Thursday, April 16, 2009

Monogamus Internet Bigamy

The past few weeks, I’ve written a bit here about the state of the media on the Internet. Though tere is some really serious stuff to discuss on this issue, there are also instances where what transpires goes beyond the serious to the silly. Included in this is the asinine Twitter race between CNN Breaking news and actor Ashton Kutcher.

This is what Kutcher said, in throwing down the gauntlet to CNN, in a typical Web video, shot while the actor was driving down some freeway:

“I found it astonishing that one person can actually have as big of a voice online as what an entire media company can on Twitter.”

As big of a voice. As big of a voice. Yeah, I suppose if you’re looking at sheer numbers – right now, the race between Kutcher and CNN Breaking news separates the two by only 12,000 Twitter followers, with CNN on top – that one person could actually have as big a voice online as an entire media company. But what’s being missed in this asinine contest – and in many of the arguments and the lack of empathy for news companies struggling to monetize the Internet – is that you have to consider what the voices are saying. Just because one person has as much of an online voice as a major media company, by counting the number of Twitter followers, does not automatically mean that this one person has as much important information to share with that audience as the media giant does.

Twitter, while it has its uses, is not much different from RSS feeds or any other kind of service that gets message from Person A to Person B (and by person I mean anything from an individual shouting into the darkness to a media company shouting live 24 hours a day). Satirists, I believe, nail the average Twitter user when they say that Twits aren’t necessarily interested in knowing what the others on Twitter are doing, but are certainly interested in letting everyone else know what they’re up to.

I, myself, have been on Twitter for a while now. My first earth-shattering tweet – “Anyone for cribbage,” a throwaway line from an old Donald Duck cartoon on workplace safety – earned me a follower, evidently the proprietor of one of the largest cribbage-based Websites in the known universe. Others followed at random, finding me somehow through my own shouts into the darkness, but to say my “followers” know me beyond the crap I tweet and the cave painting I use for my avatar would be a lie. I have followers I know, and I follow them – but what we say to each other comes as no surprise, since we communicate more fully through other venues that don’t limit our shouts to 140 characters or less.

So to say one has a voice as big as a media company on Twitter – and to opine that that is such an amazing thing, is virtually meaningless. Can Ashton Kutcher – or CNN for that matter – really believe that their near one million followers hang on every word they utter? I have 42 twits I follow. Nearly every time I turn on my iPod Touch and open up TwitterFon, I have at least a hundred tweets to read. I’m regular readers of three or four of them – but only one of them, philthethrill, a Los Angeles-area policeman, offers anything remotely interesting that I can’t find in other venues such as blogs, or e-mails and telephone calls from my friends. And yet I find the desire for more followers – and more to follow – strangely alluring. Almost as if Twitter were legalizing bigamy in a way, but a strictly monogamus bigamy in that consort and consortees are in the same room but never allowed to touch. Or maybe a harem is a more apt metaphor, because in a harem one has one’s favorites but holds on to the rest out of some vague necessity that if the caliph next door has a bigger harem, all is not right with the world.

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