Friday, January 28, 2011

Lain is no longer special. Everyone's wired now, baby.

I'd have to say the most interesting, empowering, and simultaneously terrifying of social networking utilities I've tentatively delved into thus far is Twitter.  Twitter, by far.  I've been on AIM and such things for years, but Twitter is a different beast, and one I strongly suspect to be man-eating.  And unlike the tiger in the Jungle Book, this sucker has teeth that stay as perpetually sharp as people's opinions.

The sheer penetration of Twitter, and the way it puts the casual side note thoughts of our lives into text to be sent, reacted to, responded to... it's really nothing short of amazing.  Used to be, you had an idle thought, you scribbled it down in your diary, at the MOST.  And no one was SUPPOSED to read that!  Now, our mental flotsam and jetsam is purged from our minds and placed onto what is hopefully a receptacle more suitable for holding such detritus.

As a writer, I'm highly mindful of this in terms of Content.  It's rare that I have things I want to say that are actually 140 characters or less.  If I'm going to say something, it's going to be a worthwhile addition to the discussion with somewhat objective value and a modicum of thought put into it, and that usually means a ton of words.  If I don't have such a suitably thought out thought, then it typically never leaves my head.  I am, by nature, a highly non-spontaneous person, especially in text.  In fact, it would be accurate to say that I live in a state of perpetually barely suppressed stark raving terror at the potential negative consequences of every single action.

So imagine, then, what this textual coward thought when placed exactly one Twitter's distance away from some of his most beloved authors, voice actors, and celebrities.  Follow them?  Of course you're going to follow them!  You ARE a 'true fan,' aren't you?  Yet, no matter how many thousands of followers they rack up, it nonetheless feels almost voyeuristic, to read these offhand 140 character non sequiturs, random opinions on low-key news, idle comments on how the day happens to be going.  Now, here comes the part that most inspires my inner coward to lift up his head and froth at the mouth.  True fan that you are, how do you respond to such terse, non-directed yet somehow oddly personal content?

There's a format to a fan letter, along with many implicit agreements about what is and what is not creepy.  I understand these things.  You write some long eloquent adoring rant that tries to be respectful while also expressing a sentiment that you find embarrassing to admit to in everyday life, and if you're lucky and the object of interest isn't too swamped by such things, yours gets read with a certain amount of appreciation.  On the other hand, if the person is swamped, then you can assume your letter was only skimmed with disinterest, if read at all.  But that's not your fault, not the fault of your content.  You did your best to express the impact they made on your life.  That's just the fault of the statistics.  Who could read their thousandth fan letter with as much gravity as their first?  No one.  And so one is given a fair shot at acceptance, and rejection, if it does come, is excusable and impersonal.

Twitter's different.  Your idol is right there.  Right there.  RIGHT THERE.  There's a fairly good chance they'll see whatever you type in a Tweet reply, if only because the time involved is oh so much less than reading a letter.  You've got 140 characters to prove yourself a respectful and sensible human being yet also a devoted and appreciative fan, and how do you do it?  Do you allow yourself non sequiturs, if your idol opens up with one?  Do you attempt witticisms over their personal interests?  Try to draw out discussions?  God forbid, do you ever dare express even the slightest human warmth or sentimentality in such an environment, exposed on all sides to the predation of trolls?

But the trolls aren't the worst part.  They're not even on the fringes of the worst possibilities radar.  No, the truly horrifying thing is having your idol judge you, dismiss your reply, dislike your Tweet, and thereby render your entire life valueless based on 140 characters.  With the ability to communication comes the ability to be rejected outright, and no matter how mild or offhand that rejection may be from one party, the other half can't help but feel soul-shattered.  Words and reactions have value to us, not in and of themselves, but according to how highly we value the speaker.

Rationally, we could dismiss this line of thought in any number of ways.  It's impossible to be deep and interesting in 140 characters.  Twitter isn't the format for getting to know people as such, especially those moving in diverse social circles.  It's a shallow medium meant for shallow things.  The fact that someone dislikes one short message doesn't mean the rest of your life accomplishments have been rendered negligible.  Your idols are imperfect, as are you, so one shouldn't place so much value on their own off the cuff reactions that may not necessarily have had a lot of thought put into them, either.

But being a fan is inherently about being as irrational as one is allowed to be in polite society.  And right now, my inner coward has a very, very loud voice.

Perhaps it'll get better once I get used to it.  Let's see how things stand after a few months of exposure to the freedom of the medium.

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