Around the time I first started writing this column (it'll be 11 years in November!), a discussion was initiated regarding for whom we, as writers, write. Plenty of talented friends of mine said things like, "I write for myself," or "I don't really try to tailor my stuff for the audience," or "to thine own self be true." Actually, no one said that last one; I just like to inject a little culture into these things. You know who said that? That's right: Yoda.
The point is that plenty of people made the claim that they basically sat down at their computers, let the words flow, and let the chips fall where they may. "If readers don't get me, I wouldn't want them to read my stuff anyway."
I think I tried to play along. I've often said, "I write things that are funny to me and hope they're funny to other people."
I'm here to tell you now that that's crap.
I write to my audience. Or at least to the people I picture as my audience. Sure, it might not produce the edgiest columns anyone's ever written, but I think it engenders a distinct appreciation for my writing. Of course, I'm still aware that not everyone likes my stuff. They may not get my style; they may think I meander too much; they may simply hate parentheses (who hates parentheses?).
I like to think, though, that generally, my writing makes people laugh, occasionally think, and sometimes want to date me (okay, that happened once). So when I'm writing, I keep my reader(s) in mind. Now, I'm not saying that I deliberately court a specific demographic (attractive redheaded women ages 25-35). But I do consider whether people will like it or whether it will start a conversation - I try to imagine positive feedback, basically.
That's not to say that I pander to my audience. I mean no one wants to read something that doesn't have any substance because it's designed to appeal to everyone. If I wanted to do that, I'd be writing Scooby Doo mysteries. Instead, every now and then, I use the word "hell." Top that, Hanna-Barberra.
In the course of writing this column, I found myself talking to my grandmother about the topic. Now, she's not a writer; she's an artist. But her response was identical to mine - "Anyone who says that they paint just for themselves is lying. What's the point in making art that no one is going to see?"
Thanks, Nonnie, for reinforcing my point. As I said at the time, if I were writing solely for myself, I'd keep a diary.
The reason I bring this up is that a month ago, after a nationwide contest, I finally chose a name and joined Twitter (you can find me @DryWryBred, at least for now). And I don't get it.
I mean, I understand how to use it, but unless I'm missing something, beyond being essentially a newfangled telephone tree, I can't see the point.
I understand that once this column is posted online, I will tweet the link, and people following me will (hopefully) re-tweet it and theoretically it will reach more people than those who are just on my distribution list. It's definitely easier than the old way of having to forward the original e-mail, and I appreciate that.
What I don't get is the allure of tweeting, especially not multiple times per day (or hour).
And the scary thing is that, based on everything I've observed since joining, I might be the only one.
I've spent the past month trying to figure out what would possess someone to post their status ten times a day, if not more, and I've narrowed it down to three possibilities:
- they legitimately think that people care about their every thought, regardless of whether they're sitting in an emergency meeting of the U.N. or watching reruns of "Three's Company."
- they don't care if anyone reads what they write and so just spew anything that comes to mind, because of some near-psychotic need to transmit every waking thought to the world.
- they have a job that legitimately requires them to update what's essentially their news feed throughout the day.
I could be willing to admit that last one is a legitimate reason.
Because the thing I've noticed about Twitter - which isn't true for Facebook, or even for this column - is that there's no feedback. There's no way to click on a thumbs up. There's no way to critique what's been posted at all, I don't think. And I'm a bit dumbfounded. As far as I can tell, not only are people sharing the unsolicited details of their every waking moments, but they're doing it without, apparently, knowing or caring whether anyone is interested in what they have to say.
I mean, are people, as a whole, really so egocentric that they believe other people want to know what they had for lunch, even when the response is a deafening silence? Quite possibly.
And I don't think I'm being hypocritical by writing a monthly column or regularly updating my Facebook status, either. I mean, sure I'm egocentric enough to think that people want to read what I have to say, but at least I have responses to prove it. Intrepid Media tells me how many people have read my stuff. And people have responded, either in the big area to the right (hint, hint) or in e-mails, on Facebook, or even in person. Just last night, my friend Anthony requested that I dedicate next month's column to an in-depth assessment of the Eagles' secondary. (Don't worry, it's pretty unlikely.) I have trouble picturing someone requesting a specific topic for a tweet.
Facebook, as well, lets people quickly respond when they like what I've posted. It even tells you "12 people like this." Twitter, well, Twitter just puts it out there. Sure, I know the number of people who follow me on Twitter, but what's the point if I can't really tell that they're reading my updates or what anyone thinks of them? I might as well actually just be writing for myself.
And, as I mentioned earlier, that's crap.
For me, as a writer, my bottom line is that, in essence, I'm transmitting and people are receiving. Even negative feedback has its place: it still means someone's reading my words. (I mean, I assume. I don't actually personally get negative feedback. Ever. Maybe once.) With Twitter, the best I can assume is that I'm transmitting and people have radios.
And what I've learned in the last month is that's not enough for me. So I'm gonna keep writing the column and I'm gonna keep updating my Facebook status and I'm gonna enjoy the reassurance that comes from quantifiable response. And I'll probably limit my tweeting to "every now and then."
Like when I have 140 characters' worth of thoughts about the Eagles' secondary. I'll bet Twitter's perfect for that.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.8.10 @ 9:36a
Didn't I say this last month? "I'm gonna share this with everyone because I can." It's not about the content or the validation. It's about people who feel some need to take their internal monologue to a very external place, and who have enough free time to do so. What they fail to notice (or simply ignore) is that they're coming off less as Profound Commentator and more like That Guy Who Mumbles Outside 7-Eleven.
9.8.10 @ 10:41a
I love that guy.
Actually, Russ, I think your column almost overstated things by using the term "information." Sure, in its simplest definition it is, but I've always felt the connotation of "inform" requires some knowledge be passed on that's actually of some use to the recipient. When Erik was up in Maine, or when I was at the Yankees game last night, just tweeting "I'm in Maine," or posting a picture of the field is enough. I appreciate that Erik didn't list the menu of everything he ate; I didn't update the score every inning and share my feelings about it.
Because both of us probably figured that no one cares. I like to think the right use of Twitter is more shotgun blast than machine gun force. And, as I said, as a writer, even of sound bites, I'm looking for the response. No one gave me a thumbs up last night or a "Go Yankees." I have no idea if anyone even saw the post; if a tweet appears online and no one's around to read it, does it really make a noise? Of course not.
9.8.10 @ 11:08a
Agree with Granny. If you don't care if people read your work, then write it and stick it in a drawer. If you post it, you care.
Now, as for Twitter. Lots of people don't get it and I understand that. Inane, mindless tweets are the scourge of cyberspace. But if you follow the right people, you laugh out loud occasionally and, more importantly, you get links to web articles you'd otherwise miss.
I see breaking news on Twitter much sooner than from any other source.
9.8.10 @ 11:09a
Twitter isn't a shotgun blast; it's 50 million faucets with an incessant drip.
9.8.10 @ 11:10a
And Russ, for the record, I haven't been to that 7-Eleven in over a month.
9.8.10 @ 11:13a
You can block the drips, or just bitch about how a leaky faucet kept you up all night.
9.8.10 @ 11:23a
Dirk, I'm not talking about whether I get too many updates from people. I know I can stop following anyone whenever I want. I'm not even concerned with the utility of Twitter. I'm saying I just don't understand the appeal of posting my every thought into a vacuum.
9.8.10 @ 11:36a
Well, amen to that. That predates Twitter, of course. When I was a kid, my grandfather used to say, "You know, Dirk, you don't have to share every thought that comes into your head."
Or, as Coach Taylor said on Friday Night Lights a few weeks back, "I'm going to need you to filter."
katherine (aka clevertitania)
9.8.10 @ 2:29p
I'm curious if you asked anyone how best to get the full effect? If the only people you were following were attempting to live-blog their daily life, then I understand why you don't get that. But I think you missed out on a lot if that's all you saw. Are you even following @TheStevenWeber or @stephenfry? How about @Truthout or @CyborgTurkey.
If you follow 35 people, you're not even getting a trickle, let alone getting the point. Twitter is nothing like Facebook.
katherine (aka clevertitania)
9.8.10 @ 2:33p
Darn busted message box...
As I was saying, you seem to be reading only people who have nothing more to offer than their daily activities. But most people do not post everything they say, do or eat. They do filter themselves, and only post things they think will enlightening or entertain, or personal things they think people will connect to. By looking as a very small sampling, you're missing the bigger picture.
And NOTHING says you have to read everything written by every person you follow.
9.9.10 @ 9:15a
Not that Twitter has a secret, but if it did, it'd be this: it's not actually about you.
I know people recommend it as a way to self-promote, but people who are just using it to push information OUT are definitely going to hate it. Because it is, as you say, a vast empty morass, and a silent one, and how are you supposed to find people and how are they supposed to find you?
It's a conversation. You just follow people who you're interested in anyway, which for me means lots of authors and foodwriters and people I know from fabulous online communities (like this one). If they say something I like, I pass it on through a retweet. Sometimes they notice this (because I use their handle) (oh that sounded dirty) and thank me, and check me out, and follow me back. Or we find each other through hashtags (from #topchef to #badliterarymashups) and I'm interested enough to add them to my list. If they turn out not to be that interesting, unfollow is easy.
The other thing: Tweets themselves are hardly ever the content. Tweets are pointers to the content. Often, pointers to *other people's* content. Which is part of why they don't behave like you expect content to behave.
The "what I had for lunch" thing, well, yeah, that's annoying. But it's not the bulk of what's going on. (I see that on Facebook a lot more frequently.)
candy green gustavson
9.9.10 @ 9:29a
the empire of me
asks everyone to hold hands
christchurch to pakistan
all right...all right...
the empire of me
asks everyone to hold hands
Christchurch to Pakis___
9.9.10 @ 10:40a
I think you're all wrong and Candy here is right.
What? (I'm pretty sure that last line has 6 syllables, not 5)
Regarding Twitter, Jael - I think you might have nailed it. That's a good point.
As I was saying, my complaint isn't about Twitter content, but, rather, my failure to understand the point of tweeting into the void. It doesn't matter who I'm following or who follows me, Katherine. What matters is that we're all doing it essentially as one-way communication. There's no dialogue, no debate. It's like that Genesis song, No Reply At All. Personally, I find myself asking, "Is anybody listening?" I get the feeling that's not a question asked too often on Twitter.