I joined Twitter back in 2007. Then, no one knew what it was and everyone I explained it to called it stupid. Of course, I said it was going to be huge and that, one day, everyone would use it. And, of course, no one believed me.
Now Twitter is so well known that I’m not only vindicated but I’m also slightly afraid of my prophetic abilities. What makes Twitter so awesome is that it’s real-time updated. Right now, as I type this, people on Twitter are posting bits of information. It’s always on. No matter what time of day it is or what’s happening, I can go there and have a conversation with someone or listen to conversations as they happen. It’s like a party that is constantly being refreshed. You know it’s there and you’re welcome to hang out there. But, if you’ve got other stuff to do, cool. See you later.
Some people don’t get that. And when they don’t get that, they have a problem with Twitter. But Twitter isn’t the problem. They are.
Here’s an example. Ezra Klein writes Wonkblog at the Washington Post. It’s a great blog about politics and economics and you should read it. A couple of days ago, he posted “The Problem with Twitter” and tried to articulate why he had a problem with, uh, Twitter.
The problem isn’t Twitter, exactly. Twitter, like so much else, is excellent when consumed in moderation. But it’s also an unusually addictive product, and it has certain unusual properties that help it crowd out other information streams.
If I neglect my RSS feed today, the posts will still be there tomorrow. The same is true for the books I’m reading, the magazines piled on my nightstand, the tabs open in my browser, the long-form I’ve saved to Pocket, the e-mails I’ve filed away to read later, the think tank papers saved to my desktop, and pretty much every other sort of information I consume. The backlog nags at me, but I’ll get to it.
Twitter elicits a more poisonous information anxiety. It moves so fast that if I’m not continuously checking in, I completely lose track of the conversation — and it’s almost impossible to figure out what happened three hours ago, much less two days ago. I can’t save Twitter for later, and thus there’s always a pressure to check Twitter now. Twitter ends up taking more of my time than I’d like it to, as there’s a constant reason to check it rather than, say, reading a magazine article.
I like Ezra Klein. I think he’s smart and talented. That’s why it shocked me that he had no idea how Twitter works. Then I started thinking: Only people who were on Twitter from the beginning actually fully understand how it works. The longer you’ve been on Twitter, the better you understand it. The newer you are to it, the less you understand. To keep the party metaphor going: People who were at the party from the beginning enjoy it much more than the people who show up late, wondering why the party is going on and don’t know anyone.
Twitter isn’t a place to go to for news. It’s a place where news is available, and you can get news there if you want. But it’s not for consuming news. You shouldn’t even think of it that way. You can never find enough time to take all of Twitter in. That’s sort of the point. The idea that you’re missing something means that, when you are there, it’s a little special.
Twitter isn’t always relevant. Sometimes you get on Twitter and you might have twenty people posting the dumbest, stupidest crap you’ve ever read. When this happens, you just leave Twitter.
If you’re not enjoying Twitter, it’s your fault. Why is it your fault? Because you’re on Twitter, stupid. Twitter allows you to follow whom ever you want. If you don’t want to hear about people talking about sports, stop following them on Twitter. If you don’t like it when that guy posts all that stuff about fixing his car, stop following him on Twitter. If you’re sick of seeing that girl post her lunch on Twitter, yep, stop following her on Twitter. And if you feel like you’re wasting your time on Twitter, by all means, do us all a favor and stop using Twitter.
Ezra Klein’s problem is that he has to use Twitter to promote Wonkblog. That’s fine. But what his blog post also reveals is that he isn’t using Twitter properly. He’s come to the party (Twitter). He brought some dip to the party (The dip is Wonkblog). He wants people to try the dip. Then he bitches and complains about all the stupid conversations at the party as people try his dip. It’s….well. It’s rude. And a little annoying. Of course you’re not going to like Twitter if you’re not really on Twitter to have a good time. If you’re on Twitter to promote your website or your TV show or yourself, Twitter isn’t fun. It’s a job. You’ve come to the party for the wrong reasons and, thus, you think the party sucks. Of course that’s your perspective. How could it not be? But, understand, that makes Twitter suck for you, not suck in general.
My Twitter is private, allowing me to say the most insane sentences that I can string together. My Twitter is a private party, which makes it even more fun. I’ve even curated my Facebook and my Twitter to the point where I only see what I feel like seeing. Everyone can do this. All it takes is a few days, some patiences, a complete understanding of what gets on your nerves and the willpower to “hide” or “unfollow” people you know in real life. That’s it. And I can’t think of a better way to end this than by swirling up a quote from the master, Louis CK. Twitter doesn’t suck. Your life sucks around Twitter.