Alone together: on the long tail of Twitter

Last year, I wrote about why I love Twitter as a creative person. This post is about being on Twitter for a long time. I joined in November 2006 with an account I would eventually turn into a private account. I started my work account in June 2010. It’s the only service I consider myself an ‘early adopter’ of and still use every day.

To use a ‘microblogging platform’ for 15 years means growing old with other users, and watching as people come and go. Some take breaks, some lurk in DMs, some move on elsewhere. And I’ve changed too. I’m not interested in the same things I was interested in 10 years ago. I unfollow, mute, block liberally.

As a typical geriatric millennial, I know that a Twitter account isn’t a stranger I haven’t met yet. It isn’t a friend in the making in the same way as the early days of chat rooms and blog comments. There are just too many people on it now and interactions with single account holders few and far between. Treating everyone on Twitter with the same care as an IRL friend is like saying hello to people in the Tube. You have to hang around long enough to let another user turn into a call, a coffee or maybe even work. In most instances, this can take over a decade. It’s too slow to diversify your social biome.

It’s also very similar to to how Londoners make friends. I have a few hobbies which I practice weekly, in blocks of 6 weeks. By the end of the 6 weeks, we still don’t know each other’s names and rarely do people go to the pub after. But for those of us who commit to repeat blocks of classes over a long period of time, there’s a knowing smile, a nod of recognition that we’re really into this thing we’re all practicing. It’s not friendship, it’s low level camaraderie. Just like Twitter. 

Twitter also erodes trust more than it builds it. The ephemeral nature of tweets and their ‘real time-ness’ is like debutantes at the Palace of Versailles. You’re not allowed to fail publicly in any of your tweets. The accumulation of tweets also acts as a distorted mirror which others will choose to judge you by in a town square made infinitely large and unconstrained by time.

On a positive note though, Twitter is a pretty good emulator of big city living. Loading up Twitter on a browser page (the app is too addictive) means catching up on the latest cultural cat fight, world event or conference in real time. For those of us living in mega cities, its level of activity feels familiar. Life, as it happens to some, but not to everyone. 

For all its flaws, I suppose I stick around because I’m used to city life and love it. London makes sense of Twitter which reflects back to me the bits of the city I am interested in. It adds to the friendships I make offline and it helps me stay connected to their interests when they move away or live abroad. For all the light it shines on everyone all the time, I find myself mostly interested in using it to focus in rather than out. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s just the way I read it.


Categorized as Personal

By designswarm

Blogging since 2005.