Much atwitter about nothing
Twitter is the Keanu Reeves of the internet.
I imagine a big budget film in 1994. It has big guns, big names, the perfect script, and Oscar written all over it. Spielberg already has the project and he’s trying to decide who would be the best leading man. Then, the executive producer walks in the room.
“We think we should use Keanu,” the producer says.
“Keanu?” Spielberg laughs. “Johnny Utah?”
“There’s something there. We’re not sure what. But you should use him. Everybody wants him now. Have you heard about this movie Speed they’re doing?”
Spielberg, against his better judgment, casts Reeves as his leading man. It ends up looking like what would happen if Matthew McConaughey played Hamlet. Spielberg goes on vacation and wonders if he shouldn’t remake Jaws.
If you haven’t heard of Twitter, this conversation will mean nothing to you. You’re probably trying to figure out how to text message through your rotary dial phone and get on that dot com thing. If you have heard of Twitter, you know it’s the world’s most popular social networking tool. It’s a real time conversation via computer or phone text message among you and whoever chooses to pay attention to your thoughts. Sound neat? It is. It is also, if you listen to some very smart people, profoundly stupid.
As Twitter grows and grows, it spawns thousands of new users, books, and a new breed of “social media expert.” To a lot of people, this is more than a little annoying. Among the people who are at least mildly annoyed with Twitter…
People who make their money by staying on top of the latest trends and exploiting them for fun and profit are having a tough time coming to grips with Twitter.
“How can we make money with it?” they ask
“How can I sell it?” they complain with hands twisting in frustration.
“Does it really do anything?” they cry.
It’s always annoying for people on the cutting edge to have to share their space with the masses. The great thing about being on the edge of anything is that you get to the cool stuff before everybody else. Once everybody else shows up to listen to your band, eat at your restaurant, and drink your beer, it’s not nearly as cool. “If Wil Wheaton was doing it, that’s cool, but now Ashton and Demi are Twittering. It’s played, man. Let’s go sit in a coffee shop and talk about what we’re going to like and then hate next.”
Let’s be honest, most big corporations that interact with the public are still trying to figure out how to best utilize a website. Watching them trying to figure out Twitter is the equivalent of the ol’ saying about the monkey and the football. Most of the them don’t know the difference between a @reply (now a Mention, if we’re being technical) and a Retweet. I know this because I know some very smart people who are desperately trying to get up to speed and are desperately confused about how Twitter works. I’d name some examples, but I’d be afraid of further confusing the issue.
There is, to be sure, Twitter overload on television. CNN’s Rick Sanchez sounds like a masturbating flasher on most days. “Look at my Twitter. Look at my Twitter. Look at it. Look at it!” It’s scary for people who just want to know how to pronounce Darfur and whether it’s going to give them the cancer.
My favorite criticisms are those who use Twitter to talk bad about Twitter. These are my favorites because they all come from people for whom I have a deep respect, admiration, and occasional envy.
I find it particularly interesting that so many folks are talking about Twitter and that so many exceptionally smart people are expressing such vitriol about it. As far as I’m concerned, you’re better off wringing your hands about Keanu Reeves.
As I wrote a few days back:
The key to appreciating Twitter is to accept that it is just a thing. It’s not a revolution. It’s not the second coming of Edward R. Murrow. It’s not even all that brilliant. It’s just a cool little tool that can be great in the right hands. It’s easy to be disappointed by something you hold up as important. So, don’t hold Twitter up. Use it or don’t use it, as long as you don’t expect the second coming to be preceded by a “@believers I’m on my way.”
That is a long was of saying, Keanu Reeves can be useful and make you some money (see, Matrix, et al). It’s also a way of saying that most of the time, Reeves is just Johnny Utah–fun to watch, but nothing in the form of high art.
Twitter is the same thing. In the right hands, it’s going to be a moneymaker and a good one. For most people though, it’s marshmallow fluff that is a lot of fun, but generally useless. I live in the latter category. I use Twitter and, honestly, I feel comfortable holding myself out as as much of an “expert” as anybody else. That said, it’s not going to make me any money. I use Twitter the same as I use the blog. It’s a way to communicate. If you’re in the business of communication, you should know Twitter. If you don’t, you’re behind.
But, if you expect Keanu Reeves to be the next Paul Newman just because a bunch of people enjoy his movies, you’re barking up the wrong doofus.