Ever since I first learned about Twitter, the “free social messaging site for staying connected in real-time,” I’ve felt very conflicted about it.
On the one hand, I think it’s great that the Internet enables us to stay in touch with each other more easily than any other medium via email, instant messaging, Facebook, and the like. But, on the other hand, I feel that Twitter represents a bit of a tipping point–after all, how many of our lives are interesting enough to justify frequent updates throughout the day? I love my friends but, to be honest, I couldn’t care less what most of them are doing throughout the course of an average day. (I’m sure it’s mutual.)
Reason seems to dictate that Twitter will have a limited shelf-life. First and foremost, it has not figured out a way to make money. Moreover, Facebook currently provides the same status update/news feed capability, along with many other features that Twitter does not, which makes it the more appealing outlet for our narcissistic inclinations. (Great read, by the way: “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations,” by Christopher Lasch.)
And, yet, Twitter–as much as Susan Boyle, Bo Obama, and teabagging–is the phenomenon of the moment. This month, a highly-publicized race broke out between a mainstream cable news network and a mainstream celebrity. CNN, which was led into “tweeting” by anchor/tool-du-jour Rick Sanchez (@RickSanchezCNN), now maintains 45 Twitter accounts, the most popular being its “Breaking News Feed” (@CNNBrk). Ashton Kutcher (@APlusK), the multi-hyphenate probably best known as the host of the celebrity reality show “Punk’d” and Mr. Demi Moore (@MrsKutcher), challenged CNN by claiming that he could attract one million Twitter followers before their Breaking News Feed could. The race was on, and the resulting publicity led even CNN’s resident geriatric Larry King to get in the game (@kingsthings), along with the nation’s penultimate culture warrior, Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah). Finally, at 2:13am EST last Friday morning, in a result that perhaps raises even more questions about the nature of our society than the existence of Twitter in the first place, Kutcher prevailed. (CNN passed the mark 29 minutes later.)
Note: On March 4, I interviewed Kutcher about a variety of topics, including his online efforts, for my Los Angeles Times blog “The Feinberg Files.” At the time, he told me, “As far as my online media that I’ve been building, I think I have, like, 230,000 followers on my Twitter account, and I have some 350,000 fans on my fan page on Facebook, and I think 150,000 people on my fan page on MySpace that I personally control–I don’t control the people, I just control the media that I distribute–and that, in many ways, is really allowing me to take the power back from the tabloid media, because instead of going to a TMZ or a People or an Us and having them profit off of my fame–I wouldn’t call it ‘my fame,’ but the public’s interest in me–I’ve actually created a one-on-one conversation with people who choose to follow me. So I can distribute information much quicker, and much more efficiently, and much more honestly than any tabloid can. And I think that that is gonna become an extraordinarily powerful tool if people choose to use it.” And now I must confess: that same day, I gave in and created a Twitter account of my own. You can “follow” me and my work, if your heart desires, @ScottFeinberg.
Photo: Twitter logo (Twitter); Video: Ashton Kutcher celebrates his victory over CNN in the Twitter race. (UStreamTV)