Twitter Is Freaking Out about Irrelevant Crap, and I want Something Else
Recently, I shared an article on Twitter with the caption: “The internet is freaking out over this analysis of the best/worst Clickbait titles (not really, nobody cares).” Within three seconds, it had been “hearted” 74 times by accounts that all had the exact same content. None of them said anything to me, and none of them actually engaged with or shared the article I posted.
Clearly the work of some bot, I miffed at this, mainly because I work hard to find and share stuff I enjoy on Twitter. I don’t do it for popularity, but I have long held out the hope that by regularly identifying content I find interesting, I might gradually locate a group of people who roughly share my interests – people I could potentially connect with and collaborate with and learn from. All of these efforts have led to one simple conclusion:
If Twitter is anything, it is not a space for collaboration.
Again today I asked Twitter a question: “Internet: Does anyone know of any great reads explaining how Silicon Valley techno-utopianism historically evolved? Especially @Apple?” It was a question pertaining directly to some research I’m doing, and I thought it might be an interesting way to start a conversation. I enjoyed the prospect of random input. I genuinely wanted to tap into others’ knowledge.
The response there was less pronounced than with my clickbait article, but suddenly 3 people followed me who had no clear connection to anything I do. Two others liked my post. Hooray! Popularity! None of them answered the question, but when I looked at their accounts, I saw why I was suddenly making these teeny, tiny Internet waves – each was involved with “techno” music in one way or another. By some feeble, wacky machine logic, I was identified as a potential techno-dude. I was “followed” in the hope I might return the favour, and here I ask a question:
Could there be a more pointless exercise in digital tail-chasing than following a bot that has followed you?
That’s Twitter in a nutshell: a dog burning circles in the grass with its endless, stupid hunger.
Actually that’s probably not fair to doggies, who are cute and awesome.
I was initially drawn to Twitter because I felt like it was a place about ideas. I have Facebook to keep me in the loop on pictures of my nieces and nephews, but Twitter, in theory, suggested an interesting space between professional persona and personal interests (Nobody puts “All views are my own” on Facebook, for example).
The problem, though, is if no actual person ever engages with anything I say, then that space I desired is a mirage. I become a mere target for others’ content. I’ve Tweeted over 2800 times now, and with the exception of people I already know or the extremely rare fluke, the responses have been meagre. Nothing has built, no conversations have started, and I still have to do all the intellectual labour of finding information I need. There’s no network of people to tap into here, and that leads me to believe that Twitter is not a “social” network, but rather a ghost town full of wailing voices.
Before the bots chime in, let me be clear on my point of frustration: I don’t want to read a bunch of articles on “How to Build Your Twitter Following in 10 Easy Steps.” The social media numbers game is not for me. What I want is a platform that connects me with like-minded people so we can creatively riff off of each other and build amazing things. Perhaps this is a matter of emphasizing or enhancing the conversational aspect of these platforms. Maybe it could be as simple as changing it from “followers” to some version of “collaborators.” I don’t want to be followed, I want to connect and learn and grow. I want peers. I want to meet people who aren’t like me and I want to feel my world expanding through our interactions.
Maybe I’ve just got the wrong platform, or the wrong idea bout life. Please, feel free to disabuse me if this is the case. I recently read (and Tweeted, to no response) a quote that has gripped my imagination: “It’s still very hard to find things you don’t know about online.” How do you do that? That’s what I want to know.
What all of this bot-driven madness illustrates to me is that, even amidst the supposed revolution of big data and artificial intelligence that surrounds us, the primary model for informing people about something new seems to still be the fire-hose method: spray everyone who could possibly have the smallest amount of interest in what you’re doing with as much information as you can in the infinitesimal hope that you’ll actually get their attention for a few seconds. Then analyze the results and spray some more. There’s no elegance in any of this. The mentality is to drown the platform in an overwhelming flood of uselessness for totally self-serving ends, destroying the whole edifice in the process.
At the end of the day, I’m over content. What I want is connection.
Ryan Melsom has a PhD in literary studies and has spent over twenty years working in communications, design, and writing. His third book Clickbait: A Seeker’s Guide to Meaning in the Modern World is now available everywhere. For more by Ryan, follow him on Twitter (bahaha) @lintropy, or subscribe to his Facebook page.