Category Archives: Media, Social and Not

Observations on the various methods of dissemination of information be they electronic or otherwise.

10,000 Characters on Why 10,000 Characters for Twitter is a Bad Idea

whatkind

From the latest episode of This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Searching for a new angle to boost declining user growth, Twitter is allegedly looking into ballooning its signature 140-character limit to a whopping 10,000 characters permitted per tweet. Cynically, one might liken this to the corporate version of soliciting extra revenue by placing a gun against one’s head. Twitter’s founders explain that 140 character tweets were born of a limitation of the old SMS service, and that jacking our favorite little bird morsels up to 10,000 seeds will allow for more content, more conversations and more general user pleasure. Apparently no one at Twitter remembers Polonius’ famous line from Hamlet, that “brevity is the soul of wit.” For almost 10 years, brevity has been the soul of Twitter. Taking that away is removing what makes Twitter special. As many have pointed out, we already have a social network for Ulysses-length diatribes from drunken uncles: it’s called Facebook.

Twitter is, paradoxically, a platform to be used quickly, yet one that requires a great investment of time to use properly. It’s nothing to fire off a witty observation on the state of the world or scroll through the exploits of your favorite celebrity as you wait for your coffee to brew in the morning. But obtaining the most value from Twitter involves a painstaking, methodical curating of the perfect tribe: finding and following the people who draw your interest, and attracting the best and most engaged followers for whatever content you’ve chosen to produce as part of your personal brand. Unless you’re an established media personality, or that mind-blowingly awesome, it can take years. But setting the biz-speak aside, Twitter is also a place where friendships that would otherwise be impossible geographically are made and nurtured. It eliminates the pedestal separating public figures from the masses and allows us to interact with them as casually as if we had run into them in a coffee shop. And it allows real-time access to breaking news and unfiltered updates from people who find themselves in the middle of history as it unfolds, not to mention cat pictures. Lots of cat pictures. Certainly there is a lot of chaff (including a great deal of gush about One Direction – seriously folks, Zayn isn’t coming back), but separating out the wheat is part of the joy of using Twitter in the first place. From the beginning, restricting everyone to 140 characters, and refusing to succumb to creating a velvet-roped, more permissive stratosphere for “platinum level subscribers” or some such twaddle, has kept us all on the same playing field, no matter how famous or unknown we are. My tweets have just as much potential to reach every Twitter user on earth as follower champion Katy Perry’s do. (They won’t, but the mathematical probability is not zero.)

Innovation thrives on restriction, just as Twitter sprang and thrived from within its traditional 140-character constraint.  As much as we like to give play to the phrase “thinking outside the box,” figuring out how to express ourselves within that box can also be a stimulating exercise as it forces us to speak with economy to get our message – or our humor – across. The content that people remember most is that which they can repeat to their friends and family in short bursts. Much as a veteran blogger might be loath to admit it, length has certainly never been a guarantee of greater quality. There’s a quote from an old West Wing episode that I’ve always chuckled at: “anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn’t trying.” In social media, the reverse is true. The world is spinning faster, our time clawed at by infinite demands on it, and Twitter’s brevity has been a helpful traveling companion for the age: a readily accessible combination of news aggregator, social updater, inspiration provider and joke generator, yours for the perusal at the touch of a little blue bird on your smartphone screen.

Of additional importance is Twitter’s role as a gateway. The ability to share links to longer material, inviting a user to browse further rather than shoving the entire enterprise beneath your nose, has allowed content generators (like myself) to introduce our work to our audience without feeling like we’re shouting it at them, and preserves freedom of choice: you may have absolutely no interest in whatever I’m writing about today, but at least I can make you aware that I have something new, and you can always ignore it and move on to the next item in your feed. Surfing Twitter is a bit like browsing the spines on a bookstore shelf, plucking out a title that grabs you and scanning the blurb before committing. If you had to plod through each entire novel before deciding whether or not to buy, you’d still be there, and your blood pressure would be spiking at the imposition on your precious time. There are already plenty of platforms that allow long-form content, and Twitter integrates best with them by serving as an easily navigated, self-maintained index of those sites, rather than attempting to compete with them.

One argument in favor is the suggestion that just because you can use 10,000 characters doesn’t mean that you will. I agree. 10,000 characters is an enormous number; you’ll see by the end of this post an example of what that looks like, and who has the patience to crank that out every time we want to send a quick update on how the baristas misspelled our name today? But give humanity a wide open space in which to dump its trash and you’ll be shocked at how quickly it fills up. You know who will use all those characters? Spammers, for one. Every Nigerian prince promising that you too can buy new a million new followers or make $5236 an hour working on your computer from home is salivating at this opportunity to flood Twitter with their auto-blasted nonsense. Racists, for another. It’s bad enough when some asshat’s hateful garbage gets retweeted into your timeline when there’s only 140 characters’ worth to cringe through. Are we prepared for the onslaught of copy-pasted manifestos on white purity that are forthcoming every time President Obama does something they don’t like? Among its faults is Twitter’s ongoing inability to crack down on abuse, and one shudders at the thought of the bigots, misogynists, homophobes and celebrity stalkers of the world being handed broadened canvases they can smear with impunity.

Regardless of how zealously you unfollow, block and mute, you’ll only be able to avoid so much of the incoming debris: insidious marketers, who have been steadily encroaching on Twitter’s turf to the point that almost every third tweet is a promoted one from a company you’ve either never heard of or simply can’t stand (I am wearing out my thumb lately clicking “Tweet is not relevant”), will be able to turn your feed into a stream of constant, bloated advertising, since they can afford to pay their infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters to dream up 10,000 characters of content for them. The effect will be to clutter up what is already a crowded landscape with enormous, garish and inescapable billboards, making the search for worthwhile content that much more frustrating. Upon finding themselves bombarded with ads, traditional users will flee, perhaps in mass migration to other sites where such things are verboten. As for attracting new users, well, when was the last time you watched a new TV show because you heard the commercials were awesome?

Upon deeper reflection, this move to 10,000 characters does feel sadly more and more like an accommodation to the demands of advertisers rather than an organic evolution of the platform based on its users’ needs and wishes (witness the many unheralded cries for an edit feature for tweets that have already been posted). And it’s only advertisers who will be able to exploit the 10,000 characters to their fullest potential, squeezing them for every precious cent they’re worth. Twitter knows that the majority of its users won’t fill all that space. Even 2,000 characters would be a stretch for most. No one wants to dedicate so much time to composing something that will potentially fall out of sight a few minutes after it gets posted. I would imagine too that as part of the Faustian bargain with the advertisers, such elephant-sized tweets will not be allowed to be condensed (i.e. no “click to open full window” button) but rather be foisted upon your feed in frustrating enormity, their inducements inescapable no matter how fast you try to scroll through them.

There are perhaps less radical improvements to be pursued, such as potentially removing links and hashtags from the character count, and adding the aforementioned edit button (although thousands of grammar sticklers will promptly lose their reason for existence) that will serve to open up avenues of expression while preserving the full stop at 140 that makes Twitter what it is. If we want to expend 10,000 characters on a particular topic, we can tweet a link to our own website, just as we’ve been doing all along. Ultimately Twitter is going to do whatever it’s going to do, but removing what seems to be one of its key planks and annoying its users in the name of progress (i.e. more advertising revenue) seems a counter-intuitive business strategy. A bit like Walt Disney World razing Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom so they can replace it with a selfie stick store. Perhaps Twitter is counting on the general apathy of the people who use social media: the ones who rant and rave about changes and upgrades only to promptly forget about them after a week. But this change may represent an irreversible tipping point, where Twitter sacrifices its uniqueness on the altar of profit, alienating forever those who have helped make it what it has become.

(And if you are keeping score, the post plus the headline makes 10,000 characters exactly.)

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Fire and Rain and all that jazz

I heard through social media a little while ago that a friend from high school days had passed away.  Her name was Kim.  While we had never been the textbook definition of close, we would chat from time to time through Facebook about family, parenting, and the course of our respective lives.  She wasn’t someone I went out of my way to keep in contact with, and yet, when we spoke online, I was amazed at how her innate brightness would gleam through the flying bubbles of text, and how genuinely interested she was in what was happening with me, despite her really having no obligation to be.  You meet way too many sorts who vibrate visibly with the itch to dispense with the perfunctory required questions about how the job’s going and how the kids are doing so they can start prattling on about the heaps of awesomeness that have fallen into their own precious laps; Kim was most definitely the opposite, remaining private about her own problems while always offering up receptive, sympathetic ears.  That we were friends at all spoke to the depth of her character, in many ways a complete contradiction of what you’d expect.  Someone like her could easily have been Regina from Mean Girls, blessed as she was with talent, popularity and beauty, but instead she saw people for who they were and not where in the social order it was their fate to be pecked.  She cared, with an honesty that could not be faked.  And she’s gone now, a too short 40 years of age, and I wish I’d made a point to talk with her more often, because a special light has gone out.

I met Kim when we were both involved in the production of our 1993 high school musical, a staging of Chicago.  I was the backup drummer in the orchestra pit, hidden at the back of the stage behind a black scrim, while Kim, a year older, was bold and brassy belting out “All That Jazz” as the lead, Velma Kelly.  (Ten years later, sitting in the theater watching Catherine Zeta-Jones have a go at the same part, I couldn’t help smiling and thinking that Kim had done a better job.)  Our school had a reputation for the quality of its productions; we dared to mount elaborate, challenging, Broadway-level material whose raciness gave our more conservative principal his fair share of headaches.  They were great social levelers too:  you could come in to work on them whether you were jock, nerd, princess or bespectacled wallflower, and find yourself among fast friends.  The denizens of the elevated echelons that you wouldn’t dare approach in the halls were throwing their arms around you at the frequent cast parties.  Somehow the social hierarchy that mattered so much in the day-to-day got tossed in pursuit of the grand goal of creating a singular night on the stage.  Kim was a big part of ensuring that happened, and some of my strongest memories of that experience are chatting and sharing jokes (and flirting a little, clumsy as I was at it back then) with her.  One might logically expect the show’s diva to be dismissive of the little people in the back, but Kim didn’t go in for that sort of nonsense.  Instead she made everyone want to up their collective game.  You wanted to work harder and play better because that was a friend up there on the stage counting on you to have her back.

When I first joined Facebook there were quite a few people from the old high school that I made a point of looking up.  I don’t recall Kim being one of them, but as degrees of separation would have it she popped into my news feed after commenting on someone else’s post, and at some point I must have sent her a friend request – or maybe she did for me.  I didn’t put much stock into it other than “I kind of remember you and you’re a decent sort, let’s be Facebook friends, ignore each other’s updates and send half-hearted birthday messages every year when it reminds us to.”  I was content to leave it at that until Kim started messaging me periodically to say hello and see how I was doing.  She was the only one of my 131 connections to do so.  I wondered why.  This may come across as false modesty, but I honestly did not believe I deserved the attention, given that I hadn’t exactly made keeping in touch with her a significant or even a minor priority.  It wasn’t as though we had a rich personal history to look back upon either, just a few shared experiences when we were teenagers, a few chance encounters on the street in the years that followed.  But I was moved by her warmth and the sincerity of her outreach.  After my wife and I adopted our son Kim would check in every few months to ask how things were going.  I’d tell her a little about his history and how he came to be with us, and in her words back to me I could see and feel the opening of a tremendous heart.  I would ask her how she was, and though she was guarded about the details, I could sense that that heart had been wounded many times and was battling on regardless, through illness that had landed her in hospital far more often than she deserved.

Then, after a while, the conversations stopped.  She didn’t reply to the last message I sent, though I did get a note that it had been seen, months later.  Kim tumbled from my consciousness.  Caught up in the ins and outs of my own day-to-day as weeks slouched into months it did not occur to me to check in with her.  It wasn’t a deliberate choice, it just happened, through indolence and preoccupation rather than intent.  When another friend broke the news to me by the cold means of Twitter direct message, I felt my entire body sink as though someone had just doubled the gravity in the room.  It was a twofold reaction:  shock, obviously, coupled with a tremendous gnaw of guilt.  I knew she had been sick, and as I scrolled back through our history of Facebook messages, trees of text bubbles preserved there as though set in digital amber, I could detect hints that things had been far more serious than she had let on, hints that I had let go out of respect for her privacy.  Kim would pivot when I would ask about her illness, assuring me that she was strong and that she was an adult.  She would rather talk about me, this blog, and how I was finding life as a father.  I didn’t push.  I suppose it would have made little difference if I had.

In his classic ballad “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor makes what for me is the quintessential statement about our relationships with our friends and how little time we truly have to celebrate the fortune of their presence in our lives.  In writing this post and thinking about Kim, I echo his sentiment.  I didn’t continue the conversations with Kim because there was always more time.  I always thought that I’d see her again.  That late one night, barred from sleep by lingering traces of the day’s caffeine intake I’d be scrolling through Facebook, smirking at cat videos and pictures of other people’s kids being silly and re-posted rants about the government, and the notification tab would pop and I’d see her name and “Hey Graham, how are you?”  I’d been conditioned to expect that and I never believed it would stop.  Now it has.  There will be no more messages from Kim.  “All That Jazz” will forevermore have a hint of melancholy when I reflect on one very irreplaceable Velma.

By no means do I claim a monopoly on grieving her loss.  I know that I wasn’t her best friend, or a member of her family, or someone with any deep, lasting connection with her but this:  Kim meant a great deal to me for the simple reason that in a world with more than its share of awful people, she was one of the good ones.  I’m glad I got the chance to tell her as much during one of our late night chats.  I’m sorry I couldn’t have said it more, and that I won’t get the chance to get to know her better.  That she won’t get the chance to meet my son whom she enjoyed hearing about.  And I’m sorry that she won’t have the long and happy life that should have been her due.  It has brought into sharp focus the notion of mortality and that we cannot count on any of us being around for as long as we once thought we would be.  The invulnerability with which we greeted the days back then is a fleeting wisp lost on the wind.  And while we may feel as though we are more connected with our friends because of social networks like Facebook, we can’t let those algorithms diminish the value and the reality of the people on the other side of that coldly curated news feed.  We need to talk more.  Really talk, about our hopes and our dreams and our fears and the world we want to leave in the glow of our tail lights.  We need to seek out the good ones that are already in our lives and latch onto them and laugh with them until our sides ache, and weep until we’re all utterly spent of tears.

We always think we’ll see each other again.  Sometimes we won’t.  So let’s see each other as much as we can, while we can, while every precious moment of this life remains available to us.  I’m going to close now by offering a suggestion.  Today, think of someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time and send them a message.  Doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Just say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them.  See what happens next.  I think you’ll find the very tiny expenditure of your time bearing positive emotional returns the extent of which you can’t even imagine yet.

Goodbye, Kim.  You were one of the good ones.  And all that jazz.

“FHRITP”: For Hugely Reprehensible Infantile Twits, Period.

The video in question.  The language is very NSFW.

I consider myself young enough and fairly plugged in when it comes to understanding trending memes and so forth (though old and wise enough to know that “bae” is a really stupid expression), so when the furor over “FHRITP” exploded across Canada this past week, it was a touch embarrassing to admit that I had to look it up.  After having done so, however, I wish I hadn’t.  If you’re in the same boat I was, it stands for an extremely vulgar phrase that for reasons making one want to smash one’s head into one’s desk has been a viral video phenomenon for almost two years, and generated its creator – in perhaps the most telling and shameful aspect of the whole affair – more income than most of us will probably see in our lifetimes.  Although, as you’ll know if you’ve been following this story, it’s cost the most recent enthusiast of the phrase his six-figure government job.

“FHRITP” began as a parody video mocking live news bloopers – going viral presumably because there were no cute cat videos available during the fractional slice of time it slithered onto the Internets – but has spread to the real world, giving rise to a dedicated website, customized merchandise and way too much money for its incredibly smug creator.  It has also become an ongoing videobombing dare whereby assorted dudes in need of reassurance about their masculinity yell the phrase out in the background while female TV reporters are doing on-location work, and run away snickering as though they’ve just passed gas in an elevator.  Shauna Hunt of Toronto’s CityNews, revealing that she is harassed with the phrase constantly, brought it to Canada and the mainstream media’s attention by confronting the “men” – term used only to reference their gender and certainly not their disposition – who’d tried foisting it on her at a Toronto FC game this past Sunday.  The grinning broseph who dismisses her with the justification that he finds it hilarious and then makes a remark about shoving a vibrator in her ear is the one who was identified as an employee of HydroOne and summarily fired for violating their code of conduct.

Few tears have been shed.

Social media shaming is a fairly recent phenomenon and has claimed its fair share of both celebrities and ordinary folks over the last few years – the story of the woman who tweeted a joke about how she wouldn’t catch AIDS in Africa because she was white comes immediately to mind.  Certainly this particular individual, late of HydroOne, will be stuck with a label for the rest of his life.  Wherever he goes, whatever new job he attempts to apply for, this ripe turd from his personal history will only be a nanosecond Google search away.  I don’t even want to address the frankly inapplicable issue of freedom of speech that his (sparse) defenders have raised but to say that freedom of speech does not include freedom from the consequences of that speech, and before we drag out the Charter of Rights we might want to remember that this wasn’t an activist protesting against a repressive government, this was a guy who in a moment of extremely questionable judgment that I can’t imagine was his first, chose to act like a sexist jackass on live television.  It was his choice.  He has to live with it.  (Noticeably absent from the individual in the aftermath is any sort of public apology.)

(UPDATE 5/21/15:  He has written to Shauna Hunt and offered an apology, which she has accepted but is keeping private.)

My question is why.  Why do this at all.  Why glom onto an utterly tasteless joke whose appeal lies in the basest elements of our nature?  Why present yourself to the world as someone who derives glee from the disrespect of women?  Because he thought it was funny?  Because he imagined high-fiving his fellow bros at the bar later with the legendary tale about how he stuck it to that prissy blond reporter bitch?  Yeah, okay.  How would that elevate his life in any imaginable measure?  Would it assist him in finding a soulmate, paying off the mortgage, advancing his career (oops!), helping the less fortunate or contributing to the welfare of his community?

I suspect the reason can be traced back to the 15 minutes adage of our old friend Andy Warhol, who made his observation back in an era when obtaining fame usually required a certain amount of work or talent.  There was of course the plain dumb luck of becoming associated with a freakish occurrence that made the news, but the vast majority of us seemed to be fine with realizing that celebrity would remain the unreachable domain of the “other.”  Not so today, when the news cycle and the massive over-saturation and over-availability of content has created a climate whereby it feels like everyone else is getting some without doing much of anything, so I want my share – regardless of the fact that I don’t merit it because I’m really not that special.  Fame used to be a side effect of great achievement; now it’s a singular goal in a culture consumed by narcissism and fixated on immediate gratification without the corresponding expenditure of effort.  How many young kids of our time, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, reply “famous”?  And how many are so desperate for a touch of limelight that they’ll grasp at every chance, deliberately in the worst way possible?  The guy who created “FHRITP” has already grabbed his piece of the fame pie for inflicting this toxin on the public, lowering the bar just that fraction of an inch further.

“FHRITP” guys are the latest in that rather sad group of sexually frustrated, anonymous, talent-bereft, unremarkable men clutching vainly at the tantalizing, dangling glowy tendrils of fame with this new glimmer of viral hope because the appeal of crank calling radio stations and yelling “Baba Booey!” went out with MySpace.  They are attempting to salve deep feelings of irrelevance and meaninglessness for fleeting moments by demeaning successful women like Shauna Hunt and her colleagues who have worked incredibly hard to achieve their positions in an industry not exactly known for being overly generous to folks who aren’t hetero male.  Is that something to celebrate or defend?  No one stands up for the man who yells fire in the crowded theater, nor should they.  Every man who does his part to renew this meme’s poisonous life by shouting it at the nearest camera for a larf instead of telling the other ones doing it to shut their filthy misogynist mouths and get a collective life, is a statement on how much harder the rest of us need to work to prove that we can be better.  How we need to shout way louder that this garbage isn’t funny and we’re going to turn our backs on the morons who think it is.  Some of my fellow men may not like being lumped into the same category as the douchenozzles in the video above, but, to stay silent is to condone.

To find any kind of personal satisfaction in “FHRITP” or like behavior, either spread across the world or in private, is to betray oneself as not having evolved above the mentality of the bratty baby proudly waving around his dirty diaper.  If that’s how you want the world to see you, fine – you’re more than welcome to that corner, and may you find some sense of peace in the very lonely life you’re going to have.  I don’t buy the notion that as men we can’t rise above the tendency of our brains to go for the juvenile antic over the reasoned thought every single time.  Nor do I accept that getting a laugh requires treating someone else – especially a woman – as a willing and wanting receptacle of whatever vile, degrading phrases or actions we see fit to dump on her.  As Aaron Sorkin once wrote, “more and more we’ve come to expect less and less from each other.”  We should aspire to more of a legacy for ourselves than a gender-embarrassing collection of jerkwad comments that we know we’ll eventually regret.

I’m sure there’s one particular person in that video who already does.

What Kind of Tweeter Are You?

whatkind

Oh, dear, dear Twitter, how I love thee.  Since I never have time for television anymore, movies are too expensive and regular social gatherings terrify me, Twitter has become a combination news/ entertainment/coffee shop packaged conveniently in the smartphone belted to my hip.  After having been on it for almost three years and with an eye to noticing patterns that I’ve been told by experts that I possess, I’ve managed to categorize the users of Twitter into twelve distinct types, eleven of which are itemized here for your reading pleasure.  Group Twelve is celebrities, i.e. those privileged to be blessed with the Blue Checkmark of Twod (Twitter God), and the rules are a bit different for them, even though you might find that some of them do indeed fit snugly into a few of these.  I should attempt to weasel my way out of potential controversy even further by saying that with some exceptions, none of these are absolutes.  On our best and worst days we tumble into each of them, yours truly included.  I offer the list instead as observation and a little bit of warning.  Shake it up.  Don’t ever be a type – be a human instead.

So have at it then – and let me know if there’s another category you’ve noticed that I’ve missed.

The Shill

Apparently you have a novel or product of some sort you’d like me to express some interest in?  Your following/follower count is about equal and in the high thousands, suggesting that you’re a pretty popular fellow.  But your interactions are minimal and your tweets are variations on a theme of asking the rest of us to click on/review/ purchase your wares, implying that you’ve accumulated your flock merely by following every single person who promises that they follow back.  You have sacrificed what little remains of your humanity on the Great Altar of Commerce and your tweets appear with the tedious inevitability of television commercials.  You have essentially turned yourself into Vince, the Slap Chop Guy.  How’s that working for you?  (I’m guessing it’s not leading to record sales figures.)

The Preacher

You have a keen, unique (self-applied description, of course) insight into what ails the world and you know exactly how to fix it, if only you could get more followers to listen and spread your gospel.  It irks the hell out of you that you’re not already president/emperor/ generalissimo of your chosen realm as the ones presently in charge are irredeemable dingbats who couldn’t gather the leadership necessary to wipe themselves without peer-reviewed studies by four different executive committees.  But rather than doing something about it in the real world, you’ll settle for being a sanctimonious cyber-complainer to a sparse flock of like-minded folks.  Note of caution, however:  decisions are made by those who “show up,” not “log in.”

The Stalker

Harry Styles is your homeboy, or at least, you’d like him to be, in the tweet you sent to him 58 times today.  Though your chances of marrying him are about as good as Dick Cheney’s for winning Man of the Year from Greenpeace, you press on with dogged determination, forever believing deep inside that the next tweet will be the one he favorites.  You should be proud in some respects, in that you’re the latest in a subspecies that emerged with those people who used to hang around outside Abbey Road waiting for the Beatles to show up.  But why not do something with your life instead of devoting the entirety of it to worshipping others who’ve done a hell of a lot more with theirs?

The Oversharer

Guess what I had for breakfast?  None of your followers ever have to wonder since you provided eighteen different pictures of it, along with a detailed rundown on the quality of the service, the décor of the restaurant and your dining companion’s complaints about her BFF.  You are convinced that you are the most fascinating person to walk the planet and damn, you’re gonna strut your stuff whether or not anybody asks.  Your tweet count is up into the hundred K range already and you’ve only been on Twitter for a month.  Because nary a single moment of your mind-bendingly amazing life can slip by without you having to comment on it, leading to a veritable plethora of banality flooding a platform which was already drowning in it.

The Smartarse

Groucho’s got squat on you as you say the secret woid and weave your incisive Saharan wit through the foibles of a mediacentric universe rife with comic potential.  To you, Twitter is a personal standup comedy club, and headlines, celebrity musings, even the matter-of-fact comments of your friends can’t get past you without some kind of wisecrack.  Those you’re following dare not misspell a single word lest you jump in with a cheesy pun.  And your insecurity about wanting to be as off-the-cuff funny as Patton Oswalt is beginning to show as you wear out the screen beneath your notifications tab from rushing to check out how many times your zany zinger “Duck you, Autocorrect!” has been favorited and retweeted.

The Curator

You aspire to become a living embodiment of The Huffington Post as your feed is naught but link after link to article after article in your chosen area of expertise (usually social media, which everyone claims to be an expert in but nobody fully understands), offered for consumption without comment or original take.  I guess some people may find it helpful to have a single go-to for that latest BuzzFeed piece about the ten ways Miley Cyrus is annoying the world this week, but if you are choosing to act as endless advertising for other people’s material, shouldn’t you be getting paid for it?

The Misanthrope

The world is a bleak, nihilistic pit of darkness and despair, and anyone who follows you is bound to learn this lesson quickly.  You have taken to Twitter solely to vent profanity-filled spleen against whatever politician or celebrity has irked your delicate sensibilities lately, resulting in your achieving a record number of blockings and abuses reported from your Proustian-length list of targets.  To be fair, you do warn people in your bio that you’re mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore, but as you have never learned the lesson about attracting flies with honey, I fail to understand how this is supposed to help you in your life’s work – which, if your employers discover your feed, will be quite short, or at the very best limited to asking about fries with that.

The Cheerleader

You are a supernova of sunshine in everything you tweet.  You provide inexhaustible encouragement, your #FF list is longer than the Great Wall, and you always retweet and have great things to say about your friends’ posts and comments.  Whenever a follower has a bad day you’re right there to perk things up with a tweetbit of timely wisdom.  Stay gold, Ponyboy, don’t ever change.

The Parrot

You, pickle, are the reason the “Turn off Retweets” button was added.  Barring anything of your own to say, you spam everyone else’s feed with a barrage of your friends’ trite banter about how they literally can’t even the latest episode of Sherlock because arghasdgawouhgs, or the latest in profound insight about the nature of creativity from that one D-list celebrity you love but nobody else can stand (see “The Stalker,” above.)  Or you decide that what your followers really need is a ten tweet-long stream of pics from all the weird sexual fetish accounts you enjoy.  Because what you really want in life is a bunch of strangers thinking I didn’t sign up for this s@#$.

The Guru

You’ve got lots of inspiration to share, either of your own creation (awesome, keep it up!) or cribbed hopelessly from the same dozen or so bastardized bromides incorrectly attributed to the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King we’ve already seen shared on Facebook twelve million times since 2004.  The irony is I don’t think you actually believe you should shoot for the moon because you can miss and still land among the stars.  The Apollo astronauts might have had an issue with that.

The Grammarian

most of ur tweetz read liek this becuz yur 2 kewl fer roolz or speling, so U end up soundeng liek a maroon.  But hoo cares, cuz YOLO!!!

The scale of Schadenfreude

bieber

It’s a difficult thing to admit your mistakes.  Even more so when admitting them is an acknowledgement that you are not in all ways the evolved, progressive, compassionate thinker you fancy yourself to be.  Truthfully, it’s never a state you should consider final; it’s a level to which you should continue to aspire in each moment.  The instant you get complacent about it is the instant you begin to backslide.  But I find myself wrestling with this in light of having read Amanda Palmer’s post about Justin Bieber.  If you haven’t looked at it yet, you should, and you should also note my friend Ksenia Anske’s top-rated comment.  Without question there has been an Internet-wide pile-on given the Biebs’ spate of recent misdeeds – if there were such a thing as schadenfreude overload, we’d be teetering precipitously on the brink.  As Amanda says, we don’t have to sympathize with or condone how he’s behaving – far from it – but at the same time, we don’t have to erupt with mirth and glee at his failures as if they provide justification for our existing dislike of him.  If we want to pretend we’re better than he is, sharing photoshopped memes of Bieber subjected to prison rape is hardly the way to do it.

Social media has propelled water cooler conversations into the public sphere.  Where we once just chatted about the news with our family, friends and colleagues in casual encounters over coffees, now our opinions are projected via digital loudspeaker for the entire world’s indulgence, whether wanted or not.  With this ability has come a new compulsion to weigh in on everything (I’m not unaware of the irony here).  Politics, sports, literature, entertainment, global warming, theories of parenting and what we really think of the guy at the post office counter are all fodder for discussion, reflection and ultimately, massive amplification.  Spurred by the appetite we perceive out there for our opinion, we try to top ourselves with outrageousness, to grab our share of the increasingly limited human attention span.  Whose hilarious “Bieber Sucks” comment will be retweeted and favorited the most?  It’s a game for the insecure, a race to the bottom of a well of validation for the basest instincts we possess.  And it is a depressingly seductive game at that – quick to sweep one up in the fervor of the fleeting moment.

In The West Wing episode “Bartlet for America,” we find a troubling discussion of the limits to empathy.  John Spencer’s Leo McGarry is an alcoholic and drug addict who has been sober for about a decade and finds himself having to confront an occasion when he relapsed.  You can only be forgiven so many times for the same thing, McGarry suggests.  There comes a moment, it seems, when the Rubicon is crossed and we no longer see the human being, but only the sin, with the possibility of redemption lost.  Look at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford – a man with ongoing substance abuse problems, who, enabled by his brother and a sense of entitlement, refuses to seek treatment or even acknowledge that there is anything wrong with him, instead turning his enmity outward at what comes off as the cast of a paranoid’s conspiracy:  chattering intellectuals who can’t abide the idea of him wearing Toronto’s chain of office.  The week the infamous “crack video” was confirmed, Ford became the subject of a biting takedown on Saturday Night Live and ongoing fodder for comedians and talk show hosts.  Where does he compare with Justin Bieber?  Is Ford a more or a less tragic case?  Is he held to a different standard because he is a politician?  Are they both considered, in a way, to be role models who have let their admirers down?  Is that the magic trigger, the idea that there was an implicit contract, that they owed us a certain standard and now they’ve reneged on it?  At what point is it deemed “okay” to ignore the soul and engage the satire?  Where is the line, and how do we know when we’ve passed it?

It’s not difficult, if you try, to empathize with Justin Bieber, with the soul behind the façade.  Ksenia points out in her comment that we do stupid things in our adolescence; it’s part of the deal.  The vast majority enjoy the privilege of not having a worldwide lens pointed at us while we do it.  Bieber was fed into the fame machine when he was still struggling to figure himself out, I’d argue not entirely of his own free will, but chiefly through the questionable machinations of parents too eager to live failed dreams through their offspring.  He’s suddenly gifted with millions of admirers and dollars, and surrounded day and night by sycophants eager to praise even his bowel movements as the Second Coming.  He cannot move, cannot make a simple comment without it being dissected by countless professional op-eds and layperson critics.  (On Twitter, Bieber’s most innocuous statements – “good morning” even – get shared over a hundred thousand times, and replied to with an equal number of requests for marriage.)  Faux pas in a moment of weakness that you or I could laugh off with our significant other instead foretell the end of civilization.  How does living in that scrutiny day to day not go to your head?  How do you not wake up one morning realizing that despite having everything you could ever imagine you’re still desperately unhappy, and wanting to tell the world to piss off, to prove to it through a series of immature and even illegal antics that you’re not as wonderful as these legions of obsessive fangirls think you are?  That someone as terrible as you think – nay, you know you are – doesn’t deserve admiration or even attention.  How do you like me now, bitches, you can imagine his thoughts screaming at him as he tore drunkenly down the streets of Miami in the middle of the night.  How did he feel then?  As much as the world might revel in hating Justin Bieber right now, we can assume it doesn’t come close to equaling the hatred he feels, deep down, for himself.

The argument back is always, he doesn’t have to stay in the public eye, he could walk away.  Maybe that’s true.  I don’t believe Justin Bieber thinks he has that option.  There are too many other vested interests, depending on his album and merchandise sales to fund the purchase of their own Ferraris and country club memberships, to ever let him go.  He is a mere cog now, mandated to grind out one drywall-deep pop song after another until his star fades away and he ends up on a “Whatever Happened To…” special, or dead of an overdose, whichever comes first.  He is the puppet dancing for the amusement of millions, and because he’s flubbed the steps we’ve turned on him with a vengeance.  One or two slipups might have been okay, but he’s obviously passed that point with society where continued empathy is possible.  He has transitioned from person to punchline.  And I guess that last point is what interests me the most in this conversation.  When do we get the societal OK to commence the attack?  What defines what makes one person an incorrigible miscreant worthy of our collective hatred and another a poor kid who just messed up?

It is as if there is a scale of schadenfreude, from the most unimpeachably virtuous saints ensconced at the top, forever undeserving of slight, to I don’t know, Hitler, one supposes, at the very bottom, where it’s always acceptable to dump endless reserves of scorn and mockery, and to find suffering and fault laughable.  Everyone else falls somewhere in between, and there’s a line below which you’re a legitimate target and above which you can still garner your fellow human beings’ empathy.  The location of that line remains a matter of personal opinion and choice, for forgiveness is for the most part, as “Bartlet for America” posits, not a renewable resource.

I made Justin Bieber jokes in private and in public, I bemoaned the notion that his celebrity status and wealth made it likely he would not receive much in the way of punishment for his illegal behavior, I belittled the judgment of those who set this irresponsible kid on a pedestal and yes, in the moment, I was glad to see him knocked off it.  What does that make me, though?  I’ve reflected on it since reading Amanda’s thoughts and Ksenia’s response, and I’ve realized that what it doesn’t make me is better.  My life and my standing are not ameliorated by crapping over the misfortunes of a famous stranger.

Schadenfreude means “shameful joy,” emphasis on the first word.  And even the religious notion of hell is predicated on the idea that it’s comforting to the living to know that evildoers are being punished without end in a horrible place – schadenfreude taken to a supernatural degree.  But believing that doesn’t change our lives, nor does it provide us any true comfort.  We can agree that what Justin Bieber did in Miami was illegal, dangerous and endangered lives.  We can agree that we don’t like his music or how he comports himself or having to see his face on every product under the sun.  We can agree that he is no role model or someone to be emulated in any way.  What we don’t have to do is cast stones at him with reckless abandon in the expectation that “that’ll learn him.”

When we become a person who is quick to mock and slow to try to comprehend, what we’re really doing is presenting ourselves to the world as fundamentally not a very pleasant sort, and pushing ourselves down that dreaded scale.  Before you know it, one day we’ll tumble below the critical line and find ourselves on the receiving end of the world’s outrage.  The problem with being so down on that scale is that it’s too far to pull yourself back up, and moreover, no one’s going to want to throw you a rope – unless it’s to hang yourself with.

“Twetiquette” Twenty: Tips for T(w)errific Twitter Time

This post grew out of something I was doing on Twitter this morning.  Someone was wondering if they should unfollow a person who was cluttering up their feed with nonsense and constant retweets – they felt rude about doing it.  I suggested that if it were a TV channel that was playing a bunch of programs you weren’t interested in watching, you’d stop tuning in.  You’d probably even change your cable package to get rid of it (if the cable companies would let you, of course).  So why put up with it on Twitter?  I’ve followed people that seemed interesting at first but turned out to be irritants, spamming up my feed with dozens of retweets and mentions of stuff I wasn’t remotely interested in.  Why was I putting up with it?  No reason to.  Just click unfollow and be done with it.  I’m pretty sure those folks don’t miss me, and I sure as heck don’t miss them.  It’s not like there was any evil intent on either side, just two people discovering their interests weren’t compatible and going their separate ways.  Happens every day.  Anyway, I ended up tweeting a bunch of hints around the subject which I thought I would collate here for easy reference, and lo and behold, a few more spilled out in the process.

Fair warning – this isn’t your typical “How to Gain Followers and Maximize Your Influence” list.  This is just what I find helps me ensure every day on Twitter is a positive one.   But here goes anyway.  Some modest suggestions for your consideration (and disregard, if that is your inclination).  Note:  Each of these is under 140 characters so they are tweetable in their own right, if you want to share them.

  1. Telling someone you’ve unfollowed them is like telling a complete stranger you think you should see other people.
  2. You’re not obligated to follow someone back if you don’t want to.  Don’t add noise to your feed just to bump up your numbers.
  3. 50 engaged followers are better than 50,000 who never talk to you, retweet you or pay attention to you in any way.
  4. Don’t tweet in anger. Nothing in your head is so important that you can’t wait a few minutes to be sure you want to say it.
  5. Mind your manners with celebrities. Why would you want someone with an audience of millions telling them you’re an idiot?
  6. Try to reply to people when they mention you.  They have reached out and deserve acknowledgement.
  7. You’re not important enough to get away with being a jerk so be positive always, and if you can’t, stay silent.
  8. Don’t wade into conversations that don’t involve you unless you’re certain you can contribute in a positive way.
  9. Don’t tweet the same thing over and over; if it wasn’t funny the first time, it won’t be on tweet #78.
  10. We’re all sick of commercials on TV – don’t be one on Twitter with constant links to your product/book/service.
  11. If you don’t like what someone’s saying, just unfollow quietly and forget.  Don’t make a scene about it.
  12. ALL CAPS IS STILL SCREAMING, EVEN ON TWITTER.  PLEASE CALM DOWN, TAKE A STRESS PILL AND THINK IT OVER.
  13. Everyone swears, but dropping those bombs in every single tweet makes you sound childish.  Unless you are Chuck Wendig.  He’s allowed.
  14. No one is that interested in your boasting about how many people followed/unfollowed you today.  Yep, you’re a rock star, whatever.
  15. The guy you just mouthed off at might know a guy who knows a guy who knows your employer.  Maintain your decorum at all times.
  16. Follow Stephen Fry.  Retweet Stephen Fry.  Say nice things to and about Stephen Fry.  Spread the gospel of Stephen Fry.
  17. Don’t throw a Twitter pity party about how no one retweets or responds to you.  Would you talk to such a whiner in real life?
  18. Ignore trolls, block spammers without mercy and accept that not everyone will agree with you on everything.
  19. My old standby:  if you wouldn’t proudly carve it cement on your front porch, don’t tweet it.
  20. Ultimately, no one really knows what they’re doing on Twitter so take any advice about it with a heaping teaspoon of salt.

 

O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

This is your life.  Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons
This is your life. Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

On Twitter today, Joyce Carol Oates shares a quote from yesterday’s New Yorker about privacy, in which artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg opines, “we are probably the last generation that will realize what we’re losing.”  You can’t help thinking that she’s right.  An entire generation is growing up with their lives chronicled meticulously for the world’s perusal through Facebook, Instagram, blogs, what have you, either by proud parents or by themselves, seeking connection in the digital space.  For the vast majority of the population, these connections will be benign, the consequences minor or nonexistent.  Traditional media is certainly keen to hype up the instances of social media gone wrong, and certainly the latest revelations about the National Security Agency are cause for justifiable alarm at what is being collected and by whom for what purposes.  To me, it seems that privacy has become a malleable concept.  People are okay with sharing to a certain degree, but there is usually a line they won’t cross, and that line differs from person to person.  Yet everyone is happy to abdicate at least some of what is uniquely theirs to the great unknown masses; the absolute recluse is soooo last century.  (Even Thomas Pynchon lent his voice to The Simpsons a couple of times.)  Is Joni Mitchell right, though?  Will we not know what we had until it is gone?  Or is the march to a completely open community inevitable and privacy a willing sacrifice?

The flexible line intrigues me.  A while back, I read a post (I don’t remember where, sorry, or I would provide the link) in which the writer suggested that the level of detail provided in certain “mommy blog” posts about children encroached on the territory of potential libel litigation once the child reached maturity – tired moms calling their kids “little shits” online, and so forth.  As a blogger and a new adoptive parent, I too had a choice to make about how much or how little detail I would include about my son in this space.  Mindful of my own rule that you should never put anything online that you wouldn’t carve in concrete on your front porch, and not wanting to burden my son with a digital legacy not of his own making, I chose to be quite spare in the amount of information I reveal about him.  Where I do post about parenting it’s about my thoughts and feelings – which I can control – and my son is more of a relatively anonymous factor influencing me.  You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned his name, and if someone who knows me personally accidentally drops it in the comments, I delete it post-haste.  (I have not mentioned my wife’s name here either, for the same reasons, though if you really want to find it, it’s not that difficult.)  The siren song of the Internet is calling to him with increasing volume, and he’ll have plenty of time to forge his own footprint his own way, when he’s ready (you know, in about 30 years or so).  He doesn’t need me blazing an embarrassing trail with catty remarks about cranky moods or off-color remarks spoken in innocence that will come back to haunt him in his first job interview.

Even if you are cautious about sensible things – not posting your address or phone number, or photos of your house or of you blistering drunk in a pair of your mother’s underpants and so on – you are still giving up an aspect of your privacy when you share your thoughts, whether they be in short bursts of anger at the latest dumb thing done by right wing politicians or long, carefully-reasoned pieces like this one.  If someone was a diligent reader of the preceding 200-odd posts here they’d have me at a considerable disadvantage were I to meet them in real life.  (Honestly, at any given time I don’t remember half of what I’ve written here.)  You don’t know where I live or where I am this very second, but one could argue you know a much more intimate detail about me.  You know how I think.  That is, assuming you trust that I’ve been truthful and I haven’t been pulling your leg for almost two years with the old unreliable narrator gimmick.  And that raises another interesting question.  Given the absolute tabula rasa of the digital space for the creation of an online identity, why the presumption that the majority of folks who use it are being absolutely honest about who they are and what they think?  I could have created a completely opposite alter ego just for fun and gone to town.  But I wanted to be me.  And I wanted the digital me to be consistent with the real me, otherwise Lucy would have a lot of ‘splaining to do at dinner parties.  So I have in fact given up an integral component of my privacy.  I’ve opened my mind to you.  There’s an implicit contract then that you are not evil incarnate and you’re not going to find some way to use it against me in a future I have not yet conceived.  And even if you do there’s not hellish much I can do about it.  I’ve handed over the mallet willingly and it’s your choice whether or not you want to bludgeon me with it.

When you think about it in that context, sharing online is an enormous gesture of trust, and an encouraging one, for it speaks to a deep-rooted optimism that our fellow human beings are good people who can be relied upon to be responsible caretakers of the information we’re providing them.  Is it possible that the desire for community, connection and having our voices heard outweighs the wish to protect privacy?  For it seems that today, you cannot have both.  Certainly, those who shun the digital space wind up missing out on a heck of a lot.  There are terrific people I’ve met through blogging and through Twitter that I never would have known about had I chosen to retract my head into my little turtle shell and keep my own counsel.  My life, then, has been enhanced by forfeiting aspects of my privacy.  In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about how the people who are the most willing to be vulnerable are those who experience the richest love in return.  Yet there’s that catch – being vulnerable.  Putting it out there.  Extending your hand knowing there is a possibility (however remote) that it might be bitten off.  What is worrisome to many, as Heather Dewey-Hagborg suggests with her quote, is that in the future, there simply may be no choice anymore.  We need to know if we’re okay with that.  The reward of a closer-knit human race is a tempting carrot indeed, but the trouble is, no one knows what it will feel like to be hit with the stick.

The followers game

Western Bluebirds by Julio Mulero. Creative Commons license.

“How to get more followers fast!” is the 21st Century equivalent of “How to make money in real estate with no money down.”  In social media, we measure success not by dollars earned, but by reach – by the size of our audience.  Given that the vast majority of those who use social media are looking for bigger numbers, it’s unsurprising that the vultures would swoop in and begin releasing endless volumes of “how-to” schemes.  Though widespread, the advice is more or less the same – use some variety of app to follow large numbers, unfollow people who don’t follow you back, rinse and repeat.  Presto, tens of thousands of strangers hanging on your every word, a massive untapped market ready to lap up whatever variation of widget you want to push on them.

Or is it?

What these “get followers fast” folks won’t tell you is how many of these new people are truly engaged with you – if they care about what you have to say, or if they just followed you because they have a similar app building a following for them.  I’ve posted before about what I look for in people I choose to follow, and when I see someone new following me who has almost identical following/follower numbers, my red flag is raised (especially if their feed is nothing but requests/pleas/desperate cries to buy their book).  Often I won’t follow back, and a few days later I will react with not a shred of surprise when that person disappears from my followers list.  Sayonara, nice to know ya, sorta.  The question I would ask is, what is ultimately more worthwhile:  100 engaged Twitter friends or 100,000 “followers” who never retweet you, never click on your links and never reply to anything you put out there?  100 people who like and care about you or 100,000 who consider you nothing more than a digit?

By any measure advanced by every social media “guru” or “ninja” (aside, isn’t being a ninja antithetical to the concept of social media?  I mean, you want people to know you’re there, right?), my Twitter presence is a failure.  I have been on Twitter for over two years and I have just over 400 followers.  Not exactly Lady Gaga numbers (she probably garners that many every twenty minutes).  Yeah, we love the electric charge we feel when we open it up one morning and see an uptick, and we loathe the disappointment of watching the counter tick down.  I can point to three incidences when I’ve seen a surge in new people coming on board – two of them involve being retweeted by famous people (Justin Trudeau and Russell Crowe respectively), while the third was tied to a Huffington Post article of mine about airline travel that was featured as a headline.  Other than that, it stays pretty steady.  One wonders from time to time if there’s something one is doing or not doing that is keeping the digits immobile.  Am I not funny/irreverent/profound/snarky enough?  What do I have to do to mimic the example of Megan Amram who started from nothing and parlayed a massive Twitter following into a professional TV writing career?

The truth is, nothing.  You can’t be anyone but who you are, as people will be able to smell phoniness ten miles away.  And pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting.  It will suck you dry, because you’ll be forcing yourself to live up to an unnatural standard, and you’ll begin resenting having to fake it day in and day out.  Twitter shouldn’t be a duty, it should be entertaining, thought-provoking, and fun.  Because Twitter has no societal strata barring entry, you can jump right in and chat with whomever you please (of course, customary manners still apply, or you’ll find yourself on a lot of “blocked” lists really darn fast).  Thus you get a chance to befriend and talk with people you might otherwise never meet.  I look back on my Twitter experience and I think of some of the amazing, generous people I’ve encountered, some of the stimulating conversations I’ve had, some of the fantastic writing I’ve discovered, and above all, the quality, not the quantity, of these interactions.  The enrichment of one’s life through being able to communicate with kindred spirits far and wide.  That is Twitter to me, not a race to ratchet up a follower count.

I cringe every time I see one of these automatic updates about someone’s day on Twitter that consist of nothing other than an accounting of their new followers and unfollowers (in the past, I have unfollowed otherwise interesting people who’ve overdone it with these waste-of-Tweets).  It’s plain old boasting, and the height of narcissism to assume that anyone else cares about your self-applied sense of awesomeness.  What I would consider to be a successful day on Twitter consists of more intangible statistics.  If I’ve made someone laugh, if I’ve moved someone to tears, if I’ve helped someone to think differently about a difficult situation, if I’ve provided a little bit of inspiration, or I’ve motivated someone to make a positive change in their life, that means more than numbers ever will.  So the gurus will cluck their tongues, the ninjas will fling throwing stars at me and tell me I’m Doing It Wrong, but truly, just as everyone is meant to find and follow their own path in life, so too is everyone’s social media experience whatever they choose to make of it.  Mine works for me.  How’s yours going?

Twitter bios: Who are you, really?

@MobyDick.  Whale.  Love eating krill and plankton.  Not fond of one-legged captains.  #GetOverItAhab
@MobyDick. Whale. Love eating krill and plankton. Not fond of one-legged captains. #GetOverItAhab

On Twitter, we are what we say.  We have the opportunity to craft a complete online identity through what we talk about, who we talk with and what we share.  I have met some amazing people through Twitter and had some engaging, thought-provoking and downright hilarious conversations, with folks I might otherwise be terrified to approach were I to see them out on the street (Russell Crowe, looking in your direction, mate).

Disappointing on occasion though are the Twitter bios people write for themselves.  A mere 160 characters to sit on your Twitter account permanently and try to encapsulate who you are and why people should be interested in you.  Folks who are using Twitter strictly as a marketing tool are the worst, describing themselves as flatly and as soullessly as the plastic widgets they’re attempting to push on you.  And some traits are dropped in so commonly and so lazily as to lose all meaning – “coffee drinker,” for example, which is about as distinguishing as saying you’re an “oxygen breather.”

I’m also puzzled as to why some Tweeps waste characters with “Tweets are my own,” “Retweets are not endorsements” and “I follow back!”  I understand that if you want to mouth off about how badly last night’s Stanley Cup playoff game went, you don’t want anyone to possibly infer that your profane criticism of the refereeing reflects the official views and positions of the ABC Company.  I think most people are smart enough to understand that although we all work, we all have private lives as well.  My Twitter life is entirely disengaged from my work life, even though there are people I work with who follow me (and I follow them).  But I don’t talk about work.  EVER.  I don’t say where I work and I don’t bitch about work.  Look, I’m at work all day, every day, and I have enough of it on my mind without it spilling into my social media life too.  Saying “Tweets are my own” is just dumb though.  Of course they’re your own.  They’re not Phil’s, and they’re not Uncle Frank’s, and people get that.

“Retweets are not endorsements” is another one that to me, is a waste of space.  I mean, I suppose there’s the fear that you might retweet somebody’s joke about airline travel only to find out a few weeks later that he once got arrested for masturbating in a park, and suddenly you’re a supporter of public self-pleasure by association or some such nonsense.  Look, I can think Braveheart is a great movie and no one would ever accuse me of sympathizing with some of the reprehensible views that Mel Gibson has espoused publicly.  When you retweet something, it’s because you thought that particular statement was worth sharing again.  You’re not suddenly a staunch enthusiast of everything that person has ever said.  I think this is one we just need to agree on collectively and then, just as collectively, remove it from every single Twitter bio on earth.

Finally, announcing “I follow back” or using the hashtag #TeamFollowBack is, as Ricky Gervais has said, a little bit sad.  It pretty much guarantees that people will only follow you to bump up their own numbers, and not because they are truly interested in hearing what you have to say.  I know I’m going against the advice of every single Internet marketing specialist here, but I think of Twitter as what the cable companies will never offer:  an opportunity to pick your own channels, a la carte, without having to pay for or suffer through programs you don’t want.  You can very easily build up a massive following by just following everyone you can and unfollowing those who don’t follow back, but what does that get you in the end?  An awful lot of noise.  I follow people who will add value to my day, and that’s my sole criterion.

So, what should you put in your Twitter bio?  Well, I’m not saying mine is the epitome of awesome, but I think it’s pretty good, and here’s why.  When you click on my profile, this is what you’ll see:

Writer, novelist-in-waiting, HuffPoster, Anglo, James Bond and Aaron Sorkin-phile, happy liberal, lover of martinis, women and song, preferably all at once.

1. Writer, novelist-in-waiting, HuffPoster:  Chuck Wendig has a great line about how you’re either a writer or you aren’t, the word “aspiring” sucks, and that you shouldn’t differentiate just because you may not necessarily get paid for your words.  Right now, I don’t make money for anything I write.  I hope that will change soon, but it doesn’t stop me from writing.  Ergo, I am a writer.  I say “novelist-in-waiting” because I do have one finished novel, but to me, “novelist” suggests that you have more than one.  I don’t yet.  When I do, the “in-waiting” will fall off.  And again, just because I haven’t published it and no one’s paid to read it doesn’t mean a thing.  It’s a novel, I wrote it, it exists.  Finally, I should think it’s fairly obvious why “HuffPoster” is there.  23 articles and counting, so yeah, that one I can back up with solid evidence and the hateful comments that go with it.

2. Anglo, James Bond and Aaron Sorkin-phile:  A small sampling of my popular culture interests.  I have been enamored with all things English since probably the first time I heard someone speak in an English accent, which, given the second item in the list, was probably in watching a James Bond movie.  It also covers Monty Python, the Beatles and the majority of my taste in music, movies, books, the lot.  And I’m an Aaron Sorkin fan because his writing helped me find my own writing voice.  (Which reminds me, I must get to that in another post sometime as I believe I did promise it a while back.)

3. Happy liberal:  I don’t talk about politics on Twitter (or here) as much as I used to because the anger and hate that it stirs up on occasion (read: constantly) is becoming a bit stomach-churning in my old age.  But in a way, this is a shorthand message to politically inclined folks who might like to follow me that this is where I start from.  If you’re a worshipper of all things Ronald Reagan, free market libertarianism and neo-conservative warmongering, I don’t think you’ll find me very interesting; in fact, I may make your blood boil.  I certainly won’t be seeking you out so I can crap all over your home feed with bleeding heart, namby-pamby communism.  Let’s just agree to disagree and leave each other alone then.  On the other hand, if you think we should base decisions on science, ensure that the rich pay their fair share, stop paving planet Earth indiscriminately and live in a society where we look after each other and help boost each other up, if you believe that government can be a force for good when the best people are involved in it, if you believe that a small group of committed citizens can change the world because it’s the only thing that ever has, then sign on up, glad to have you, I might even follow back.

4. Lover of martinis, women and song:  Yes, I do love me a martini.  All kinds – dry, fruity, decorated with chocolate shavings or plastic parasols, doesn’t matter.  It’s a drink of sophistication that makes a man feel comfortable in a jacket and tie – a throwback to the era when class and erudition was the real swag.  I’m old-fashioned that way, I suppose, but in a time when being a man seems to be a race to the bottom of a beer and nacho-cheese soaked barrel, I’m proud to be an anachronism.  A lover of women?  Yes, dear goddess yes, in all facets.  Not a day goes by where I don’t ponder a particular woman or women in general with awe and admiration.  I love them for their indomitable strength, their ability to take every setback life throws at them because of their gender and say, “is that all you’ve got, little man?”  I love their minds, I love their senses of humor, I love their ability to see right through us, to strip away our phoniness and our pretend selves and force us to figure out who we really are.  I love the music in their laughter, the poetry in their tears.  I love their connection with who they are and the world they live in.  I love the scent of their hair, the softness of their skin, the tone of their legs, the elegance of their hands.  I love that I’m married to the most incredible woman on the planet, that I’m the brother of the second most incredible woman on the planet and that I’m privileged to know so many of their sisters.  And I love to celebrate women in the words I write – which, I suppose, is the meaning of the “song” here.

5. Preferably all at once:  Because a perfect evening is listening to my wife croon Ella Fitzgerald while I sip a Vesper.

There you have it – not saying that it’s perfect or that it won’t ever change.  But if you want to get to know me, it’s a good place to start.  Then you have to let my words do the rest.

Putting it out there then:  How do you describe yourself on Twitter?

Fishing for the little pellets of love

water

Some depressing Graham’s Crackers statistics to start off with.  Total posts, March 2012:  26.  Total posts, March 2013:  2 (including this one, 3 if you include the piece I did for HuffPo about International Women’s Day).  And the frogurt is also cursed.

Yes, I know, oh mighty gurus of blog, you’re not supposed to post about how you haven’t posted in a while.  But this is my sandbox and my rules and prithee, I shall beg indulgence while I raise a kerchief to my brow and lament in plaintive tone the lack of productivity shown these past fortnights.  It isn’t as though there’s nothing to write about, after all.  Nay, verily, my literary cup runneth somewhat over.  I do admire though, those who can juggle the heavy spheres of work and family and simply keeping up with the pace of life and still churn out a few thousand words each day.  Something one should aspire to as well, if one were not such a piss poor scheduler of one’s time (guilty, Your Honors).

To that end I am raising a metaphorical glass to my friend Tele Aadsen of Hooked for her much-deserved accomplishment of landing a publisher for her memoir.  Now, Tele and I have never met or spoken to one another and our interaction has been entirely in reading each other’s writing and exchanging comments and tweets.  But ours, I think, is a kinship of letters, of recognizing and appreciating the power of the written word and how we can use it to connect across otherwise impassable chasms of time and distance.  Would I, a dude of a somewhat insular urban upbringing in the Greater Toronto Area, have ever assumed that I would have the slightest thing in common with an Alaskan fisher poet?  Yet I do, and I’m grateful, and my life is the better for it.  Anyway, there was a Twitter hashtag that was trending a few days about people you’d most like to meet, and predictably, the most common answers were celebrity names (Bieber again?  REALLY?)  Tele’s at the top of my list.  Someday soon, I hope – that is, if I haven’t now come off sounding like Creepy Stalker Guy™.  If for nothing else than just the chance to say thank you.  And get a personalized, autographed copy.  It’s not for me, it’s for my friend of the same name.

Onwards and upwards then.  Amongst my pursuits I am occasionally fortunate enough to attend digital media conferences.  Toronto held its second annual Digital Media Summit last week, gathering a roster of experts and thought leaders from across the industry of ye olde cyberspace – names like Don Tapscott, Erik Qualman, Cindy Gallop, Amber Mac and Neil Shankman among dozens of other luminaries delivering informative addresses to hundreds of lanyard-wearing, smartphone-tapping digital worker bees.  I was there on behalf of my employer, of course, but I still view things through the filter of writing and how what they were all saying could be used to further a writer’s reach (who are we kidding – my reach) in this rapidly advancing age.  You know, sometimes one can get a bit cynical as one carefully strings his words together and hits “publish” and… nothing much happens.  Admit it; on the surface, we’re all happy for the blogger who rejoices “I got Freshly Pressed on my very first post!” while inside we seethe that our own 189 pearls of literate wisdom usually go unnoticed by all but a select (if wonderful) few.  If you can take your ego out of the equation, it’s not difficult to understand.  Time is precious, an individual’s time is even more precious, and in order for them to grant you even a few seconds of theirs in between bathing the dog and walking the baby, you have to touch them with something that inspires real passion.  There was an interesting statistic revealed at DMS that on Facebook, even posts by the most famous, highly-liked brands only reach about 15% of their followers.  (That’s why, even though in between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ or whatever else you’re linking your blog posts to you may have a thousand connections, hits on your latest and greatest might not top a hundred.  At least, that’s how it works for me.)  And just because you get them, it doesn’t mean you’ll keep them.  I’ve received a couple of (relatively) huge traffic spikes that have come from famous people tweeting links to my blog.  But they don’t last – after a few days the hits drop to their usual, more stable level.  Maybe you retain one or two, but the vast majority treat you like a cheap motel along I-75, moving on once the new day has dawned and the open road beckons.  And that’s cool.  I mean, how many blogs have I looked at once because they posted something I wanted to learn more about only to forget about them thirty seconds after hitting the red X?  It’s life, and if you want to be loved, adopt a golden retriever.

Those moments when you do tap into something and really connect with people, well, I suspect there are few varieties of crack cocaine that can measure to the high.  Someone at the DMS called them “little pellets of love”; you know, the tiny charge that you get when you open your Facebook and see the little red number in your notification section.  “People are interested in me!  Yay!”  Same goes on Twitter when we get a retweet, or a new follow, or a reply from a celebrity we really admire, or on WordPress when we get the notification that somebody liked, commented or shared our work.  When one finally does cross that fabled Rubicon from giving it away for free to receiving the first cheque for something we penned, does that vindication truly compare to the spiritual fulfillment of knowing that someone, even a stranger, really digs us?  I suppose in those cases by contrast when we’ve written something that really pisses people off, the money compensates for the death threats.

What then, is the lesson for today?  It’s karma, sports fans.  Ya gotta put it out to get it back.  And as my learned better half is wont to tell me when I sink into the occasional bout of self-pity, you need to write to touch people, not to prove how smart you are about things no one cares about.  You’ll see, I’m sure, when Hooked is released, how Tele does it.  Hopefully as I continue along here I’ll get better at it.  And we’ll see where the ocean takes us.