Matt Lewis was “an evangelist” for Twitter. But that was before “the bottom fell out”, and the microblog became “a dark place”, filled with snark and self-indulgence.
“Twitter has become like high school,” writes Lewis in his column for The Week, “where the mean kids say something hurtful to boost their self-esteem and to see if others will laugh and join in.”
Not shy of an ambitious analogy, Lewis explains it this way:
It’s a lot like the transformation of the 1960s. It started out being about free love, sharing ideas, and changing the world, but somehow we ended up being more about Altamont and Charles Manson.
He’d quit forever, except that “if you work in journalism … you can never leave”, he writes. “Being on Twitter is now part of the job, meaning that you can’t not be on Twitter. What was once an inspiring place that gave you a competitive advantage became a prison.”
As if to confirm Lewis’s lament, the response on Twitter was often kind of vicious. But the criticisms are not without merit. One of the most pointed – and, yes, mocking – was a post headlined “Man Hates Self, Twitter”, by Choire Sicha at The Awl.
Whenever someone writes one of these screeds, they have to ignore that Twitter is entirely self-selecting. You chose who to follow. You chose to behave like a jerk, or a needy child, or a boor. Twitter didn’t make you an ass. So if you can’t simply unfollow people you don’t care about, or block people that gross you out, you need to go back to therapy.
There are few deeper repositories of snark on Twitter than the incoming and outgoing exchanges between Piers Morgan and some of his three-million-plus followers. The controversial British wunderkind tabloid editor turned controversial middle-aged talk show host on CNN appears to spend most of his waking life tweeting – and now the volume of activity has spurred a cry for help. From his wife.
“Diana had three people in her marriage – I’ve got more than three million. And I’m tired of it,” writes novelist and non-tweeter Celia Walden in her column for Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
I’m tired of people I don’t know telling me stories of my husband’s Twitter escapades. I’m tired of the dinner party conversation surrounding those virtual romps … I’m tired of the pitying glances of other women in restaurants as he sits there, tapping out cricket tweets to Kevin Pietersen in between mouthfuls.
I’m tired of watching him miss out on little things like, oh, his daughter’s first step (too busy taunting Alan Sugar about the size of his ‘follower count’), sunsets (preoccupied, flirting with Cindy Crawford), meteorites (something happened involving Arsenal and some guy named van Persie), and birds of paradise (who cares about them when you’re in the midst of a cyberspace caper with Wayne Rooney?
While Walden’s remonstration, which twice mentions the possibility of divorce, hardly demonstrates an inclination to privacy, she speaks for many a Twitter widow or widower.
You know those Japanese tourists who walk around the National Gallery with a video camera glued to their right eye? That’s what Twitter is. It’s about forsaking the present moment, in all its freshness and its glory, in order to brag about it later. It’s about perceiving anything that is not shared with thousands of people you don’t know as being entirely without value. Saying you’re on Twitter because of the newsfeeds is like saying you read Playboy for the articles.