I joined Twitter a few months ago after years of being a social media holdout. I was proud to have missed the Myspace boat entirely, and gunning for the same with Facebook. This is not a unique position, nor one that anyone has ever been surprised about me holding. But Twitter was newish and differentish, so I’d get comments here and there about joining. “[You] would so many pointless thing to say…that would be interesting to follow,” wrote one friend. And how.
Therein lies the rub.
Twitter has been entertaining, informative, and a great time waster. But mostly because I keep my ‘followed’ list small (I, in turn, have a dedicated following of Russian Sexbots). In the first few weeks I added a number of people that I was friendly with and fond of. I continue to follow a lot of them, but ended up removing some: the prolific–and I mean nonstop–posters, the all-[insert sport here]-all-the-time crowd, the ones who use Twitter mainly as a promotional tool for their careers. Even as I trimmed my feed down to a steady, but not overwhelming, stream of interesting, funny, and/or nonsense tweets, I felt confused about the etiquette of doing so. At least some of these people were friends of mine; was it rude to not follow them? It’s not that I didn’t want to know what they were up to- it’s just that, past a certain point, having that information pushed into my stream of updates becomes much less pleasant than the equivalent of dropping in occasionally would be.
This goes both ways, I’m sure. I am not a 140-character gal; I, like a number of people I follow, frequently send out multiple-tweet thoughts, which I’m sure is grating to some people. I have occasional back-and-forths that would probably be better carried out via chat. Some days I tweet entirely too much.
Most of all, though–and here’s where the issue widens to include one’s online presence in general–I tend to tweet about all manner of things. I do indeed have tons of pointless shit to say, only some of which is interesting. I will admit to sometimes committing the cardinal internet sin of cryptically voicing my frustration with one offline relationship or another. I retweet funny things and compelling stories. I occasionally write about my field or my profession. I’ve live-tweeted visits from high-level government officials. I complain a lot (this, friends, is my sport of choice). In short, my history of tweets is incoherent and frequently inane, and while some part of me thinks that this is exactly what Twitter is about, in other ways I can’t help but feel I’m somehow Doing It Wrong.
At this point in the evolution of the internet, we’re big on branding. Themed blogs have proliferated, especially where their authors have dreams of monetization. Facebook has always been about creating and projecting attractive, if incomplete, images of an idealized self. For a number of people, this ethos extends to Twitter accounts, enough so that one feels the pressure to present a coherent identity, but not so much that there is real consensus among Twitter users about what the damn thing is for. I, for one, have a problem with the branding of people–in much the same way that I refuse to strip myself of humor, opinion, or self-respect in the name of professionalism, I don’t want to have to pick and choose the parts of me that are okay for one electronic medium or another. (There’s a feminist critique in there somewhere about the not-okayness of things like feelings and motherhood, and another one about how gross all the capitalist marketing-of-self-as-product stuff is, but that’s for another day.)
Hence my eternal ambivalence about all of this. My guess is that I’ll keep doing what I’m doing–which works for me in that it’s not tied into anything I do professionally, so I have no one to answer to but myself–but I don’t see the uneasiness going away.
ETA: This post and comments take on the same issue, further reinforcing the idea that none of us knows what’s really going on here.
AETA: I’m totally unfollowing Diane Ravitch. I made it five days, but damn does that woman (re)tweet too much.