During the memorial service for the Tucson shooting victims, Andy Borowitz let loose an invective against the proceedings on Twitter: “We are now turning every occasion, even tragedy, into a TV show. The audience is cheering as if for American Idol,” he wrote. Borowitz is something of a Twitter star, filing sometimes hilarious and almost always somewhat predictable political humor tweets under the name Borowitz Report. He has almost 50,000 followers. I’m not a Malcolm Gladwell apostle, but Twitter is the science lab for his theory that sometimes innovations are inevitable. To see many human minds working at once, just load up your Twitter feed, and see all but the keenest observations made simultaneously, in real time. Such was the case with Borowitz’s tweet. Twitter was full of people calling the event, almost to a person, a “pep rally,” and I quickly decided I had had enough.
I, not immune from Twitter’s pull, had jumped the start myself. As President Obama’s touching speech wore on, I encountered a problem. I had a joke, and it was a good one. But I couldn’t let it fly on Twitter without sounding like a total hypocrite. The joke was that since Obama’s speech was so good, I was going to Tweet that Armond White hated it, because Internet users would find an Armond White joke funny. I typed it into my iPhone and waited for Obama to stop talking. Then I had second thoughts. First, I was pretty moved by the speech at the end, and didn’t feel like making jokes. Second, influenced by the first, was my consideration of whether it was fair to Armond White to write such a thing. What if my Tweet got RT’ed all across the Internet? Yes, I had monomaniacal Twitter visions, and was already planning ahead to how I would defend myself against the self-styled king of contrarians. As I thought about the validity of my argument, I erased the Tweet. Just as soon as I did, I wrote it again, and posted it.
I would say I have one rule for my Tweets, but I really have several. I’ve said before that one shouldn’t Tweet unless it’s good enough to Retweet, but I don’t really believe that. That’s making Twitter sound more important than it is. Twitter is dumb. I think the best real-world representation of it is in the video of the Brooklyn Heights Jeep-destroying snowplow, where a videographer captures the whole event and screams impotently at the snowplow driver, with all its undertones of class warfare and passive-aggressiveness and self-importance:
Twitter is basically rich people talking to each other as if they weren’t rich. If you have time to sit around and make stupid jokes and complaints on a silly website, you’re pretty well off.
At the same time, I love Twitter when I love it. I love it when it points me to something really interesting or someone makes the actual rare unique observation. I love it when I gain followers, even if I have no idea why anyone would want to know what I have to say. I don’t mean in principle—I’m sure I can be very interesting—but in practice. I can’t stay on one topic long enough to get into a niche where my success in the medium will build upon itself, though it’s not for lack of trying for spells at politics, sports, whatever. Instead, I’ve approached it like I approach after-work sports, as an amateur who’s there mostly to help his friends. If there’s anything Andy Borowitz’s Twitter success has proven, it’s the reassuring, persistent notion that hard work conquers all skill. The more skill you bring to the work, the better, but the work will win out.