This may be counterintuitive. I hope so. I remember the day I first started using Twitter. My friend Gabe Rivera suggested it would be a good idea to sign on to the fledgling network. Basically it was a land grab — claim the real estate of my name. I most likely was aware of the fundamentals of the new service, but wary of actually making some sort of overt splash. Why would I want to, as the frame of the day went, announce what I was having for lunch?
But I knew Gabe was right; I should get in line for the day it became clearer what good this was for. As Professor Irwin Corey would say Adam first said to Eve: stand back, I don’t know how big this is going to get. So I did, and sat back for almost a year. Eventually some thread caught my eye, or my ego encouraged me to think somebody might be interested in what I was having for lunch. That led to a series of discoveries we all made about how this thing might work, if it could just not crash from its unscalable neo-scalable scripting language roots.
One of the most interesting things to do in those early days was to misuse the network for creative purposes. If the logic of posting was to deliver meaningful content that would be of interest to larger audiences, we knew where that was headed. Celebrities, verified accounts, a triple A version of the big leagues of mainstream media. Logical maybe, but not what I was interested in. To the contrary, I relished the exact opposite, an experience where the result was something other than what we already had. One trick I had was to talk conversationally to the tiny audience of those I was pinging with their username.
This may or may not have predated the @mention, but the intent was to send a message to someone who was notified of the attempt by a notification. Alternatively, following a small but targeted series of accounts created a stream of posts from people who shared some implicit common interests. Either way, eventually these @mention clouds became a rich source and object of breaking news, jokes and a stew of social energy. I enjoyed the occasional response, and would reply in place as though I was having a private chat. The theory went: if this annoyed people, they would unfollow me and be happier for it. Many did, and were.
Skipping ahead to now, I still use Twitter in this way for the most part. I set my notification stream to display a subset of my follows, first around 50, then 100, now upwards of four or 500. It is annoyingly disruptive of the top of my screen; reading an e-book book is an intermittent experience at certain hours waiting for the stream to slow down when I’m trying to read the first couple of lines of a page. But what I get is an almost subliminal collage of random stuff from a not-so-random group of what reminds me of a coffee house circle of friends in college days. The major news media breaks through repetitively when someone dies or succeeds, but also there are the mutterings of entrepreneurs and thought leaders, captains of industry who relish the direct channel, politicians of the digital underground, comedians, culture cowboys and cowgirls, right, left and centrist.
It’s a living breathing thing, and it’s different from everything else. Facebook is what you think of it, but I’m sadly grateful for its function as the glue between family, friends and a shared personal history. Never mind that it’s impossible to find something once it flits by. I hate it yet appreciate it nonetheless. But Twitter is an imperfect pacemaker in my chest, beating with the pulse of the nation, the notifications starting in Europe, then the East Coast, finally the Valley and Hollywood before I get sidetracked by reality and over the hill to the next day.
As Michael Markman quotes Jerry Seinfeld on this Gillmor Gang episode, “It’s never in the bag, and you’re never out of the running.” Yes, Trump dominates the service, and every other network as we careen toward the election. Twitter fills in some of the pandemic’s gaps in traditional campaigning. Some are good with Twitter; some are not. But when the shouting’s over and the ballots counted, Trump may or may not be left standing. Twitter surely will. Just don’t call it Shirley.
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, September 11, 2020.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang