If you want to feel really old, watch the MTV Video Music Awards while learning to use Twitter. Just watching the VMAs poses a high risk for seizures in anyone over 30, but when you do so with a laptop open to the Twitter feed for #VMA, you’re in for massive brain overstimulation.
The VMA experience probably deserves its own blog post, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. The Beyonce baby announcement was the only part of it I could relate to and I didn’t even see it. Lady Gaga (dressed as a man) and Nicki Menaj (dressed as an alien Pez dispenser?) puzzled even their diehard fans that night, so how could I possibly get them? I could barely understand the acceptance speeches, let alone lyrics to songs I’d never heard by artists I’d never heard of. And I thought my running mix was pretty cutting edge. I was psyched that the Foo Fighters won something and I liked Adele’s performance, but both of those facts just prove I am old. I am very old.
Trying to follow it all on Twitter made it worse, until it made it better.
Like most people this long-in-the-tooth, I’d been resisting Twitter. Facebook was already taking up more time than I liked to admit, helping me reconnect with friends, share photos, spy on people. I surmised that Twitter would just be another time-suck with even more hazardous links and privacy risks that I wouldn’t understand until too late. That might still prove to be true.
But then Hurricane Irene left me trapped inside watching nothing but news. I’m not sure if it was boredom or subliminal peer pressure from newscasters tired of being the only old people on Twitter, but I logged on. I was immediately sucked into the online hurricane of tweets and let myself get swept away by the floodwaters of snarky comments and silly video links.
On day two, someone I was following mentioned the VMAs, so I turned them on. That was something I never would have known I wanted to do before Twitter. I noticed #VMA was trending, meaning a lot of people were tweeting about it, so I clicked on that link. I was bombarded with 50-100 tweets per minute. I skimmed as fast as I could, giggling at rude comments about outrageous wardrobe choices, glancing back at the tv to see if the outfits were really that bad. They were. There was a lot of lingo I didn’t understand, but I soon pieced together that Beyonce had patted her tummy earlier, signaling that she and Jay-Z were expecting a little one-name-phenom-to-be. Twitter told me I had missed the biggest news of the event by not tuning in earlier, but I was still in the know. I struggled to keep up, but my new online community helped with that. I couldn’t figure out who was singing. Twitter told me that the squirrelly little dude on the piano was actually Lady Gaga in man-drag. Twitter held all the answers. It also posed a lot of questions, like: “Why did Justin Beiber thank God and Jesus but not the Holy Ghost?” Hmmm, a question I never would have contemplated on my own.
I soon realized that Twitter is a global, real-time chat room where you pick the topics and/or the people you want to hear from and about. And, the best part is that you don’t need to participate in the chat to be a part of it. It shamelessly feeds our inner voyeurism and desperate need to know everything that everyone else knows. I was hooked.
Here’s the good news…
1) No commitment needed. You don’t need an account to check it out. You can just go to twitter.com and see what people are tweeting. Enter something like “Anderson Cooper” and see what he is tweeting and what others are tweeting about him. (Just as an example, of course.)
2) No real relationships required. If you do decide to get a Twitter account, you can slowly pick and choose whom you want to follow. Start with less than 20 or you’ll get overwhelmed. You can easily un-follow someone who tweets too often or not enough. No wrenching “un-friend” dilemmas here. You also won’t be inundated by friend requests like when you finally broke down and got on Facebook and were immediately faced with the decision about whether or not to accept requests from two ex boyfriends, your Aunt Sally and your old boss.
3) Twitter really is different than Facebook. Facebook is where you go to share photos of your kids and where you might need to weed through someone’s dinner menu to see photos of their kids. Facebook gives you a newsfeed of what your “friends” are doing. Twitter gives you a newsfeed of what the people you wish you were friends with are doing. Hello, Anderson. And, you can follow them without them having to claim you as a friend in return. One and a half million people follow Anderson Cooper, so he has no idea who might be stalking him. But you aren’t really a stalker because you are only reading what he has chosen to put out there for his 1.5 million followers to see.
4) Everything that interests you is right at your fingertips. Twitter is a great way to consolidate anything and everything you already checkout online in one tidy little space. If you are a news junkie like me, you can pick your favorite media outlets and reporters and they magically give you a heads up about what they are reading and writing and talking about. Between @mikeallen (Politico), @TheFix (Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza) and, of course, @andersoncooper, I can get links to all the articles, columns and videos I need to check out to feel in the loop. Most people are not real news junkies like me, but If you are a celebrity junkie, you can get teasers from @peoplemag and @star_news and @TMZ to see who is claiming to have photos of whoever’s whatever. And you get links to all of it.
Now, here’s the bad news...
1) You’re gonna commit. Once you check it out, you’ll realize that you want to sign up so you can create a full list of people to follow so you don’t have to keep searching individuals. It is so much less stalker-like when you are following several people at once. Throw in some news sites and parenting blogs to balance things out.
2) You may find yourself in some strange new relationships. You don’t think you will want followers, but you will. Its not that you’ll expect the world to suddenly be interested in what you have to say, it’s just that not having followers can feel kind of lonely. It is only human nature to want to be part of the conversation, so when you are reading all of those little quips from @AlecBaldwin (I think it really is him), you’ll have a nagging desire to either respond, retweet or come up with your own clever observations to share with followers, even if they are complete strangers who are probably just internet scam artists phishing for data.
3) Twitter really is like Facebook. You will still have to browse through a lot of posts (tweets) that you don’t really care about. And you will find yourself checking in on Twitter at least as often, so you don’t miss anything really important or really funny or really indulgently stupid. And, just like you sometimes see people on Facebook post stupid remarks that make you wonder why you were ever friends, once you are on Twitter you will realize that Anderson Cooper is really just another daytime media whore willing to indulge in a Mommy War discussion to drive traffic to his new talk show’s website. I love Anderson Cooper, but he’s the last person on earth to weigh in on the Mommy Wars. Did Gloria Vanderbilt really struggle with work-family balance when Anderson was a tot? Come on, Anderson.
4) Everything that interests you is right at your fingertips. Twitter shows you all of the stuff online that you might be remotely interested in. It also shows you all of the stuff that all of the people you follow are remotely interested in. That is a lot of stuff. And you get the links to all of it.
So, to tweet or not to tweet… that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of endless links and often cruel and off-color comedy, or to take arms against a sea of tweets. And by un-following, end them? …To sleep no more; for to sleep is to log off. …Ay, there's the rub.
(RT and apologies to @WilliamShakespeare)
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