The Paradox of Twitter

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.

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Technology

Just In