Like many of you, I’m addicted to Twitter. I say this with the grim, slouchy knowledge of someone who’s been addicted to a lot of things in my life: Twitter may be the worst of them all. A man can only smoke so many cigarettes in a day, have so many drinks, bet on so many football games, squeegee so many dog piss-saturated diapers into so many snifters, before one is satiated. But Twitter is always there, the gaping, empty text box representing the vacated womb into which we’re desperate to sloosh backwards. Just kidding on that last part but I guarantee some dick head thinks that.
That is, of course, the appeal: its omnipresence. Perhaps the best analogy is to video game addiction, one thing I’ve somehow managed to avoid, being an adult man with a job. Twitter is nothing if not a video game. You punch the right series of buttons, and you’re rewarded with points, or level-ups, and you work your way through a series of bosses until…well, until what? In some rare cases it may lead to real world rewards. For a writer like myself it might attract the attention of an editor, leading to work. Although for every one tweet that impresses, there are typically three dozen jerkoff drunk-tweet binges that have the exact opposite effect. Maybe that cute Twitter bb whose tweets you’ve been dutifully favoriting for years finally gave you that cross-country hand job you’ve been working toward. It definitely could happen! But for the vast majority of us, a tweet does nothing.
That’s where the video game comparison frays a little around the edges, because there is no winning Twitter, it’s just a series of slow-motion losses in reverse broken up by the occasional tie. Most of us know this logically, and yet those of us who are addicted persist in the effort all the same, thinking, this, this one here, this tweet will be the one that solves the puzzle, the one that finally catapults our personal brand into the rarified stratosphere of fleeting, insignificant internet notoriety. And then, if it comes, we’re momentarily thrilled, but soon return to the agitated state of aspiration as the slate is wiped clean again. It’s akin to the sex imperative, I suppose. We’re desperate to impregnate the world with our joke-sperm, but, as in sex, after each la petweet mort, as soon as it’s splooged-forth into your followers eager word-cervixes, you wonder why you ever wanted it so bad in the first place. This impulse, sex, tweeting, eating a platter of fried chicken tits, wanting anything really, is kind of gross when you think about it.
Desire and disgust are inextricably intertwined, just as one is waxing, the other is waning, even as we’re metaphorically shuffling ankle-pantsed away from the Twitter app to towel off. But a couple of things happened in quick successive order over the course of the last month that may have finally helped me take the first steps toward divesting myself of this unsavory appetite. Paradoxically, it was being good at Twitter that made me recognize what a worthless pursuit it is in the first place. Not that I didn’t always know this, sure, but knowing something to be true, and feeling something to be true are different things altogether.
First up was a stupid, tossed-off joke tweet I sent around Christmas.
It’s pronounced Christmas jift, actually. — Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47) December 24, 2013
It was, exponentially, the most shared tweet I’ve ever had, which may sound like a #humblebrag, but considering the fact that it wasn’t even funny, or original, I point this out less to pat myself on the back than to criticize all of the idiots who loved it so much. Here was real, actionable data that people have horrible taste.
At first the deluge of notifications was a thrill, but as the days wore on, and they didn’t stop, each one began to seem more like a chore that needed to be completed than a reward for a job well done. I’m sure that people who regularly have widely-shared tweets can relate to this binary of emotions. Or maybe not, maybe you’re all convinced of your genius knowing you turds. The point is, the ideal return on a tweet investment here, the best of all possible outcomes, didn’t fill me with joy, it filled me with a creeping sense of shame, because each RT was a reminder of how this thing that I try for every day when I fire off my little jokes into the void, was actually an empty pursuit. I got what I always wanted, and I still had nothing. Granted, everything fills me with a creeping sense of shame, but that’s a whole other thing. Before long I started to feel like Don Henley grocery shopping every time “Desperado” comes on the store radio.
A few days later, something I wrote about how dumb the internet is went through a similar cycle, with tens of thousands of people sharing it, and many of them going out of their way to tell me on Twitter how brilliant they thought it was, and what a good job I’d done. This is it! This is what we as writers, or whatever it is another job is, I can’t think of one, long for. We want to be told we’ve done a good job, that all this stitching and unstitching as the man said, wasn’t for naught. And increasingly, the way we hear this is through social media. But, and I never thought I’d say this, after a certain point, being told you did something really well gets pretty fucking old. Don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed with the response to that piece, but once I’d gorged myself on it, each successive tweet of praise began to feel less like congratulations for a job well done, and more like a reminder that I hadn’t done anything else since then.
Being successful is what we all aspire to, but the truth is, the vast majority of successful things are awful. This is especially true of tweets. Most people can relate to this emotion. Someone you don’t know has liked or favorited something you’ve shared. Nice! Then you notice the rest of the things they like and favorite are shit. Wait a minute… That’s exactly what became clear to me with the third, and probably most convincing thing that made me realize how pointless this pursuit of Twitter success is. I started following the @Favstar100 account. The account RTs tweets that have garnered 100 favorites, which for most people, myself included, is considered a pretty great outcome for a tweet. Wow! 100 favorites! I did a good tweet! You didn’t though.
Perhaps most of you were already aware of this, but having tailored my feed to what I consider to be a pretty funny, smart, and sharp people, following this account was a revelation. It instantly transformed my Twitter into Facebook, with a ceaseless stream of feel-good inspirational doggerel, and hacky, embarrassing humor. I had no idea until now just how easy it was to get a bad tweet favorited so many times. In fact, being bad in the first place isn’t a drawback, it’s seems like a necessary requirement.
Winning a Golden Globe would be a lot cooler if they played the Imperial March when you walked to the stage. — Darth Vader (@DepressedDarth) January 13, 2014
Don’t fall in love with the guy who says the right things, fall in love with the one who does the right things — Drunk On Life (@Black0utBitches) January 13, 2014
I’m so white that if you listen closely, you can hear “Don’t Stop Believin”playing softly whenever I walk into a room. — The Alicianator (@leechee420) January 11, 2014
That’s just a quick sampling. This one right here, however, is, without hyperbole, the worst tweet I’ve ever seen.
Wanna come over to MySpace and Twitter my Yahoo till I Google all over your Facebook?
— A Comical Badass (@ComicalBadass) January 10, 2014
When you start to realize just how meaningless it is that a tweet gets favorited and RT’d so many times, what does it say about our own efforts?
Give a man a compliment and he’ll feel good for a day. Teach him to fish for compliments and he’ll feel empty for life, on Twitter non-stop.
— Luke O’Neil (@lukeoneil47) January 11, 2014
Are our own tweets that people seem to like different? Why? Why is one of my “good” tweets good and not bad? Obviously the meritocratic data returns of Twitter show that quality has nothing to do with the size of its reach. Sure, all those other popular tweets are bad, but mine are the good ones?
So what is it we’re after here when we tweet anyway? A brief shot of seratonin? Never mind video games, a better analogy might be one of those crane-claw games at the arcade. On Twitter, you’ve got an unlimited supply of tokens, but the outcome is usually the same, you’re either going home empty-handed, or with a piece of trash you don’t remember why you wanted it so badly in the first place.
Maybe this is all common knowledge to everyone, and it’s taken me far too long to realize it. I’m not saying I’m going to stop using Twitter altogether, I’m just not going to try that hard anymore. (How will anyone know the difference haha). In fact I’m going to tweet out a link to this piece right away. I hope no one shares it. That’s the only way I’ll know it was any good.