Some Thoughts On Twitter (It Doesn’t Have To Be So Bad)

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(via The New Yorker)

Every Thursday is a free writing day, which means I write about anything I want. I try and keep it related to music, but sometimes I include non-music events or topics that I think are worth talking about. All thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone – take it for what it’s worth.

Aldous Huxley once said that technological progress has merely provided us with a more efficient means for going backwards, and I think he was talking about Twitter.

The idea of Twitter seems promising: a free platform in which people can instantly share and exchange ideas, thoughts, and content with no barrier between those who will share and those who will listen. Anybody with a brain and an internet connection can share whatever they want, and this communication can happen on a global scale and spark interesting conversations with people from all around the world, including top scientists, writers, and artists who have a lot to share with us.

Unfortunately, it seems like most of us don’t have much to talk about.

In reality Twitter often becomes a distraction, a nervous habit like biting your nails when you’re in an uncomfortable situation. Instead of enhancing our lives, it actually cripples us to pay attention to what is popular instead of what is important or even real. Instead of following scientists, I follow parody accounts.

As I write this, there is a feud between Taylor Swift and Niki Minaj about some award show, and most major publications I follow feels the need to give more “insight” into the feud, as if they actually know what’s going on. And then I have the majority of the people I follow who are giving their own commentary (their own “insight”) on the feud, as if they actually know what’s going on. Online everyone knows what’s going on, and right now it’s Tswift and not Sandra Bland.

The media has always been interested in easy headlines, but it has evolved (or more like devolved) into clickbait, a word that is so common that it is now in the dictionary. Tweets themselves can be clickbait. If we see a clever phrase written under 140 characters (because that’s an important skill) we’ll gladly retweet it and let it speak for us instead of taking to time to process an actual opinion. Instead of generating original thoughts, we do this.

But this isn’t important, because most of us are more concerned with our own profiles instead the information we’re receiving. So let’s focus on that.

Author Adelle Waldman compares social media to alcohol in that we use (and often abuse) Twitter to get over shyness and transform into someone else, someone who is funny or engaging. In person, I usually keep it to myself, but on Twitter I can be the loudest and smartest guy in the room since I have all the time in the world to think of a good tweet. Sometimes getting new followers, favorites, and retweets, if it’s from someone I know or respect, can actually make my mood better. Someone I admire follows me? Aw yeah I’m so great. How strange is that?

While I’ve met the majority of my Facebook friends in person, I’ve never met most of the people I interact with on Twitter (keep in mind that I follow mostly musicians, writers, labels, and music publications). Since most people don’t know who I actually am, I can be whoever I want to be. Because of this, I’m willing to say something stupid or funny if it means more followers. Being a writer on Twitter is especially strange, since there are plenty of great writers who aren’t “good” on Twitter and plenty of people who are only good on Twitter, and you notice the difference.

As I continue to write on this blog and for other publications, I realize that, until that great virus wipes out the entire internet and we revert back to the prehistoric age (the 1950!), my dependence on Twitter will only increase. Yes, I could just delete my Twitter and go frolic in the woods, and some days I’m tempted to do that. But for music writers, unplugging from Twitter is easier said than done. Whether I like it or not, the online world has become the source of music and news that keeps me informed and allows me to share great new music.

With this realization in mind, over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to readjust my Twitter habits to make it work for me, because I would like to think that Twitter can actually be a productive tool if used correctly.

Below I have a few suggestions and thoughts on how to make Twitter a more pleasant experience. Maybe this is me being frustrated by social media and wanting to ramble, but hopefully some of this makes sense. This is also geared more toward music writers who use Twitter to keep up with the world, though I think anyone can apply these ideas for themselves. I’m no expert, but this works for me.

TweetDeck

I was late to discover TweetDeck, but now I can’t imagine using Twitter any other way. TweetDeck is a personal dashboard browser that you can customize to show different feeds in real time. It’s an impression application that you can do a lot with.

With TweetDeck I’ve begun to utilize lists, which is a hand-picked collection of specific users. With lists, I don’t waste time going through a single feed to find what I’m looking for. I log on, quickly scroll through my list, and log off.

I have two major lists, Music Discovery and Music Writers / Editors.

Music Discovery includes music publications (or other good sources of music news and pieces) and my favorite labels, which are usually the first ones to premiere new songs that publications will later pick up on. There are 100+ accounts in this list and I’m always adding more when I come across a new song I like and I find out which label represents the artist.

Music Writers / Editors is where I keep all my favorite music journalists, editors, and other music-minded people whom often tweet about informative music news or share great reads. Some people I have in this list include David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald), Mark Richardson (@_markrichardson), Jessica Hopper (@jesshopp), Jason Heller (@jason_m_heller), Stephen T Erlewine (@sterlewine), Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden), Jillian Mapes (@Jumonsmapes) and more.

I have a few other lists that aren’t music related, including one called “Brain Pickers” which includes Brain Pickings (@brainpicker), The Verge (@verge), Open Culture (@openculture), and more. You can create lists for anything you want.

Don’t Be Afraid To Have More “Following” Than “Followers”

For some reason I used to get worked up about making sure I had a good “ratio” with my twitter profile. Following more people than your followers seemed desperate, like you followed all those people with the hopes of them following you back.

This sounds really pathetic, and I’m sorry that I used to think that way.

There are so many interesting accounts, follow as many (or as few) people as you want. Now when you’re famous you’ll probably get so many followers that you’ll never catch up, but don’t let a number determine who you follow. There are too many interesting people not to follow.

Follow People You Disagree With

Pitchfork Editor-In-Chief Mark Richardson once wrote on his Tumblr page how Twitter is not so much a way to expand your worldview as it is just a reflection of your own views of the world. This actually makes a lot of sense; most people I follow tend to be the people whom I agree with or share similar tastes. If someone says something I don’t agree with, I don’t have to think twice about unfollowing them.

I think it would be interesting to follow people you usually wouldn’t follow and what you might discover. If you’re deeply religious, follow more scientists and philosophers, and vice versa. If you’re hardcore liberal, check out what Donald Trump is tweeting about. I’m serious.

This is an idea I’m still getting used to, and it might be too much after a while, but I hope it makes me a more well rounded person. Or maybe I’ll get overwhelmed with all these opinions and become paralyzed and indifferent. Hopefully not.

People On Twitter Are Not Your Friends

Except for my real life friends, I have not met most of the people I follow (or who follow me), which gives me a warped perception of who I interact with on a daily basis. It’ll be a strange day when I meet one of these people in real life, like, “Hey, we follow each other on Twitter and I said that one thing about X and you favorited it, how’s it going!”

Of course, as a 22-year-old who one day wants to write for major music publications, I’ll find certain people who I want to follow me (validation!) and either “favorite” one of their tweets or try and respond in a clever and insightful way.

Again, this is kind of pathetic. Just because you interact with someone on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s a two way street. Let that person be. People on Twitter are not your friends.

Show Appreciation (Because People On Twitter Can Be Your Friends)

If you read a great article or hear a great song, then you should consider tweeting at them and complementing them. It doesn’t have to be sarcastic or ironic. Show your real appreciation. Your followers who don’t also follow that person doesn’t have to see the tweet. Giving real complements goes a long way, even if it’s online. You never know. Also, don’t expect to get a new follower from someone just because you complemented them. If they do that’s great, but the complement should be enough.

Turn off your phone during a show

There’s a lot I can say about using Twitter when you’re in social situations, but for now I’ll just stick to the circumstance I encounter the most, which is people checking Twitter during a show.

There are many reasons to turn off your phone during a show, including the simple reason that you’re seeing someone taking a huge chance by performing their music for you and a bunch of other strangers. Even if the band sucks, try to pay attention. It’s amazing how much you begin to notice when you know that your phone is off, and you actually might talk to someone around you.

If you want to take photos on your phone, turn it on silent and fight the urge to get online. You can do it.

Like I said this is all suggested, but all of this has actually helped me turn Twitter into a useful tool instead of a drug. Or maybe we’re all better off deleting our accounts. Who knows.

Brady is the founder of Headphone Nation. He’s responsible for all this mess. Sorry about that. He’s also on Twitter @BradyWGerber