How to Be a Twat(?)

Twat is the word people use to refer to someone who uses Twitter a lot, yes? No?

Whatever. In the spirit of being a perpetual newbie and not being afraid to suck, I’ve been trying to figure out Twitter. Like an idiot, I dismissed it when it was first starting to be a thing several years ago. I’d be having lunch with the other Olds in the Lab, and it would come up as a topic, and we’d just snort derisively about how it was mainly used by the Youngs to share with the world what they were having for breakfast.

Well, maybe Twitter started out that way, but it just turned ten years old, and it seems like about three quarters of all people are twats. Also, more job listings at MIT are asking for familiarity with social media, so I decided I couldn’t just ignore it any longer.

The thing is, I seem to have a Twitter block. I’m having trouble finding the way in, which is weird, because I started getting social online with the Confer chat program at UMass back in 1987, and since then have been on usenet, various online fora, and of course Facebook. Yet Twitter eludes me somehow.

A major challenge is time management. I’m working on keeping up with a Twitter feed, which is often very much an of-the-moment thing, without becoming one of those people who walk around staring at their phones. Terlit time is already spoken for by Facebook. I decided to throw money at the problem and bought the Twitter client Tweetbot, mobile and desktop. One nice feature is that Tweetbot syncs feeds across devices, so I don’t have to waste time scrolling past tweets I’ve already seen. I can always scan my feed when I have a couple of free minutes, wherever I am. That helps, but I still often feel late to the party, and I can’t shake the sense that ideally I would have a feed piped directly into my brain.

Of course, following a feed is just the first step. As far as participating goes, I understand that I’m supposed to be liking stuff, retweeting, replying, mentioning and so forth. I’m even pretty sure I know what those things mean. However, few people I know use Twitter, so I’m following a few celebrities (lots of famous twats out there!), strangers who seem to be aspiring comedians, a few tech sites, and @Nerdist – and I haven’t quite been able to figure out where I fit into all of this. So far it seems less social and more like being in a crowd of twats all vying for attention. My instinct in that sort of situation is to sit quietly in a corner – not really the point of Twitter.

When I do try to come out of my shell, Twitter makes me feel a little like a stalker. (Mr. Google says I’m not the only one.) I’ve replied to a few tweets by relatively approachable British comedians Noel Fielding and Robert Llewellyn – sane, respectful, hopefully witty things – and just thinking about it leaves me verging on an anxiety attack. (How many tweets until you’re a creep?) Actually, I’m like that with non-famous people, too, having been raised to believe that I’m best taken in small doses, but I can only imagine that being told to fuck off by someone whose work I admire would be pretty rough. I have to imagine it, because it’s never happened, but I still worry about it.

I had a little epiphany earlier this evening when I realized that I may have been conditioned by the privacy concerns of techie friends and acquaintances to be overly cautious with Twitter interactions. I need to bear in mind that if I can see a tweet, the twat probably doesn’t mind, or even expects, that complete strangers may respond to it. I’ve had a few strangers like or reply to my cautious tweets, and all I can think is how sweet it was of them to notice.

I follow Steve Martin (a hero of mine since I was 11 or 12, and a celebrity known to do his own tweeting) and I haven’t dared to tweet at him. I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!

Still, Wayne and Garth did get to hang out with Alice Cooper, and I am finding things to like in Twitter. 50 Nerds of Gray punctuates my feed with silliness, and it’s always fun when writer Roxane Gay live-tweets “Tiny House Hunters” (like she’s doing now while I try to finish this draft). I get news about my city, and what’s playing at a local art house cinema. I’ve learned that, for some reason, nerds dig “Gilmore Girls”, and that the show is returning to television. Okaaaaay then…

Maybe I’ll make it as a twat yet.

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