Wednesday, December 7, 2011
How Tweet It Is
If you are online at all these days, most likely you are caught up in at least one of the various social media phenomena. Facebook and Twitter, of course, are the biggest players right now. I took to Facebook pretty easily a few years ago. Sure, they are selling every scrap of personal data they can mine about me to the highest corporate bidder, but I have a hell of a virtual farm to show for it. Plus, it has given me a way to connect with longtime and newer friends instantly, regardless of where they are or what time it is. I dig that a lot. As for Twitter, I've warmed up to it more slowly. It’s a different animal than Facebook in a lot of ways, and I still don’t entirely “get it”. Of course the same could be said of my understanding of women, politics, and the appeal of Justin Beiber. Twitter and I are still trying to come to terms with each other, but you know, it’s really growing on me.
I first joined Twitter about two years ago, mainly to see what all the fuss was about. Very few people I knew personally were using it at the time (and by “very few” I mean “none”), but it was getting a lot of play in the media, so I thought I’d give it a try. It seemed like a fun enough idea: Set up a free account, and start tossing out your comments and observations to followers in 140 characters or less. It sounded simple, fast, and non-committal, which could also stand as a description of me. What’s not to like?
The first thing I had to do was come up with a username. This is a fairly crucial step in the process. If you choose one that is direct and simple (“Chris” for example), it was already snapped up long ago by people who are much more hip than you and jumped on the Twitter train early on. If you choose something more complex (“B3ANF4RM3R$N33DLUV2”, by way of another example), then no one will ever be able to remember it, and you’ll be a lonely Twitter soul. For mine, I took inspiration from one of my favorite songs of the 1990s, “Counting Blue Cars” by the band Dishwalla. Playing on the title, I went with “@countofbluecars”. It was mildly clever and easy to remember, even if you didn’t know the song. (You can see the video at YouTube if you click on this link.)
Putting your profile together in a brief way can be a tricky thing. With all due respect to Shrek, I am like an onion. No, I don’t stink or make people cry. I have layers. I am a former radio announcer, was a schoolteacher, currently work in a veterinary hospital, and am also a much-less-than professional writer and blogger. Those are some pretty divergent constituencies, and I only had a few lines in which to describe myself. So, I told everyone that I was a millionaire bachelor living in a house with platinum shingles.
Actually, I didn’t. Though I have to admit, I am a little paranoid when it comes to putting too much specific information in an online profile accessible to anyone. A Nigerian prince once told me in an e-mail that there are lots of scammers out there with clever ways to hijack your life. Ways that the average person would never imagine. He also had some helpful hints on male enhancement and offered to send me a free iPad2 if I just paid the shipping and processing fee of $50.
*ahem* But I digress.
Needless to say, I’d like to avoid getting scammed. I am not hiding behind some false façade by any stretch, but I am also not putting my shoe size and bank account numbers out there for web surfers to see either. I’m Chris. I live in northern Maine. I’m 40-something. I’m a former radio guy and teacher, and a current veterinary guy and writer. That’s all true. Follow me, communicate with me a little, and I’ll tell you more, except maybe the bank account numbers.
So, with Twitter account activated and set up, I was ready to tweet. Problem was, I had no followers. I felt like the first person in town to get a telephone back in the old days. It must have been so exciting to have, until you realized that no one else you knew had one, so there was no one to call or to call you.
After a few days, people still weren’t knocking down the door of @countofbluecars, so I decided that maybe I needed to start following others. Give a little to get a little. I took to following the suggestions on Twitter’s homepage as to who I should follow. I followed athletes and actors, writers and musicians, journalists and politicians. Anyone who was even remotely interesting to me got added to my list. This opened the door to some extent. I started accumulating a few followers.
They were mostly young, orangey ladies with very busty profile pics and lewd suggestions in their profiles, although a couple of legitimate people started following me too. Evidently, there are those who scope out the lists of followers of others and follow the followers. I am not sure of the rationale behind it exactly, since they are following me, and not vice-versa. My working theory is that if they found my account on someone else’s list, then someone else may find their name on mine. Whatever.
It didn’t take long before some of the people I was following revealed themselves to be about as deep as a paper plate. Quite a few only used Twitter as a means to hock their wares. Now I get that aspect of things. After all, I am looking to get people to read this blog once in a while, and use my Twitter account to publicize it. But some accounts that I followed at first were nothing but promotional. Remember Ralphie’s reaction when he got his Little Orphan Annie secret decoder ring in the film A Christmas Story? I felt a lot like that. I “unfollowed” those lame accounts in pretty short order.
There were other accounts, however, that were kind of cool. One writer I follow lamented the destruction of his favorite flannel shirt, his “writing shirt”, which was eaten by his Doberman pinscher. A musician frequently shared his enthusiasm after great jam sessions in the recording studio with other artists. An actor gave a little insight into how he came to do a certain thing in a funny scene. I really dug those tweets.
For nearly a year, my Twitter account lay in relative dormancy, like a cheesy red reindeer sweater given as a gift by an elderly aunt and kept in a drawer. Maybe I’d have a use for it someday. I would check my Twitter account maybe once a week, and tweet even more rarely than that.
Then, on May 1 of this year, reports came out that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S.Navy SEALS. It just so happened that I was checking my Twitter account that evening just as the news broke. I was home alone and it was late, but I wanted to talk about it. Due to the universality of the event, there were a lot of reactions from the people I followed, so the floodgates opened. Those I followed also “retweeted” (another term for forwarding) reactions of people whom they followed. I became exposed to more interesting people, and followed them. Not celebrities necessarily, but people who just had something worth saying. Some of those people followed me back in return. And the snowball kept rolling. My followers list did not grow by leaps and bounds by any means, but I saw more clearly how Twitter works. Just like in real life, circumstances throw us together, and relationships grow from there. But you have to be involved for those circumstances to occur in the first place.
Now social media is no replacement for real life interaction. People who limit themselves to social interactions on the Internet only are destined to become like those mole people in old sci-fi films who have lived underground so long that they could barely stand light anymore. Twitter and the other social media outlets are a supplement to your social life at best. In the case of the bin Laden killing, I had plenty of discussions with people face-to-face about it, but I also had some through social media. The conversation was wider, richer, and better-rounded for me as a result of the two avenues of interaction.
If you are reading this and are on Twitter, follow me @countofbluecars. If you want, I’ll even follow you back. I believe a dialogue is always more interesting than a monologue. And just remember, while I would be honored to make an acquaintance with Nigerian royalty, I don’t need a free iPad2, and please keep your male enhancement tips to yourself.