If you go to my Twitter account, you are invited to look up in admiration. I present myself as the embodiment of humorous observations and useful information. I am strong and powerful but also human. I am a graceful retweeter. I am sober, except when I am drunk. I use my power to tweet in the service of my ideas, which are the best ideas ever.
The Twitter accounts that get started these days are mostly duds. That’s because they’re not started by me. @meganamram is a nullity. She tells you nothing about what my apartment building superintendent is doing on a daily basis. @tweenhobo brutally simplifies the complex and dangerous life of a homeless teen. The account has an fun and self-assured tone completely out of keeping with what I experienced when I personally spent sixth grade in a boxcar.
As I have noted, @jimmyfallon transforms the charismatic talk-show host into someone who’s deferential to Michele Bachmann. Instead of a crafty wielder of wit, @jimmyfallon is a self-promotional sham.
Why can’t today’s tweeters just follow me?
Some of the reasons are well-known. We live in a culture that finds it easier to assign high status to those who live on the coasts than those who live in the Middle West. Most of the stories we tell ourselves are about unemployed 20-somethings in New York City.
Then there is our misplaced devotion to equality, to the notion that all Twitter accounts are equally deserving of being followed. It’s hard in this frame of mind to define and celebrate greatness, to hold up those who are immeasurably superior to others. I refer, of course, to me.
The main problem is our inability to think properly about how Twitter should be used. Twitter is built on a series of paradoxes: that tweeters have to attract followers without pandering to them; that great tweeters are superior to their followers while also sometimes following them back; that the more favorites they receive, the more they feel like God’s gift to the Internet. My personal account is an illustration of how to successfully navigate those paradoxes.
These days many tweeters seem incapable of thinking about these paradoxes. Those “Tweet of the Day” Favstar tweets no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish true greatness. They symbolize a pandering for retweets.
The old Twitter culture of the intellectuals has turned into a mass discussion of the weather. The common assumption is that people who decline to tweet about the weather are somehow not of the people, that we care only about ourselves, that follows and favorites should go to mundane tweeters like you and not to great tweeters like me.
Movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Parties try to dispense with authority altogether—and by extension, they threaten my online supremacy. They use hashtags in the hopes that their tweets will gain attention, at the expense of my tweets. They think the Internet should be like the world—a place where I live in a mere studio apartment instead of Buckingham Palace.
Maybe we have to relearn the art of following—specifically, the art of following me. Followership is also built on a series of paradoxes: that we were created equal but must enter non-reciprocal online relationships; that we choose who we follow but then have to read every single tweet they choose to publish; that we’re proud of ourselves but prouder of the people we follow. Who we should really be proud of, in brief, is me.
The Internet may or may not have a leadership problem, but it certainly has a followership problem. The vast majority of people on Twitter do not follow me. That’s not because my tweets have become worse, it’s because everyone foolishly thinks there are other people who are more worth following. Vanity has more to do with my lack of followers than anything else—the vanity properly should be entirely mine.
In my unpublished memoir, On the Internet Everyone Assumes You’re Naked, I deliver the following advice: “Always try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from me.” If you want to master the art of tweeting, you must begin by mastering the art of following—specifically, following me.
To have good tweeters you have to have good followers—people who won’t unfollow you for being self-centered and cranky. You know else they called self-centered and cranky? Jesus.
- @JayGabler thinks it would also be acceptable if you followed @DavidBrooksNYT, author of this brilliant essay about the problems with America today.
Bunnies to mah left. Bunnies to mah right. (June 4)
I guess I just don’t really care about M. Ward. (June 4)
If canned tuna ever became illegal I’d be so effed. (June 2)
how long do you think that popcorn kernel’s been in my bra? (May 30)
The way l frantically check my twitter/Facebook/email/etc. in the morning you’d think the Internet was in danger of exploding at any moment (May 26)
Eating beef jerky in the Aldi parking lot and not even super embarrassed about what my life has become. (May 25)
Cowbell in this Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros song sounds like my Outlook reminder. Freakin’ me out like I’m missin’ all my meetin’s. (May 23)
Do you guys think there are more packets of ketchup or construction cones in the world? Like the highway ones. And Heinz obviously. (May 15)
I hope I’m never that middle aged woman perusing the chip selection at Super America with the back of her dress tucked into her undies :-/ (May 13)
So THAT is obviously the dreadlock I accidentally dipped in my whiskey diet and tried to wash with toothpaste. (May 13)
Operation Hydration: successful and ended in urination, as expected. (May 12)
Bought stupid underwear dammit (May 1)
Open facial wound, on a plane, wearing running tights. Just thought I’d set the scene for you. Oh yeah, and eating a bagel. (April 28)
Holy smokes, that is the smallest muffin. (April 26)
Sometimes I wonder how many apple stickers I’ve eaten in my life. (April 24)
ike, I’m SORRY. I just don’t like carrots that much. (April 15)
Winding road my ass, Sheryl. (April 13)
Girls, try super hard to never drop canned tuna on the crotch of yer pants. (April 12)
CHOCOLATE BEER GUYS (April 6)
OMG you’ve been to 34 out of 50 states!? WOWZER AMAZING SUCH A TRAVELER CONGRATS (April 5)
I try not to mad at people who knock past me at shows but YOU WILL DIE A MISERABLE DEATH. (April 2)
You know, for a cleaning agent, tooth paste is ridiculously hard to hide when you inevitably drool it on your shirt before work. (April 2)
- Compiled by @JayGabler
Illustration by Becky Lang
The New Yorker has begun tweeting “Black Box,” a new short story by Jennifer Egan. The complete story is being tweeted in ten nightly installments that began last night, followed with a sign-off (“You’ve been reading the first of ten installments of Jennifer Egan’s ‘Black Box’”) as though Twitter was a radio station. The fact that the @NYerFiction account still has fewer than 6,000 followers—when, say, @nottildaswinton recently picked up over 25,000 followers in just a couple of days’ time—suggests that the Twitterverse is not exactly afire with excitement over this development.
And why should they be? This stunt feels like exactly what it is: the literary establishment condescending to play with a form that it remains deeply suspicious and willfully ignorant of. Jonathan Franzen is at the extreme in dismissing Twitter as “the ultimate irresponsible medium,” but with few exceptions, authors who do well with the mainstream literary establishment tend to steer clear of the Internet—and especially its faster-paced applications, like Twitter.
Though Egan wrote the story expressly to be tweeted, she’s on record as having deep suspicion of new communications technology. Her Pulitzer-prize winning smash A Visit from the Goon Squad concludes with a chapter set in the dystopian near future where children are at the mercy of compact phone-like devices that they use so enthusiastically from the earliest ages that “bands had no choice but to reinvent themselves for the preverbal.” They communicate in absurdly abbreviated misspelled texts (“pls wAt 4 me, my bUtiful wyf”), and the hero of the book turns out to be a captivating singer who “you knew just by looking had never had a page or a profile or a handle or a handset, who was part of no one’s data.”
Of course an author’s own views can’t always be inferred from the content of her fiction, but Egan has also spoken of her views on technology—and, surprise surprise, they’re not particularly enthusiastic. When I saw her being interviewed last year in St. Paul, she was asked about the constant connectivity now possible. “It’s hard to imagine how it could be good,” she said, and her fans largely agreed with her. (“This Talking Volumes with Jennifer Egan is turning into a bunch of babyboomer women hating on the Internet,” wrote Becky Lang. “Had to stop listening to tweet.”)
The irony is that the Internet—Twitter included—is an amazingly rich place for writers, especially those who embrace the form’s dynamism rather than try to squeeze old-school prose into 140-character bursts. The first installment of Egan’s story comprises Jenny-Holzer-like aphorisms (“Even a powerful man will be briefly self-conscious when he first disrobes to his bathing suit”) written in high diction, just so we know we’re reading Real Writing.
Egan’s story is a million miles from the writing of an Internet native like Megan Boyle, whose Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee happens to be a book, but is written in the kind of jittery confessional style, so characteristic of the Internet, that makes Egan uncomfortable. Here’s a sample: “i’ve been having regular sex with this guy, he hits my cats on their heads and they look insulted.”
Egan: “Eagerness and pliability can be expressed even in the way you climb from the sea onto chalky yellow rocks.”
Boyle: “i used to eat ketchup packets from fast food places. i still do sometimes. not all at once, i like to suck on them gradually.”
Whose next tweet would you rather read?
Well, I don’t know about a billion dollars—I’m no venture capitalist. But over the past couple of weeks I’ve realized that Instagram has become my #1 go-to social app: if I’m waiting in line at the bank or hung over in bed, I’ll open Instagram before checking Twitter or Facebook or even Tumblr. Why is Instagram so great right now? Here are five things it’s got going for it.
1. It’s a visual Twitter. “Limits equal freedom” sounds very Big Brother, but it’s a lesson Facebook learned from the sparkly train wreck of MySpace, and that Twitter learned from Facebook, and that Instagram has now learned from Twitter. Instagram doesn’t have any links or events or apps or even GIFs—it’s just a steady stream of photos. There’s something soothing about that; you can watch it like a movie.
2. Filters. There’s been much discussion about whether Instagram filters are for twee dilettantes (versus Serious Photographers), but take away the names and the frames, and Instagram filters are really just an accessible version of the tools Serious Photographers have always had access to: changing brightness, contrast, and saturation. A filter can’t make a bad photo good—no more than Photoshop can fix a screwed-up DSLR shot—but it can enhance and clarify, making the photo more attractive and effective. Having that tool onboard is a no-brainer for a good photo sharing app.
3. Integration. I use Instagram for almost all my photo posting now, because it’s so elegantly integrated with other social media: when you post a photo to Instagram, you can easily select which other networks you want to share it with. Best of all, it’s much more reliable for uploading than most Twitter photo-sharing services, and way more reliable than the Tumblr app. It’s just the fastest and least frustrating way to share your photos online.
4. It’s at the sexy sweet spot of network adoption. You know that point in a social network’s life when it seems like it’s used by all the people you want to see your shit, and none of the people you don’t? Facebook toppled off this peak years ago, Twitter’s on its way downhill, and right now Tumblr and Instagram are sharing space at the summit. Chelsea Fagan recently wrote on her Tumblr, “I just took the time to write a bottom-of-the-barrel-scrapingly witty status on Facebook and I just kind of sighed and thought, ‘What the hell am I doing here? I don’t want approval from that pregnant chick I went to high school with and my bullshit new-agey aunt.’” That pregnant chick and the new-agey aunt have their Facebook (and Pinterest), and the rest of us have Tumblr and Instagram. For now.
5. It’s mobile-only. Well, not purely. If your Instagram account is open, your photos exist on individual Web pages that are linked to when you share your photos. But those pages aren’t linked to each other, so you can’t navigate Instagram on a browser: you have to use the mobile app. (Try the Instagallery app for your iPad; it feels like seeing your favorite classic movie on the big screen.) That gives Instagram a feeling of intimacy and privacy that makes it feel weirder to follow a stranger on Instagram than it is to follow him/her on Twitter or even to friend him/her on Facebook. Instagram still feels like a little mobile clubhouse. Will Facebook be able to preserve that feeling? Probably not, so enjoy it while it lasts.
1. Go to the complimenter’s profile and view the compliment in full size, as its own page. Look at those good things the complimenter said about your project or company or blog, in huge letters. Put your face close to the screen.
2. Lick the screen.
3. Say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
4. Call your mom and read the tweet to her.
5. Send a reply tweet to the complimenter, thanking him/her for the kind words.
6. Strip down to your underwear, play your favorite top 40 song, and jump around on your bed and couch. Imagine yourself in the opening credits of a movie about your amazing life.
7. Go online and buy a little something for yourself—something you’ve been wanting. You deserve it.
8. Go back to the complimenter’s profile and see how many followers that person has. Imagine what that number of people would look like if gathered all together. Imagine yourself crowd-surfing on those people, and them all asking you about your project or company or blog.
9. Take a nap—or make a booty call and take a “nap” with your favorite bed buddy.
10. When you wake up or he/she has gone home, take a shower. Get dressed, and sit in a quiet room. Imagine all your project’s or company’s or blog’s followers. Think about how much they like your project or company or blog, to follow it on Twitter. Think about what they’re doing right now, and think about whether seeing a rando compliment about your project or company or blog pop up in their Twitter stream or as a TweetDeck bubble will really make your followers think, “That project [or company or blog] that I already follow is so awesome! Random people say good things about it all the time, and I’m made aware of all those rando compliments because they all get retweeted! I’m so glad I follow that project [or company or blog]!” If the answer is yes…proceed.