Since my last post about the virtues of Twitter, the email correspondence and blog posts have been pouring in fast and furiously. "What the hell are you doing on Twitter?" one of the more printable emails asked. "You of all people, the antichrist of Silicon Valley!"
Such a simple question deserved a simple answer: "How many Big Macs do you think Eric Schlosser consumed in order to write Fast Food Nation?" I emailed back: "I'm on Twitter because I am writing a book, a non-fictional narrative about social media."
The reason why I'm on Twitter can be expressed in significantly fewer than 140 characters: To understand social media, it is necessary to participate in social media.
Just as I published a blog in order to understand the blogosphere for my anti-Web 2.0 polemic Cult of the Amateur, so I'm now on Twitter to investigate the cultural, economic, and, above all, "social" ramifications of the social media revolution. Not being on Twitter while writing my narrative about the social media revolution would be akin to writing about the social and cultural consequences of the 19th century industrial revolution from a candlelit cave.
Thus, to borrow Twitter's ornithological theme, the micro-blog has become my perch from which to observe our new short-messaging nation. I'm like an ugly, unwashed version of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock's ultimate voyeur movie, Rear Window. Only I don't need to look out of my living room to spy on the nasty, sad habits of my sad and nasty neighbors. Now, on Twitter, I can read the narcissistic, lonely, and anxious remarks not only of my immediate neighbors, but also of narcissistic, lonely, and anxious people around the world. What's not to love about existential grief in 140 characters?
"But you are not just on Twitter watching people," my email correspondent accused me. "You are a Tweet machine with over 1,500 followers."
So let me explain my supposed "enthusiasm" for writing tweets. I'm a book writer, a word peddler who makes a living selling words in 250,000-character chunks. And Twitter, an electronic network for messages of under 140 characters, is an ideal venue for writers to distribute their clever, superior words to the Twitmasses. It is a shop-window for talent, a dream platform to build an army of "followers" -- readers who literally follow and sometimes even redistribute my words. Twitter is dramatically more efficacious than any blurb on any book jacket. It's a beautifully speedy way for writers to market themselves in real time to actual or potential consumers of their books.
As I tweeted Beatrice.com's Ron Hogan, one of my book industry buddies: "Any published writer not on Twitter should have both their hands chopped off."
Note that I wrote "published writer" and not just "writer" (a supposed ideal to which more and more people seem to aspire). What I like about Twitter is that it's neither trying to blow up nor replace traditional media. Nobody is under any illusion about Twitter's business model for writers. There's no money -- not a single cent -- to be made for aspiring writers on Twitter. Real writers still, thank the lord, sell their words (in 250,000-character chunks) to publishing houses, which then distribute those words in book form. Twitter is purely a viral marketing platform, a 140-character short messaging network to unashamedly show off one's stuff to the world.
I've been using and abusing Twitter seriously now for a little over a month. The big question, the money question, is whether the latest social media sensation has made me more narcissistic, lonely, and anxious. That question can be quantified in dollars and cents. It has a value of around $24.99 (cheaper on Amazon.com, especially via the Kindle).
That question will, of course, be answered in my 250,000-character, non-fictional narrative about social media, which will be published next year.
No freebies on this one, I'm afraid, not even to my Twitter followers. You'll have to cough up the cash to get the real scoop on my Twittexistential crisis. Only the lonely give away their best stuff for free.
— Andrew Keen, Silicon Valley author, broadcaster, and entrepreneur, can be reached on Twitter at @ajkeen.