In Defense of Twitter as the Devil

(artist unknown)

Twitter and other social media websites trick us into thinking our thoughts matter to people we don't know and we'll never meet.

It's all in the details.

On 4 August, I noticed PopMatters Interviews Editor -- and resident all-around great guy -- Evan Sawdey tweet the following to songwriter/producer extraordinaire, Butch Walker:

@butchwalker Quick Q: did you produce anything for the new P!nk album?

To my knowledge, Walker did not respond (there's always a possibility that he used a more private medium to convey an answer, though I think it's safe to say here that he more than likely blew the tweet off). I bring this up, why? Well, a few months ago, I very, very, very flippantly tweeted how much I would like to see an Adele/Walker collaboration someday by using the same social networking tool. Unlike Sawdey, I did not use either artist's handle when writing the comment. I say "very, very, very flippantly", because after doing so, I stepped away from my computer for the night (it was early) drank a bunch of whiskey, watched a DVD and went to bed. 

The next morning, I awoke to a surprising amount of emails, tweets and text messages from well-wishers who also follow Walker, congratulating me on getting what the kids call a "re-tweet" and "response" from not only the singer himself, but also from Ryan Adams, who happened to find his way into the Adele/Butch Walker conversation, as well. It was a weird feeling. "Celebrities" receive wayward attempts at social interaction via the Internet by the minute these days, and rarely do they ever respond. To see that two musical artists I adore gave a silly thought of mine a few seconds of attention was both somewhat thrilling and somewhat pathetic.

I immediately began "following" both acts on Twitter, breaking a rule I had when I was half-forced, half-tricked into starting my particular account for a project I was working on at my day job. I've always questioned why we should ever follow celebrities on social media tools. They don't care about the things we say, and more often then not, they all confirm my theory that Twitter is the single most self-indulgent social media tool that one can subscribe to by both never responding to and never "following" any of us regular folk. 

Which brings me back to the fabulously funny Evan Sawdey (seriously, guys -- give a glance to his Twitter page and I promise you won't be disappointed). He offered a fairly harmless and easy-to-answer question to Walker. Unlike most regular folk, he has actually associated with the songwriter/producer extraordinaire by spending a whole bunch of time around him for a profile piece that ran on this very website. (See "The Gospel According to Butch: Part 1 -- The Producer", "The Gospel According to Butch: Part 2 -- The Performer", and "The Gospel According to Butch: Part 3 -- The Artist")

Unlike most regular folk, Evan votes for the Grammys. And unlike most regular folk, part of his job description with this magazine is to get fairly well-known people (like Walker) to talk to fairly unknown people (like me) for features that appear on this corner of the Internet. But exactly like almost every other regular folk/celebrity interaction in the history of social media, Sawdey was ignored, even though the question he asked was so absurdly easy to answer. 

I felt awful for the guy. Don't get me wrong -- even with this in mind and the notion that I fell victim to a celebrity snub a few weeks after my initial brush with popular people (I stupidly tried to follow up when I saw Walker was working with Adams by asking them both via tweet if they were joined in studio by Adele. Hey -- I thought it was funny. Nobody said a thing. I looked pathetic.) I still like Butch Walker. Actually, I like Butch Walker a lot. And I like Ryan Adams, too -- last year's Ashes and Fire was one of my favorites from 2011. 

But I would be lying if I said I didn't feel at least a tiny bit offended when I first saw my comment go unnoticed, and then watched Sawdey's innocent question be ignored. Herein lies the inevitable problem with not only Twitter, but social media as a whole: The abundance of virtual interaction between not only celebrities and fans, but friends and family, or romantic infatuations and potential suitors, has led to an enormously high level of expectation attached to personal attention. The desire to be plugged in and connected with a type of technological universe not only leaves the possibility of constant and massive disappointment, but it also forces perceptions and boundaries to never reach a level of contentment because they are always changing.

Case in point: The morning I awoke to find a tweet from both Walker and Adams, I was ready to buy every T-shirt, album, video or miscellaneous memorabilia item I could find attached to those guys. But then I eventually actually tried to illicit a response, and, well ...

I have always hated social media. Anyone who knows me personally, knows that. I still don't understand the desire to broadcast personal photos on Facebook, or check in whenever arriving at a place that appears on FourSquare. I wouldn't even have a Twitter account if I wasn't pseudo-pushed into beginning one for my other job. I've never had a Facebook page, nor do I know how to work one (friends have tried to explain it to me, to no avail). And when it comes to Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, or whatever new, much cooler underground device the kids are using these days, I am literally clueless as to what service they provide (though it should also be noted that being 28 years old, I completely understand that my disgust with such things only provides more obstacles for me as I try to carve my way through life by holding jobs within the career path I have chosen, but that's another column for another day). 

What most social media users don't ever seem to consider is consequence: the consequence of telling everybody where you like to go for a drink; the consequence of posting photos of you and your girlfriend or boyfriend, who have now become exes; the consequence of always trying to write witty and funny sentences that never seem to go over as well as you like; the consequence of exposing knee-jerk reactions to major events; the consequence of venting about how frustrated you are with your job, life or relationships. It's a dangerous game, the way people rely on Twitter or Facebook to retain connection with others. Even more so, it's become subliminally threatening to our personal being when you consider how often we hang on to someone's every word, spoken or not. 

Look at how crippling the medium has become for professional athletes. Before the first event even began at the recent London Olympics, Greek triple jumper Paraskevi "Voula" Papachristou was kicked off the team for tweeting an absent-mindedly racist statement about Africans and mosquitoes. Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella faced the same fate after he sounded off on South Koreans hours after Switzerland lost to the country in Olympic play.

Such stupidity and humility isn't just relegated to the Olympics, either. The website compiled a list of idiotic things athletes have said on Twitter a couple years ago, and the examples range from outright offensive (Larry Johnson's gay slurs) to somewhat laughable (a staffer spitting in Antonio Cromartie's food after he complained about its quality) ("Tweet Downs: The Dumb Things Athletes Say On Twitter", by Scav, Dr. Jays, 31 August 2010). Either way, reading through the collection only reaffirms the fact that Twitter can be far more detrimental than most imagined when they first started obsessing over how to craft something worth reading into 140 characters.

Actually, even "detrimental" is probably too light a word for the scope of impact Twitter and social media can have on us personally. The misuse of such can lead to an amount of divisiveness that had previously been impossible to achieve consistently. These tools create a level of transparency that the idea of celebrity had previously survived on by avoiding for so many decades. With that barrier now gone, are we to blame people like Walker or Adams simply for not paying us any attention? or are we to blame ourselves for buying into the notion that the expectation of response is so much higher in today's society because of a constant desire to make sure we all -- celebrities included -- live in glass houses?

How much information is too much information? When will we concede that the elements of mystery and mystique are just as essential and fundamental to the idea of role models or celebrities as bright lights and pretty faces and stop with the nonsensical obsessions with popular people's everyday interactions? 

The notion of fame is so unobtainable to most of us simply because until recently, the normal, everyday person had no idea what goes into being a national public figure. That's changed, now, with the illusion of connection Twitter accounts and Facebook pages sell. Sure, we might still not know how these people truly live, but at least our imaginations are now painted with a much more vivid picture, due to the interpersonal relations these types of tools promote, real or not. 

It's all adds up to one, big bundle of sad, really. Because as for Sawdey, it's not unreasonable to assume that his intent was not to offend or annoy with his question, and as for me, my intention was never to be mentioned by a couple musicians whom I have long admired to begin with. All I wanted to do was wonder aloud in a facetious manner that, at the end of the day, was utterly irrelevant to the grand scheme of things. I have 89 followers. That's nothing. Compared with the much more skilled tweeters out there, I'm not even a tiny blip on a radar. In fact, I am, as some would say, fairly blimpless.

But for a few short seconds, I was singled out and sold on the idea that maybe the whole social networking thing can serve a neat purpose, and maybe we can somehow feel connected to the people whose work we admire. But then that feeling was snatched away from me and I was forced to question the sincerity and character of two people I have absolutely no business judging personally because... well... I don't know them personally. But that's what Twitter and all other social media websites do -- they trick us into thinking our thoughts matter to people we don't know and they trick us into thinking our everyday occurrences matter to people we'll never meet. 

Yep. The devil is indeed in the details, and in today's world, the go-to place for details is social media and maybe even more succinctly, Twitter. Now, if only the devil would be interested in collaborating with Adele ...






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