Media Twitter and the Cult of Personality
Each morning I wake up and think about deleting my Twitter account.
Then I roll over, reach for my phone, and scroll through a stream of my fellow writers sharing what fresh hell the new day hath wrought in 140 character snippets.
Many consider a flourishing Twitter presence to be a hallmark of a modern writer, particularly if one is young and climbing the ranks of the digital media universe. Zadie Smith has repeatedly proclaimed social media would “threaten” her writing, but not all of us can live in the quiet mystery of our West Village brownstones, updating the world to our thoughts on current cultural and political affairs with an infrequent Harper’s essay.
No, for the rest of us, Twitter is a water cooler of the writing world. Most of us spend our days in the corner of a Starbucks, probably a little too close to the bathroom for comfort, huddled over our laptops and attempting to pour out our souls through our fingers. Twitter is that cool, blue balm that offers us camaraderie after a day (or, more accurately, 78 times throughout that day) of isolation.
In many ways, I am not sure what I would do without Twitter. I certainly have no great following, and most of my posts are incoherent exclamations related to bread interspersed with promotions of my own work. But simply existing somewhere amidst the conversations of those whom I admire feels good enough. And yet.
Presently, I follow 808 people on Twitter. Of that number, I think it’s safe to assume more than half are writers, editors, or media outlets. Thus, my stream is an endless discourse of hot takes, links to new articles, retractions, and redactions. If I were to be asked, I could honestly say I have my finger on the pulse of the media world (though I hope I never use so tragic a statement).
Yes, it’s clear who is mad at whom, who is hooking up or no longer doing so, who aspires to write for where or is bitter to have been let go. There are powerful personalities one can always rely on to offer a bite-sized perspectives on the latest scandals or victories. I enjoy and appreciate all of this. It is undoubtedly valuable.
The problem with Media Twitter stems from the fact that I follow more than 400 writers, but I have read writing from less than 30 of them.
In the Media Twitter universe, so little space is devoted to the actual art and craft of writing. In some unfortunate instances it seems almost secondary — something one must occasionally do in order to support the title in their Twitter biography. What’s worse, I feel an ever-increasing notion that this insular online world is fueling the writing that is being published on a select number of sites.
There are cases in which a popular Twitter persona mirrors exceptional writing. Jia Tolentino and Ashley C. Ford are two such figures who immediately come to mind. Yet I think it is fair to say there are far more instances in which a writer relies far too heavily on a Twitter persona to scaffold lackluster writing.
Having a persona is supremely fun. Articulated ways of existing are part of what makes writing appeal to us in the first place. No one ever truly overcomes their sheer delight at the thought of a human being like Joan Didion or Kurt Vonnegut or, yes, even Hemingway, existing in the world. They lived as they wrote. And maybe, through Twitter, we writers are attempting to achieve that same magic in our own, bastardized, 21st century way.
Yet those aforementioned writers were good writers before they were notable personalities. Gaining popularity on Twitter doesn’t mean you are a good writer; it means you are good at playing the game of the internet.
There are so many wonderful, dedicated, thought-provoking writers in the world. Some are on Twitter, and some are not. I am not sure I will ever overcome my aggravation with the fact Twitter is now considered “indispensable” in order to achieve notoriety or respectability within the writerly community. I was recently asked about my “following” at a job interview and almost gagged. What’s more, I could see the vague disappointment in their eyes as I informed them of my Klout score. Later on, when I checked in on who had ultimately been selected for the position, I was heartbroken yet unsurprised to learn it had gone to a boy-man with a handful of scatterbrained clips from his college blog, and a penchant for raking in thousands of likes on Twitter.
I am not sure if writing this will make me come across as bitter or jealous. Perhaps I am. Yes, I wish more people paid attention to my bread-related outbursts. What validation that would bring! But writing is already exhausting enough as it is. To add the energy of playing the Media Twitter game on an eternal loop each day seems almost too much to bear. Yes, one can do both. I, evidently, cannot.
I adore Twitter with the exhausted love of a mother sending her son to rehab for the third time. I don’t think I could ever quite give up on it as much as I wanted to, but God have I poured over the idea many a time. Until I feel confident enough in myself as a writer (hopefully one day leading my Zadie Smith-esque life) I will continue to look to Twitter for malformed guidance. I will accept it for what it is and the purpose it serves in a writer’s life — but I am not going to be happy about it.