Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint: The Twitter Disconnection

Takepart.comNovember 29, 2012

TakePart presents “Anna Breslaw’s 600-Word Sprint,” a weekly column of pop culture analysis and social justice insight. Look for Anna’s Sprint every week on the homepage of TakePart.

This morning I woke up to discover that an American couple had named their baby Hashtag. The fact of it didn’t surprise me as much as the realization that it hadn’t already happened.

As one of the few non-Twitter users left among my social group (not to mention my profession; it would definitely behoove me to rack up three or four hundred followers in order to gain credibility as an Internet writer), my friends consider me something of a social media curmudgeon. I’m okay with that. I despise Twitter with every fiber of my being.

First of all, a big fuss is made about Twitter as the “great equalizer,” a huge, cozy, democratic hub of communication between classes, races and celebrity status, one in which a normal person can reach, say, the President of Rwanda with little more than an “@.”

MORE: The Twitter Counterrevolution

This would be fine if the very essence of human nature didn’t turn every new opportunity for social contact into an abrasive battleground. Obviously the myriad “Twitter feuds” are so frequent it would be idiotic to try to cite them all, but take a recent one, for instance: Chris Brown’s disgusting, multiple-Tweet fight with a comedian named Jenny Johnson who provoked him with an insulting “@.” Among Brown’s various bon mots was “take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE.”

Johnson’s no angel either—obviously, she’s motivated to engage Brown in the cause of gaining more Twitter followers herself, another aspiring Best Week Ever talking-head attempting to foist her carefully curated stream of 140-character-or-less jokes on the world.

And then there’s the confusing culture of “Twitter celebrities,” which is a whole other bag of worms.

Thousands of arguments like this occur on Twitter daily. Is this the wonder of 21st century human connection that we’re so smug about?

Experts in the field of new technology project that Twitter, in the long run, will outlive Facebook because of the latter’s confusing and ever-changing privacy settings. Ironically, often the people who are most outraged about their profile data being exposed to the world are the same people who tweet a live update of their daily minutia every two minutes. Think of the kind of people who update their Facebook statuses that often: It seems pretty narcissistic, doesn’t it?

And then there’s the confusing culture of “Twitter celebrities,” which is a whole other bag of worms.

Facebook can also bring out the evil side of people, but, in my experience, Facebook’s slightly lesser sense of communicative immediacy (as well as the lack of anonymity) isn’t really geared toward the kind of rapid-fire thoughtless insults you see in a Twitter feud, not to mention all of the followers who “weigh in” on the argument, waving their money in the air outside the virtual ring.

To state the obvious here, it seems to me that the psychological appeal of Twitter is that everyone gets to be a celebrity. Your followers—fans—watch raptly as you peel an egg or drink a beer or get a new shirt, and in the moment between hitting “Send Tweet” and seeing it appear on your Twitter, you’re a Kardashian. For that matter, you can even Tweet at a Kardashian and inform them as much.

Who needs actual human communication when you have “fans”?

This is all well and good, I suppose, but let’s just call it what it is: #FollowFriday isn’t making the world a better place.

In an abstract way, it reminds me of a conversation I had with my mother in high school, when I asked her how plans were ever made before cell phones.

“We used house phones.”

“But what if something came up or you had to be late or change your plans?”

She shrugged. “We just made sure to be there.”

These days, we have no reason to be there at all.

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These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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Anna Breslaw is a regular contributor to Jezebel, New York magazine’s Vulture and Glamour, and her writing has been featured elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn. Email Anna | Anna’s Tumblr