Internet Culture Lives On Twitter
Twitter is the most valuable social network for anyone who earns a living thinking or making. It’s like eavesdropping on the cultural nerve center of the internet. Twitter is where ideas are born, where public intellectuals square off, and where the most noteworthy creativity on the internet bubbles to the surface.
Everyone has heard the lame old trope that likens Twitter to a water cooler. I would posit it more closely resembles a cocktail party. On Twitter, you get to select your guests, and they speak freely, sharing a glimpse into what is going on that matters.
Whenever I come across a smart article on the internet (say, Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson or How To Be Polite), I look up the author on Twitter. Smart people have lots of smart thoughts that don’t make it into full-fledged #longform reads. If Medium is the fine dining experience of social thinking, Twitter is the test kitchen. The beauty of following thinkers on Twitter is unvarnished access to their process, and the opportunity to contribute.
To wit: have a look at Anil Dash’s pitch-perfect “Throwing cold water on the challenge.” Danah Boyd, another brilliant Twitter thinker, referred me to Anil. His ice bucket thinkpiece is driven by responses from his audience, woven liberally into the storyline, and shaped into a powerful new insight. This is a narrative that does not unfold anywhere else in social media. Obviously… inspiration, derivation and remixing take place on Instagram, YouTube and even Yelp. But the pace is most rapid and the process most transparent on Twitter, because connections to strangers are encouraged, and the medium is both flexible and easy to consume.
Pockets of intellectual discussion flourish on Twitter because of the platform’s slant toward open-minded discovery. On Facebook, you don’t get to pick your connections. Discourse trends toward the lowest common denominator that won’t offend distant relatives. On Instagram, the focus is on sharing, not conversation. And LinkedIn is too tepid and corporate for anything but the most perfunctory examination. On Twitter, users can seek challenging viewpoints, with less fallout from passionate debate.
Here’s a tactic that really works best on Twitter, one that I frequently use: Pick out the sharpest Twitter users you follow, and dig through the list of users they follow. Yes, this behavior would be weird on Facebook. Chances are, your favorite Tweeters are themselves following dynamic, curious and inspiring profiles. Don’t judge a Twitter user based on their bio, often a boring summary of professional credentials and predictably whimsical trivia. Pull up their feed (replies and new posts) and get a feel for what they’re sharing and contributing. If you’ll learn something from the profile in question, follow! Don’t fear the firehose. You’re under no obligation to check everything said by everyone. Dip your toe in from time to time, and use tools like news.me to alert you when trends emerge within your feed. If a significant percentage of the people you follow are discussing a topic or news item, odds are it should be on your radar.
Don’t follow everyone or anyone on Twitter. Definitely DO NOT simply follow back anyone who follows you. Extracting cultural insight from Twitter requires a carefully engineered feed. Find the people who have an opinion on issues you think matter, and Twitter will keep you immersed in the culture of the internet.