Today In Twitterverse: Opposing Arguments

I appreciate that Misha Cornes of Organic has stuck his neck out by declaring that he’s “over Twitter.”
Her reasoning is sound:

Most people are not that interesting.
There, I said it. Overall, the culture of self-promotion embedded in most social media applications bothers me. I know that listening to “life between blogs post and emails” is supposed to bring me closer to my Twitter friends, but I don’t want to hear about their minutiae any more than I want to report on my own. The time you spend away from people is what allows you to be interesting to each other again.
Twitter takes bite-sized content about three bites too far.
Have you ever read the transcript of a Twitter conversation? It’s like reading the notes that get passed back and forth in class. If blogs are bite-sized versions of newspaper-length articles, tweets are one-liners. And as Gertrude Stein quipped, “literature is not remarks”. I like to get the benefit of people’s reasoned opinions, not their spontaneous outbursts.
Twitter feels distancing even as it connects me to others.
I think the main positive benefit of Twitter – promoting weak social bonds between loosely connected groups- actually allows people to maintain their space and reduces real intimacy. In this great article about the parallels between behaviors like friending and more ancient forms of oral communication, cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch notes that there’s a “fundamental distance” to social networks. “That distance makes it safe for people to connect through weak ties where they can have the appearance of a connection because it’s safe.”
With Twitter, each of us shouts into the void to the community at large, rather than taking the risk of speaking directly to one another. Tweets, if you can consider them personal communications at all, are a declaration of existence rather than an invitation to engage in a conversation.

If we are to buy into Wesch’s “fundamental distance” theory of social networks and Cornes’ three-part analysis, the game’s up. I know I’m tempted to buy it. Where are you in this debate?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. amen to that. i realize twitter has some appeal that largely escapes me. steve jobs’ twitters? i’m in. seth godin? i’m in. hugh mcleod? i’m in.
    but my twitters? not so much. (“i’m commenting on ad blogs. again!”)
    it just feels like mental diarrhea. and self-promotion of the most useless variety.

  2. fortyver says:

    Thank god that someone has finally said this. I can say it all I want, but who am I. Just some lowly freelance AD. Twitter is funny, but really, is lame sometimes. Who cares that you are taking a shit at (insert hipster or fancy bar name here).
    I wish someone would say that the Integrated Agency, is not all that integrated. It’s all, “Damn, we got to get on this internet thing, and let our customers make YouTube videos about how much they love our hemorrhoid cream.”

  3. I understand that twitter isn’t for everyone, but isn’t what is being criticized here the usage, not the technology itself?
    I get the most asinine email messages — tons of them — every day. But email serves a purpose. I actually have some pretty good conversations over twitter because it is (for me) a great midway point between email (which I have to use) and IM (which i’m always ‘invisible’ on because of its potential for annoyance).
    I say, give it a shot and learn how you could potentially make it work for you. Here’s my setup:
    1) I get no notifications sent to my cell phone or IM.
    2) I use a desktop AIR client (Twhirl or Snitter).
    3) The only notifications I get are those sent directly to me — and those come via email.
    4) I’m followed by way more people than I actually follow — you’ve got to earn my followhood. it keeps twitterrhea to a minimum.
    5) I have twitterberry on my Blackberry, which I mainly use only to respond to direct messages.
    And you know what? That works for me. I enjoy it, and it’s intellectually stimulating. So there.

  4. I like Twitter some days, but there’s something about the whole @nametheperson thing that bugs me. Why? Because, you’re looking at a private conversation and generally have no idea what the hell is going on. Sure, you can click the “in reply to” link at the bottom, but why do that when you don’t know where it’s leading or even what you’re reading? And when you do click the link, it most often takes you to the wrong tweet from that person.
    In addition, there’s this thing going on with the “#” symbol. I don’t know what, and there’s never any explanation of these things. It’s incumbent on you, as an aspiring member of the Twitterati, to find out. Screw that. Make it easy. Make it simple. Make it a valuable use of one’s time.

  5. John Reid says:

    Ian nails it. People use twitter in many interesting ways–as a sort of crowdsourced traffic report in the NY area, as a link repository, as an internal work team update device…all interesting uses.
    It’s the “I’m eating a sandwich.” “Now I’m done.” “Walking back to desk.” type stuff that makes twitter seem banal to the point of uselessness.

  6. “a “fundamental distance” to social networks”
    This is key imo. There’s a fundamental distance to any group dynamic when it comes to communication. People just don’t talk in front of other people the way they do privately one on one, which I think explains the shallow conversation found on so much of Twitter.
    There are IM sessions I’ve had with people where I would never repeat what was said on Twitter, a “Reply all” email, or other group situation. It’s human nature to remain guarded in public.
    Some self-promote 24/7, others seem to be exhibitionists and will talk about anything anywhere. That’s not just a Twitter thing however, it happens on blogs, message boards, radio/TV shows, etc.
    SM sites like Twitter make you feel obligated to say something, anything. Get out of it what you put in though, so if you wanna express yourself, you will. Seems like that’s what all this stuff is about: expressing yourself, no?

  7. Great to see this conversation out in the blogosphere. Thanks Ad Pulp. I think the overall consensus among Twitter-lovers is that if I’m not finding utility, it must be because I’m not tapped into any interesting communities. Could be, and I am willing to follow all of these interesting folks to see what I am missing. But what resonates across the board is a lingering question about whether short-burst communication can actually bring people closer together.
    PS (to be said in an Austin Powers voice): I’m a man, man!