OK, bad example. Pete Cashmore is, theoretically, a person.)

Stuff that people actually want to read, look at, listen to, and watch is supremely unselfish. It results from an act of true giving. That's not easy, and it's almost as rare as those perfect moments with your friends.

So I'm going to try to be as unselfish as possible when I post. I'm going to try to make sure that either I'm saying something insightful that might trigger creative thoughts or responses and, perhaps, a conversation; or I'm at the very least being entertaining. Or trying.

After all, I suck at this as much as you do.