The Paradox of Twitter

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Katie Heaney at BuzzFeed has written a funny (in the good sense) piece called "11 Ways You're Annoying on Twitter."

Maybe the most predictable of the 11 ways to annoy people is "Tweet about food." Indeed, few things so fill me with ambivalence about following someone on Twitter as when they share the quotidian details of their lives--their food, their kids, their dogs--as if someone other than them cared.

But here's the thing: Someone other than them does care. There are journalists, writers and other notables (sadly not including me) whose followers are so ardent that they enjoy living vicariously with the object of their ardor. They just can't hear enough about the food, the kids, the dogs.

This gets at what seems to me the strange and challenging thing about Twitter: It's a dual-use technology, and it's hard to reconcile the two uses. If you're, say, a prominent journalist, you can use Twitter to communicate with your colleagues, or you can use it to communicate with your non-journalist readers (who in some cases might feel an ardor that qualifies them as "fans"). But the colleague talk can get opaquely insiderish (and is often conducted without the URLs and other educational supplements that could assist the uninitiated). And the fan talk--the food, the kids, the dogs--is a burden to colleagues.

My sense is that ultimately people with a big fan base have to make a choice: they think of their audience as either peers or as fans. But if any of you follow people on Twitter who you think do a good job of having it both ways, feel free, in the comments section below, to mention them and/or isolate the secrets of their success.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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