Social Media is Dumb
But one platform deserves some love.
By Gary Howe | Jan. 26, 2019
FOMO is not what bothers this writer about Facebook. Rather, it’s the lack of breathing room. Facebook is like inviting your friends, family, and acquaintances into your living room and then discovering that they never leave. You get notified every morning that they’re standing outside your bathroom door, saying, “Hey, whatcha doin’? Wanna see what I did in there today?”
Twitter is more like a friendly trip downtown. Like urban walks, sometimes Twitter scrolling is an uneventful errand, and other times you find yourself in the middle of breaking news. You may even have a brief but consequential encounter with a stranger that changes your world. Once in a while, you run into someone and spend the rest of the day contemplating the cosmos over mojitos. You can stand in the shadows and watch passersby, or you can jump on a soapbox and preach to the masses. On Twitter, you’re more in control of your journey through the digital social world.
Criticism of social media is all the rage, and, in general, it’s well deserved. But Twitter stands apart, uniquely deserving of consideration. For every bloviating head of state and pontificating filmmaker on Twitter, you’ll find thousands of witty, honest Twitizens sharing their intelligent, poignant, and suitably irreverent world-wisdom. Add the abundance of ridiculously cute animal videos, sports scores and highlights, memes so funny, you spit out your coffee, plus the best of the best of Russian dash-cam footage, and it’s hard to argue that there is a better place online to watch and learn or even to be genuinely entertained.
Twitter’s genius is its character limit, delivered at the moment in chronological order, like a ticker tape. The design was inspired by the banter of New York cabbies. Tweets are basically little messages sent out into the universe with one rule: they must be no longer than 280 characters. This brevity is useful for readers in line at the deli who want to keep up on anything they care about – from Vladimir Putin to plate tectonics to “He Who Must Not Be Named” himself @Lord_Voldemort7. It’s easy to find a daily stream of digestible bursts about anything. And for the authors among us, the enforced brevity helps to hone punch and wit skills, and lord knows we all could use more of both.
By now, you have probably been introduced to Twitter on late night TV, where Stephen Colbert and other hosts assume you know the basics:
● @is used to tag another user. The @ symbol is attached to a username to give credit, call out, draw attention to someone else’s Twitter handle and creates a link to their feed.
● RT = Retweet. Users retweet when they realize it’s best to let others do the talking, although many a RT comes with a comment that proves everyone else wrong.
● DM = Direct Message. A DM allows a private conversation between users. This can be personal, friendly debate with a stranger, or negotiations with United Airlines about yet another flight delay out of O’Hare (although, for the benefit of others, consider keeping this public).
● Mute/Block. Some people just don’t deserve our attention and the mute function lets you turn off their posts from appearing in your feed without totally blocking them. Although, many a troll and mansplainers deserve a full-fledged block as well.
Too many people only experience Twitter when a celebrity reveals their dark side, or when POTUS issues a less-than-statesmanlike utterance. By following a few simple tips, a well-curated Twitter feed can enhance your life, instead of draining your will to live.
Go beyond your friends. Whatever your field of interest may be, you will find experts and authors out there tweeting about it. Engage with them. You’ll be surprised by how many people reply, even those who are well known. The Twitter universe is egalitarian enough that an insightful, well-thought-out Tweet will directly reach @Lin_Manuel, @Kasparov63, @laurenduca, and their Holinesses @Pontifex and @DalaiLama.
Get on the ground.“If journalism is the first draft of history, Twitter is the first draft of journalism,” offered @nytopinion in 2016. Twitter’s running timeline and trending algorithm help bring attention to events before the news media has been dispatched. These tweets are the first glimpse of history. If the world ends, it will be announced on Twitter first. Consider Sohaib Athar, @ReallyVirtual, who on the night of May 2, 2011, tweeted, "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1 AM (is a rare event)." A day later he summed it up with the following, "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."
Give and receive help.Increasingly, businesses are using Twitter for customer service. Many a PR nightmare has been averted by a brand monitor following mentions on the company’s feed, who responds to a pointed complaint with a quick, “How can I help?” Help goes the other way, too — @cookbook provides full recipes in 280 characters or less!
Stop killing your plants. New services sprout up all the time. For example, the company @botanicalls can create a Twitter account for your sensor-enhanced plant, so that it can tweet at you when you forget to water it.
With a little digging, you can go far beyond doomsday and horticultural tweets into a universe that’s as strange and expansive as the wide, wide world. You may also discover meaningful ways to engage and make sense of the robust digital interconnection that is the foundation of the 21st century. As @davidduchovny might tweet, “The truth is out there.”
Gary L Howe is a photographer and writer in Traverse City. He chimes in and reposts articles of interest @GLHJR (likes and retweets are not endorsements). He’s also on Facebook, but never mind that.