July 10, 2013 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I came to Twitter because I had a book to sell, and my misgivings about the whole enterprise meant that I would never be any good at it. A phrase comes to mind: I was “pissing into the void.” For 1 year, 4 months and 22 days—or 508 days total—Twitter became part of my daily thinking ritual. Writer Benjamin Anastas says Goodbye to Twitter Village. VQR editor Jane Friedman comments.
posted by shivohum (35 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm one of those who can't stand Twitter. I think it's one of the banes of the internet. I can understand that it has certain uses and I'm glad that it works for some people, but for me, it's just one more step in the ADDification of our current network structures. Yes yes, I've seen the XKCD.
posted by symbioid at 9:26 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh hey, Benjamin Anastas is still kicking around? I really liked An Underachiever's Diary when I was 17-18.

I'm a (washed-out, failed) writer who (unrelated to washout) was never able to come to terms with the idea of Twitter and always-on social networking, and the love of my life works in social media. This is a problem I've thought about a lot. And I think Friedman's conclusion is probably correct: no matter the personal proclivities of the writer in question, it's unfeasible to return to a time when writers were "just" "writers". If such a time ever existed.
posted by penduluum at 9:26 AM on July 10, 2013


Twitter doesn't get you followers, and yes, Twitter can make you lonely. I'm aware of both these things having sent subjectively amazing tweets out into the world and having nothing coming back for them. Twitter sucks as a publishing medium. It sucks when used to bolster the ego. You're another person at a party waving your arms up in the air, and you're never going to be as witty or as beloved as some of the other people you follow.

It always sucks to be *that* guy at the party. You're never going to feel connected if you spend your time trying to be popular.

But - he says "I also liked hearing directly from the readers who found me on Twitter, like the one who tweeted this picture from Instagram of my memoir in her handbag", and he calls this a side benefit.

This is not a side benefit. This is Twitter at its best.

Twitter is snatched moments, but it's snatched moments in near realtime, and that moves the perceptual framework away from publishing and towards conversing. Try tweeting that you're lonely or you're sad, and see what comes back to you. Try tweeting that shitty blurry picture of a duck you saw, and see what comes back. Try tweeting your opinion of what's currently playing out on TV, and you'll get the same back.

It's a conversation with friends, and friends only tell you you're ok when they would do in the real world. They only buy your books when they would do in the real world. And for the most part, much like the real world, they're content to just hang out with you, talking the same shit as you do, taking pleasure in the gaps between the moments.
posted by zoo at 9:38 AM on July 10, 2013 [13 favorites]

The nerve of that Salman Rushdie, having opinions on the passing of a celebrity!
posted by Chrysostom at 9:42 AM on July 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I find it helps if you imagine that we're all on a long car trip together, and it's reached that point where most people are absorbed in their own thoughts, or a book or in looking out the window or playing with their gadgets, and instead of conversation, someone makes the occasional observation, and someone else may or may not respond with a single sentence, and that either right then or several minutes later, and occasionally this may lead to a temporary burst of conversation.

Viewed that way it's not alienating it's comfortable and companionable.

It's also complete bullshit and I made that up and I don't use twitter.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:46 AM on July 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

I started writing a sentence-by-sentence reaction to the various problems with Anastas's essay, but I think the summary is actually right here, and is pretty much all that needs to be said:

That was the bargain. It wasn’t quite a devil’s bargain. But it felt murky enough to me that I could never quite buy in all the way. I felt needy.

That, I think, is the thesis statement of these over 4000 words. The author has a deep-seated neediness that makes him super-neurotic about whether he and other people are behaving "correctly", rather than exploring the fun of a new medium. He then pinpoints twitter as the source of his neurosis, rather than his own brain.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:52 AM on July 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you come to Twitter already crying, "Why is no one listening to me?" it's going to be frustrating. This whole thing read like a troll. The thing about crazy spellings of company names is 10 years too late (and it's weird for a writer to get hung up on the naming of things, as though "Benjamin" was something carved in stone when humans first crawled out of the sea).

You can ignore me though: about a third of my Twitter followers are under the very mistaken impression I am that Tom Clancy. So find a celebrity who is not on Twitter, change your name and sign back up.
posted by yerfatma at 9:53 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is one hell of a lot of words used to say, "Twitter doesn't work for me and I don't like it, so I'm not going to use it."
posted by usonian at 9:53 AM on July 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Twitter, like any web site or any endeavor for that matter, is worthwhile up to a certain extent, and then kind of quickly sucks away your time. Because tweets are so very tiny, I find that following lots of people and posting lots generally leaves me feeling ultra-dissatisfied.

It doesn't help that I've found most of my IRL friends suck at using Twitter. On Facebook I can friend them and then disable them on my newsfeed, but on Twitter I'm limited to just not following them. Boooo.

Currently I don't check Twitter all that often, though conversations with MeFites on Twitter is usually pretty fun. But I can't say it's responsible for all that much wasted time, because I'm on Twitter for about a tenth of the time I play Skyrim, and Skyrim doesn't even give me the illusion of doing something useful with my life.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:54 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

"My misgivings about the whole enterprise meant that I would never be any good at it." Where it = "anything."
posted by Apropos of Something at 9:56 AM on July 10, 2013

I find it helps if you imagine that we're all on a long car trip together...

Twitter exhausts me like a long car trip with my dad and his undiagnosed ADHD, where every single thought that crosses his mind needs to be bestowed upon everybody because if it crossed his mind it is obviously THAT IMPORTANT and oh god are we almost there?
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:58 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

...and Skyrim doesn't even give me the illusion of doing something useful with my life.

Spoken like a real snowback milk-drinker.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:00 AM on July 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Benjamin Anastas wants you to get off his lawn because you weren't paying attention to his lawn like you were supposed to.
posted by Kitteh at 10:05 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to be a Twitterer like you until I took...
posted by Damienmce at 10:11 AM on July 10, 2013

Referring to Twitter in terms of ADD and ADHD are missing the point, I think, not to mention mistaking the delivery system for the inner meaning, the medium for the 140-character message.

Like anything, overuse of or dependence on Twitter may cause upset stomach, diarrhea, disorientation, abdominal swelling, and hair loss.

But for the people who thrive on the Tao of Twitter, there's nothing like it. That stream of consciousness you call "ADD thinking" are info tidbits that occasionally congeal into long conversations, IRL meet ups, and lasting relationships. You tailor the stream to your interests, which can be as varied as you are.

As an example, I have had fascinating windows on the life of scientists I follow -- their day-to-day procedures, career/funding concerns, and wildly diverse outside interests, from disparate disciplines and across the world. And there is a lot of punning! Without Twitter, the layperson like myself would never have the chance to see that up close.

Now expand that example community of people to writers, travelers, cooks, cyclers, photographers, hikers, or any number of other interests and hobbies. Vast Venn diagrams of associations and experiences.

Like the Internet itself, it is a connection and communication tool. It's not meant to replace the rest of your tools. If you approach it as the end-all, be-all, you're going to be disappointed. Plus, the swelling.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:14 AM on July 10, 2013

So... I'm just starting this sort of... I dunno... Thesis.

It sort of occurred to me while in MeChat about the architecture of various online services/systems, and in particular, how they frame our interactions with other individuals and how we think in general.

In homage to Vannevar Bush I called it As We Do Think

And all I have right now is just a very brief outline overview of the sort of components I'm thinking about. It's a topic I've thought about since the beginning. My original utopian ideas of a sort of hyperthought consciousness raising via the network, to realizing a few years later that it was tending towards ADD processes in thinking... And then with Twitter an even stronger ADDification. But the chat made me realize that there's something substantially different in the mode of interaction in live chat vs twitter even though in some ways they're superficially similar (near realtime, quick, short spurts of text). And how mentally, I felt, in chat, vs how I feel in Twitter, and how these compare to something like Facebook or G+ vs Livejournal, let alone E-Mail, and then hopefully to discuss potential future modes that have yet to be created based upon the atoms/components of these systems that have not been combined in a particular way yet.

I wonder if I could make it a book.

Upon Preview: OMFG... Balonious Assault ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY shares how I feel about Twitter right there.
posted by symbioid at 10:19 AM on July 10, 2013

This is the last time I'll ever tweet!
You'll be missed.
posted by mattbucher at 10:22 AM on July 10, 2013

Like the Internet itself, it is a connection and communication tool.

Tool? Like Facebook, it's mostly a time-sink, unless you use it to exclude non-users from professional or social groups, in which case it's primary worth is as an arbitrary gatekeeper. Annoyingly vapid and distressingly centralized. The notion that you must be on Twitter or Facebook to make a living should be resisted ferociously.

I like tumblr and pinterest, tho. Easy to engage or disengage, easy to choose how involved or how simple your contributions are, and no-one ever chastises you for not having an account.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:24 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Twitter is possibly the greatest specialized news filtering mechanism to ever exist.
posted by aramaic at 10:27 AM on July 10, 2013

I like tumblr and pinterest, tho. Easy to engage or disengage, easy to choose how involved or how simple your contributions are, and no-one ever chastises you for not having an account.

I don't understand why you are unable to engage/disengage as easily from Twitter or indeed Facebook. However, if you base your behavior and choices on the whims of people shallow enough to depend on a single insular website (or any social "gene pool") for their entire existence, it's going to suck, no matter what the website is.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:31 AM on July 10, 2013

Is it me or are there a lot of opiners on the internet
posted by Teakettle at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's doesn't make for a very clicky headline, but the truth of the matter is that Twitter works amazingly well for some people and not at all for others. For some, it's incredibly unpleasant and a time suck; for others, it's a great way to build a list of smart people who talk about things you care about.

Depends on how you communicate. Depends on what you want. Depends on how much you want to write. Depends on what decisions you make about who to follow.

Asking whether Twitter is good is just like asking whether the telephone is good. "On the one hand, it's used for telemarketing! On the other hand, it's used to wish your mother happy birthday! IS IT GOOD OR BAD?" It's pointless.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:47 AM on July 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

The only people I know whose Twitter logic I can follow are professional journalists who get mojo by breaking stories or by being up to date on the latest breaking news stories. It amuses me when they have a big foofaraw over mistakes with false tweets. On the sports talk radio this past week I must have heard fifteen minutes about some guy whose name I have never heard before and will not recognize if I ever hear it again that works for some BigNewsCorp who tweeted that Dwight Howard was a 50-50 shot to sign with Los Angeles when it was already a done deal with Houston.

They were going berzerk.
posted by bukvich at 11:10 AM on July 10, 2013

I effin love Twitter.
posted by Legomancer at 11:30 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

So I'm sympathetic -- I've seen artist friends struggle with the Brand!New!Imperative! to tweet and crowdfund and build connection with your audience every single second (see Amanda Palmer for the type of person who likes this "always on" public-facing life, see the culture of New Capitalism in which you must forever be improving, forever be selling your shinier self).

But after skimming TFA, I tend to agree that while Twitter isn't for Anastas, he's missed why some people may tweet because it's not only to promote your book tour or share SQUIRREL!-type ADD musings. I think the strange power of @ mentions to pull the attention of public figures is pretty mesmerizing, and the fact that interaction between fan and superstar or constituent and city councilmember plays out in public is always amazing. When I am excited about an urban planning project or personage, I'm hoping that there's an associated Twitter account, just because it's enjoyable to let them know someone is digging their work but an email feels like too much. I think the impulse that drives people on AskMe to devote time to answering strangers also is at play in certain social media interactions. You feel more connected to humanity in its teeming imperfections.

But that's why this one person uses Twitter. And as me, I'm totally freaked out by Foursquare, ambivalent about Yelp, obsessed with Tumblr, somewhat baffled by Facebook, and apparently not visually motivated enough for Pinterest or Instagram or Vine. Maybe we can create a "Personality Type Test" based on which social media platforms a person prefers.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:59 AM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

From the commentary link: "Blogging is as much social media as tweeting, Facebooking, and all the rest of it."

I really, really, really doubt this these days. I love me some blogging, but anything with short updates that literally anyone who has ever heard of you is reading (and making dramas about) is a pretty different animal to me. Most people seem to be dropping blogging for only tweeting anyway, and reading paragraphs is just not the trendy thing to do any more. When I hear people going on and on about social media and marketing, "blog" is hardly used, it's ONLY Facebook and Twitter, whether you like or hate them--that is the requirement. Blogging is no longer a social requirement to exist with a business in the same way--it was replaced/bulldozed over.

From Slap*Happy: "The notion that you must be on Twitter or Facebook to make a living should be resisted ferociously."

I totally agree, but I think we're in the shrinking minority about this one. Those things are eating the Internet like rabid piranhas.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:19 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, big red flags are raised when their aim for joining Twitter was to promote something, and attract followers. Anyone who even slides through my stream who indicates they are in it for these reasons is instantly blocked. I do understand there's a big segment of the user base who use it for these reasons (as evidenced by all the spammers trying to sell you followers, all the services that claim to find people who unfollowed you so you can chase them down...).

You tailor the stream to your interests, which can be as varied as you are.

This is what Twitter is for. The "I friend you, you friend me back" mechanic that's the norm on Facebook just doesn't work on Twitter, no matter how much some (terminally boring) people want it to. I follow people who I find interesting. I don't expect them to follow me back. They most likely don't find me interesting. That's cool, I'm probably not. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who follow me (for whatever reason they have) but I don't follow them back because I'm not interested in what they're saying. If you utilize Twitter in this way, selecting useful information, brutally filtering out the useless, it's an extremely powerful tool for catching a real-time glimpse of what's happening in the world. I spend maybe two minutes on Twitter per two hours during an average day - I'm not there refreshing constantly - and it provides an extremely efficient, useful service with that kind of commitment, like nothing else I know.

Using it as a tool to sell a book, however? Blocked instantly.
posted by Jimbob at 3:13 PM on July 10, 2013

Twitter: It's like IRC except YOU are in control of who's in the channel with you.
posted by egypturnash at 3:52 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

What bothers me about Twitter is its exaltation of the present moment. In being a medium that by design creates a stream of what's-happening-right-now updates and in sort of coaxing its most active users into this always-on, not-intimate "conversation" out in the open, it has a general atmosphere of vacuous curiosity about right now. Many people that I was otherwise inclined to think smart and interesting, revealed themselves as glib and insufferable on Twitter, and i think the medium tends to make them seem that way. It tends to go against reflectiveness and introversion and contemplation. It has always struck me as a cacophony of loudmouths and show-offs and extroverts.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:05 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

So apparently, if you don't like "Twitter", you are mentally ill(?) or trending that way.

Hell of a marketing campaign.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:31 PM on July 10, 2013


Also, someone else owns the server and there's only one network.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:34 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Many people that I was otherwise inclined to think smart and interesting, revealed themselves as glib and insufferable on Twitter

On the other hand, people who were once just distant voices on the radio, or a name on a newspaper article, are now people who casually chat about stuff, join conversations, and who randomly reveal they listen to The Bugle too, based on shared followings.
posted by Jimbob at 6:40 PM on July 10, 2013

There are many ways to use twitter. I think self-promotion and chatter with friends are both common uses but they've never worked for me. I think it does work well for news and as a novelty engine. If it doesn't seem to work for you, I'd encourage you to follow William Gibson and avoid writing many tweets for a while. Follow and unfollow aggressively, and don't consider following or unfollowing as a judgment on others or yourself.

What bothers me about Twitter is its exaltation of the present moment. In being a medium that by design creates a stream of what's-happening-right-now updates

I read a lot of tweets at least twelve hours late due to a time zone difference, and if I reply to someone that late they usually get back to me anyway. Being able to respond in real time makes the conversation easier, but if it's not worth paying attention to in twelve hours it's probably OK you missed it in the first place.
posted by 23 at 7:07 PM on July 10, 2013

@thisofcoursealludestoyou also famous people and normal ones are on it #welcometothedystopianfuture #ikindamisswhenthenetwasforfreaks
posted by egypturnash at 7:10 PM on July 10, 2013

Many people that I was otherwise inclined to think smart and interesting, revealed themselves as glib and insufferable on Twitter.

I know I'm stepping into get-off-my-lawn territory, but in my day it was bulletin boards and I remember all too well how damned important it was to me that everybody recognized exactly how clever and unique I was. I see that same thing from people on Twitter now, except it's not the slow pace and limited audience of a message board, it's now now now now now look at me now now now everybody look here listen to what I just thought of, and it's a cry for help and a desperate need to find acceptance, and I just cringe knowing how embarrassed they will be when they grow up a little bit. They are legitimately smart and interesting people, and I absolutely agree that it's the medium, and the way they choose to interact with it, that makes them seem otherwise.

I actually do tweet into the void on occasion, knowing full well that nobody gives a shit and I am totally doing it wrong. I get good use out of my Twitter account by following people like Michael Beschloss who provide a steady flow of consistently amazing content. And of course Twitter more than redeems itself when there is breaking news, big or small. Just last week my brother was hit by a car while walking on a sidewalk in another country. I got a quick phone call letting me know what had happened, but Twitter was the only way I was able to piece together the details of the incident, and it was in almost real time. That is awesome.

I guess if it takes millions of people believing that every single thing they think and see needs to be shared with the entire world to get that kind of content available for filtering, then I'm fully in favor of it. I just wish that some of those people would hurry up and learn that they don't have to try so damned hard.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:52 PM on July 10, 2013

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