Each week, Kate Williams ponders the world of social media. Today, she dissects Twitter’s brain.
Blimey, 3% of Twitter is Justin Bieber. I don’t think I need to explain who The Biebster is, but in case you’ve been stuck in a pop-cultural mineshaft for a couple of years, Justin Bieber is a peri-pubertal pop sensation whose identity, music, and considerable financial success has been entirely constructed within the internet. Oh sure, he exists in real life and all – but only in 2-D. In fact, it would have been far less surprising if we’d been told that 3% of Justin Bieber is Twitter.
Gosh though, 3%. Really? That’s an awful lot for a self-generated popster who is unlikely to be razzing the berries of anyone outside the pre- and mid-teen demograph. Least of all the 25-45 hipsters who make up – or believe they make up – Twitter’s core user base.
But, above and beyond the sheer oddness of that 3% stat, I’m intrigued that Twitter can be segmented like this.
I tend, romantically, to imagine Twitter as a bio-synthetic hive-mind, pulsing above us like a giant brainiac pancake. In this context, this segmenting idea gives me the willies – but of course it’s perfectly possible to anatomize this big pulsing flat brain, slicing up its constituent parts and poking around for a closer look. In the interests of human advancement, then, I present the results of my dissection of the 97% we’re left with, after scraping that Bieber segment into the biohazard bin.
The first four or five centiles are – obviously – taken up by the sheer weight of Kanye West’s regret. You’ll remember the spectacular manner in which he fouled up his career by leaping onto the Video Music Awards stage to interrupt, with foghorn arrogance, Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech? His ‘I’m-a let you finish’, his ‘Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time?’ Well, things haven’t been going so well for Kanye since that very day.
But his blossoming self-awareness, as the trappings of his former success crumble to dust in his hands, has been remarkable. Not least for it’s unedited accessibility via his Twitter stream, which seems, thus far, to remain beyond the reach of his PR company – @mashable has a good piece on it.
Which reminds me – we can write off at least another 40% by combining the compulsive reiteration of pretty much anything @mashable tweets – all those tech-competitive RTs which ping through cyberspace with such reflexive speed that they must frequently meet themselves coming out on their way back in. I imagine the resulting inversion of time and space must often cause Pete Cashmore to pause momentarily in front of his shaving mirror – perhaps to shiver involuntarily – before resuming his grooming.
Then there’s @50Cent’s misogyny, which, predictably, takes up an awful lot more room than it’s strictly entitled to (and is very much not safe for work). Fiddy is one of those cultural tropes whom I have managed till now to avoid. In truth, I mainly believed that he was an auto-holographic meme, sprung fully-formed from Twitter’s ovaries to stimulate the nightmares of right-thinking folk. Seems he’s real, though, and chaps – he’s way offensive! I know, you were there before me. In fact, I only recently stumbled across his reality, via the comic flair of @English50Cent, who translates Fiddy’s unintelligible bile into the Queen’s English.
Approximately 14% of Twitter is genuinely useful stuff. Links to blog posts you might otherwise never have seen, but which change how you live your life or do your job, which point you to a different way at looking at your everyday world – or which, just as usefully, tell you ‘Victoria Line down’.
1% of Twitter is brought to you by the words ‘om’ and ‘nom’ in a range of permutations, and by the related discussion of food – what we’re having, what we’ve just had, what we wish we were having, but aren’t.
3%, perhaps, goes to those unmissable stories of political or global significance which unfold in real time – moments which force you to see the geoscape through a wide-angle lens.
2% of tweets are windows to intense human interest, suddenly thrown open to reveal astonishing challenges met and overcome; endurance cultivated the face of grinding adversity; and tests of conscience you will never be required to undergo. Also, to lifestyles which boggle your mind.
Where are we up to? I’ve lost count. No matter – the remaining centiles are full of Ourselves – tweets which either testify to the human imperative to self-expression, or unwittingly reveal the relentless narcissism of their originator. The papers last week were full of a new study, which purports to find that Facebook is a haven for narcissists. And while it usually pays to adopt a sceptical mien towards studies which demonize social media, especially those which pique the interest of the Daily Mail; and while it is equally true that this particular ‘study’ is based upon a statistically insignificant cohort of 100 17-25 year-olds, I’ve no doubt that it is an element of truth to it, and that this element of truth is equally applicable to Twitter.
And perhaps there’s no need to find this intrinsically problematic – narcissists are narcissists, after all, and usually find a way to bring themselves to our attention through one medium or another, as this more respectable study finds. They are often rather entertaining – either intentionally or not – and on the whole I think they brighten rather than darken the social world. And of course, they can be avoided, if we’d rather.
So there we have it – the whole of Twitter dissected. Turns out it’s quite as bad – and as good – as we thought.
A bientôt, mes amis!
For more social media snippets, do follow @emodkate – or for general twittery, @KateVWilliams.