I originally joined Twitter because that’s what bloggers did and for a while, it was fun. Like the old Internet days of yore message boards where you met all kinds of people and even though there were occasionally dust ups, mostly everyone was cool about it eventually because meeting all kinds of people with different voices, ideas and opinions was the whole point.
Eventually celebrities, brands and politicians discovered Twitter and things began to change.
Twitter is more than ever about tribes. It is not about meeting all kinds of people. It is about meeting people who think and act like you do and waging war on those who don’t. It’s like high school. The crappy pecking order part. That only people whose best days were in high school gleefully embrace because they are out of place in the adult world.
It is rare to meet new people on Twitter who you will want to still know a week later. I rejoice when I find those people.
More often, I find that I meet people who only find me unobjectionable so long as I don’t have any differing opinions, or if I do, I don’t express them very often. Even more frequently I run across people who make me despair for humanity until I remember that Twitter – mercifully – represents but a sliver of humanity even at peak tweeting hours.
Twitter is probably still the best place to meet and be able to interact with those who are closer to gears and cogs of society than most of us will ever be. Journalists. Politicians. Politicos. Think-tank types. Activists. It’s why I am still there, but the flotsam and jetsam that circles them is sometimes hard to wade through, and on really bad days, it’s easy to see why democracy has had an easy time catching on but a difficult time actually working.
My husband thinks I should just walk away.
“People suck,” he reminds me at least every other day.
And by “suck”, he means people have individual personalities that have been shaped by time, experiences, agendas, narratives and other people. These personalities are more, or less, agreeable depending on the alignment of your personality with theirs. Or your level of zen.
I’ve spent most of my life working with people, which is probably a very odd thing for an introvert such as myself who genuinely finds people exhausting and a bit of a distraction.
One of the advantages to having been a teacher is that I learned how to deal with multiple personality types and their variants simply as a matter of survival, so unlike my husband, I am not surprised when interacting is a chore or worse or when large groups of people in an enclosed space – which Twitter is – sometimes collide.
Given that I am not sharing kitten gifs, celebrity or pop culture, it’s not surprising either that I tend to run into people who in real life, I would shun like toe fungus.
I like politics. I am intensely interested in the social aspect of it and the ripples and quakes it creates provincially, nationally and globally. Some of the politically minded on Twitter are incredibly knowledgeable and worth following. Many are like me – just aware, learning and interacting. Some are watchers. Some are sharers. Some are lone wolves. All bring something to the table that makes the wading worth doing.
And then, there are the others.
Within the category of “other”, there are sub-categories. Partisans whose degree of geniality varies. Agitators who might be partisan but whose prime directive is to stir things up according to their own agendas. And finally, the insane, which needs no explanation.
I don’t mind partisans. I don’t understand it, but I don’t mind them for the most part.
In my mind, there is no reason to wed myself in perpetuity to someone else’s version of reality or utopia – take your pick.
No matter how compelling the dogma might be, it just seems a bit Stepford Wife to me. However, keep in mind that 12 years of Catholic school and nearly a lifetime in the United States failed to morph me into a bot, so it’s conceivable that I am just naturally immune to the need to belong or be labeled in a way that so many seem to feel is vital.
Agitators are not quite partisans. They nearly always wrap themselves in the dogma, narrative and agenda of others, but they don’t seem to have a clear centre of their own. If that which they base every belief and utterance where to vanish next week, these folks would wander aimless like walkers, attacking and savaging randomly because it’s the only thing they know how to do. In real life, they are that woman at work. The one nobody really likes but everyone tries to get along with to one degree or other because it’s just easier that way.
Some have a bit of wit and intelligence. You’ll know them because they have a lot of followers, but the number of people they really interact with, or who share their screed, is small comparatively. Majority who follow these types do so for the entertainment value rather than because they agree with them.
Agitators generally have a cadre of groupies who will swarm dissenters like fire ants and at least one Insane follower who regularly immolates him/herself for the cause.
They believe passionately in what they believe. If you don’t, it’s because you are slow-witted and in need of tedious remediation or just plain stupid – depending – and not because you may be skeptical or discerning. Or have a mind of your own.
Occasionally these types hit their marks with enough accuracy to draw wider spread interest and even praise. Unfortunately, this just serves to make them more shrill rather than more accurate.
A few carry the torch of blind loyalty with a bit more nobility. They doggedly stump for the cause minus the mean girl memes, gifs and snark of the aforementioned. They form clans rather than attract clingers. Discussion are had. Many are likable despite the fact that you never really get to know them apart from their mission statement. Often when interacting with them, you are left with the feeling that are a quota that was met, checked off and filed. They are not unpleasant interactions but a bit hollow.
Last there are the nutters. You don’t need to be told when you inadvertently attract their notice although you often will be alerted via a DM (direct message) from someone you follow. Those private missives go something like,
“Back away slowly and then block.”
Blocking is just what it sounds like. Twitter, like many social media and message boards, allows users to screen and to deny other users. In the Twitsphere, blocking is a way to shut out voices that differ from the ones in your head that your prefer and by doing so, limits their interaction within your echo chamber or tribe.
Blocking is a weapon for silencing, a tool for avoiding thought and it is occasionally viewed as a badge of honour because often – provided you aren’t crazy and danger to yourself and others – it’s the people rattling the cages of the status quo who are blocked.
To be blocked is to know you’ve made an impact. Caused someone intellectual discomfort. Reminded the Emperor that not only is he naked, he never had clothes in the first place.
By now, you might wonder if I do indeed enjoy Twitter for all protestations of my loathing of it.
I like some of the people I have met and interact with. I’ve had good discussions and debate. But I know that I won’t be a regular much longer. It’s not a tool change. No one has ever changed the world via Twitter and no one ever will. In my opinion. Change is what people in the real world do. They do it. They don’t tweet about doing it.
For all its virtual reach, Twitter is a small place that most people will never visit because life and change is for doers and Twitter is about mocking that really.
The agitators on Twitter, for instance, revile those who are out in the world-changing the things that the agitators hold dear.
A good examples? Deborah Drever. Young MLA from Calgary whose Facebook page was scraped and pictures used out of context to try to force a recall of her after the last election.
She was hounded in the social media until it spilled into the news and forced the Premier to remove her from the caucus. She would have to sit as an independent, which put her riding at a disadvantage. Something that no one, clearly, had thought of before they began their petty campaign tantrum.
She could have quit. They wanted her to quit.
But today, she is still an MLA and she’s out in her riding, interacting and changing things because ACTIONS – real world ones – are the only things that count. For all the bile that was spewed at her, she did what her bullies won’t – she ran for office, got elected and is in a position to affect life and lives.
The majority of people in the world don’t care about the pictures on anyone’s Facebook page but their own and no matter how something flares in a news cycle, something else will replace it quickly enough.
Same can be said of Twitter. It matters only to those who are there. It’s a good place to meet like-minded to talk, speculate and share theories but after you’ve finished, you push away from the keyboard and you go do something in the real world that matters more.
Twitter itself is an illusion.