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.
Even the more successful recent accounts evade discussion of me. @stevemartintogo is about Steve Martin. @kanyewest is about Kanye West.
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.