[Ugh. A long rant in the ongoing crusade I have against Twitter and its bastardization of the self and humanity. Yeah, my rants get that big. I originally wrote this for my personal blog but I'm going to repost/update it here.]
Anyone who says they use Twitter to actually keep up with friends is lying. Twitter is used for one of two things: painfully dark, existential entertainment or shameless self-interest. I can't say that it's entirely useless - there are some rather hilarious uses of it, but they could just as easily be exhibited elsewhere, which is to say that the creativity does not depend upon Twitter. In fact, the very nature of Twitter helps to negate the possibility of creativity through it: the premise is a continuous stream of status updates provided by the user. It's a painfully simple premise that is very simply executed. There are those who would argue that its simplicity is what generates creative uses of it, but spending a few minutes reading the crap that is generated through it in real-time proves otherwise.
The idea Twitter embodies isn't new, as a number of social networking sites employed this concept well before Twitter. But the unapologetic nature of that central focus on Twitter is what disturbs me, and provides the aforementioned "painfully dark, existential entertainment." Painfully dark and existential because Twitter puts into the mind of its millions of users that they are important and they should report everything they do. What is so dark and painful about it is the scale of the network it creates: millions of users. Granted, as at least one study has pointed out, Twitter is a lot like our economy: very few people are at the top who are raking in the numbers. Status itself is demeaned in Twitter's language, as everyone is a follower. There are no creators or leaders. Everyone is following somebody. And its usage by default is generated by the notion that "what I am doing is important enough for people to know about" and "all of this should go onto the Internet where everyone (or even a limited audience) can read it and history will always remember it." Go back to the public timeline and think about that while the updates stream by.
Social networking itself is based solely on the centralization of the individual to the extent that we must project that self-centeredness onto others and our individuality becomes dependent upon the network. You make a profile that is the digital representation of oneself, and continually update it so that somehow it is organically (through machinery) reminiscent of the real (or wished-real) self. But in this network people must be sought out and made friends in order for connections to be made: the initial intention of Facebook was to be limited by college. Your individuality was linked to a network. Your network was your college, and outside of that small geographic/social space was largely unimportant. Gradually, of course, this changed into regional and then global spaces. However, Twitter's opening assumption is that all users should assume themselves a part of the neverending whole of the Internet. The public feed shows us this. There is no "public feed" on Facebook. This brings up the next point: shameless self-interest and the willingness to project it.
I paint a pretty bleak picture of Twitter and its uses, and it only gets worse. I don't think every user of Twitter is like this, but a system can best be defined by its extremes. (See also: 4chan.) It is my belief that to be a regular user of Twitter, the user must have a mal-adjusted sense of importance. I say that but I don't mean it as harshly as it may seem: I'm not blaming the person, it is simply an overall characteristic of the overexposed, overnetworked, and socially experimental nature of my generation. But regardless, as I started this rant off, nobody can honestly use Twitter and say they're just keeping up with friends. Obviously many do, but the inherent formation of Twitter's usage is to update everyone else on yourself. You enter the mindspace of the application knowing that this tool is not for you to see others, it's for others to see you. I said that keeping up with friends as its sole-use was a lie, but I won't say that it's an intentional lie. I believe that people don't realize what they're doing. I'm always more likely to assume the least-common-denominator of an unknowing mass versus a self-aware crowd. It's always easier (and better) to assume that people in multitude don't know what they're getting into and don't know what's going on. And I am mindful of the fact that this is very much a designer's necessary perspective rather than an analyst's.
Largely this boils down to me largely not caring about other people, and me knowing that it's best to assume that the majority of other people don't (and shouldn't) care about me so much that they want to read about me waiting in line at the supermarket. That's why I don't mind blogs but I do mind Twitter. Even Twitter's 140-something cap is an insult to humanity and a testament to how low that lowest-common-denominator can go. Aldous Huxley surmised in Brave New World that it would be all of this little crap that we love to lose ourselves in that would be the largest detriment to humanity rather than any Orwellian notions of oppression. (Read about it here, if you want some of that painfully existential entertainment.) Humanity will emotionally and intellectually oppress itself without the need for dictators or police states. Twitter is another step in that legacy of shameless, mindless self-indulgence that keeps us from reaching any real potential for our own betterment. We'd rather find more ways to cure our boredom quickly and easily than make any effort to review why we're bored in the first place.
This is why the second half of the title is "Stay Secluded More." I don't mean physical seclusion, or even intellectual seclusion, but the seclusion from the widdling down of human interest. Be secluded in yourself, and be mindful of yourself, rather than believing that the way you currently are is the way it should be and ought to be advertised outright. One hundred and forty characters is not enough to explain any human's condition. While long blog-posts like this one might be argued as even more self-indulgent than a Twitter post or two, at least I took the time to write out and understand my own thoughts, whether they be right or wrong in the long-run. (Right and wrong is a totally different argument.) This was written with the intention for others to read it as much as it was for me to simply write it and have it be written, and that's what makes writing worth doing, and that is what Twitter would like you to forget.
I don't have any "followers" listed on this page, nor do I want any. I fear that children will start, or have started, to believe that because someone doesn't have a lot of friends on Twitter or Facebook they are outcasts or even anti-social. What does it say about us that our social networking software might actually become our means of determining social behavior in real life? The map, as they say, suddenly precedes the territory: and how does that make sense? If you are disturbed at the thought, this only means you want better for humanity than becoming cyborgs, inextricably linked to an unreal universe.
I want to be able to think that words shouldn't be so quickly digested, that maybe we can spend more time chewing and pondering their flavor, so perhaps later we can make a decent meal for ourselves. Seclusion in one's own mouth, for a time. Where are there word-eating metaphors on Twitter?