The Joy of Twitter

joy of twitter

You hear this all the time: social media is harmful because it deprives us of authentic flesh-and-blood contact with fellow human beings. For example, yesterday I caught a piece on NPR’s “Morning Edition” about an on-line project to bring Trump and Hillary voters together for face-to-face meetings in hopes of humanizing and creating empathy.

Well, I happen to know several Trump voters and don’t need to be in their physical presence to recognize our shared humanity. Of course, they’re not Russian-Bots; of course, they’re generally decent people; of course, we agree to disagree amicably. The secret is to avoid politics in conversation, which, I concede, is more difficult nowadays given the hour-by-hour reality-television-like drama generated by the current administration. But hey, it’s baseball season, celebrities are dying daily, weekly new movies are being released, the ospreys have returned to build their nest atop the cell phone tower on Hudson Avenue. There are plenty of things other than Crooked Hillary and Deceitful Donald to bandy about.

That said, sometimes I prefer the company of the avatars I follow on Twitter to that of flesh-and-blood human beings, whether they voted for Hillary or for Trump or Stein or Johnson or Prohibition Party candidate James “Jim” Hedges. On Twitter, [name drop warning] I have traded witticisms with James Wolcott, received thanks from Frank Rich, been winkingly chided by Emily Nussbaum, and had Josh Marshall privately expand a public point for clarification’s sake.

It’s not that these fewer-than-140-character exchanges I mention are all that meaningful, but I have had one-on-one communications with Pulitzer winners, i.e., brilliant journalists with ever-so-arid senses of humor. If you follow someone on Twitter, you get to know that persona (the way you don’t on Facebook). You choose to follow personae because they are informative, interesting, witty, and compatible.

Take Matthew Yglesias, the Vox correspondent, for example. If I’m sitting at the bar at Chico Feo or the Jack of Cups Saloon taking a break from grading essays,[1] chances are I’d much rather be checking out what Matty has to say in cyberspace than shoot the shit with the man-bun sporting fellow sitting to my right, who might very well bludgeon me with tales of last night’s barhopping or descriptions of the numerous micro-breweries he’s visited in the last two years.[2]

Matty, on the other hand, will be wittily commenting on a subtweet about Potemkin villages, providing a link to one of his clearly written explanations of macroeconomics, or dropping a line from Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” – “like rain on your wedding day” – to troll some obtuse tweeter’s mistaking coincidence with irony. I’ve never laid eyes on Yglesias, but I feel as if I know him better than I do some of the Facebook folk I’ve conversed with in the flesh.

If cultivating shallow ego-boosting connections with minor celebrities “ain’t [your] cup of meat” (to quote the Mighty Quinn), Twitter offers a less egocentric service: it provides up-to-date information on breaking news stories. I follow almost exclusively journalists, so when important news breaks, I can get lightning fast updates instead of watching the same looping video on CNN or MSNBC. In fact, I followed the election on Twitter instead of cable and was in bed by ten knowing that I would awaken the next morning in Oceania.

So Donald Trump and I do share one characteristic. We like to hang out on Twitter. Maybe we should meet in person to try to better understand each other’s viewpoints.


[1] I grade my essays in bars. I can grade six in an hour-and-a-half in the time it takes me to nurse two delicious craft IPAs.

[2] To be fair, I could also bore him comatose if I started in on how English’s being a hybrid language means it has an enormous vocabulary that provides its speakers with the ability to express innumerable shades of meaning. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.