Sometime around May 2011, I got myself a Twitter account. I logged in and looked around for a bit. The first impression of Twitter was not a good one. Chaos ruled. If you’re a Member of Parliament, you’ll nod with a knowing smile on hearing this.
Back in the day, mad men (and women) roamed on streets muttering to themselves. It seemed that most of them were now on Twitter. It was bedlam. Disorder reigned. Daunted, I retreated to the relative sanity of the real world.
Fast forward to January 2012. In a moment of optimism, the sort that prevails at the onset of a new year, I ventured back. A password reset later, I found that I had 16 followers. This led to minor exhilaration and then confusion. It seemed incredible that these people (even if they were friends), having found me and after knowing that I had tweeted just once (“Hello World”), had found me worthy of following. That was perplexing. Indeed, I found this notion of ‘following’ fascinating. Who should I follow? What did they have to tell me? Did I have anything to tell them? Intrigued, I decided to delve. And when I delve, it’s usually deeper.
Upon cogitation, I set myself the task of getting 1,000 followers by the end of 2012. I figured that if I was able to get there, that would be definitive proof of the Mayan prophecy. And so I began tweeting. Here are a few observations from that journey.
1. Having a strong streak of insanity helps.
Check the family history. Observe all living ancestors on full moon days. If you see them howling at bright, faraway and inanimate objects, you’re in luck. You, my friend, are destined for Twitter stardom. Tweeting, whichever way you look at it, is an act of insanity. You think you have something clever to say, and then go through the trouble of expressing it in 140 characters. You put it out there in the fond hope that it will get picked up amidst the anarchy. And you wait. Nothing happens. Your tweet, which you believed was destined for greatness, is stillborn. Undeterred, you create again. And again. The cycle goes on. And then, something magical happens. Someone more insane than you finds you. I predict that we'll soon have technology that analyzes tweets to detect mental disorder. Which leads me to observation number two.
2. There will always be a bountiful supply of people who are more insane than you.
It might come as a surprise to hear this. There are people in this world who are even more mentally unhinged than you are. It’s true. And there’s more good news. They are all on Twitter. If you give it enough time, they will all find you. Twitter is a system designed to allow coagulation of mental unsoundness into locally stable pockets. A place where insanity inexorably gravitates towards insanity. And as you’ll soon discover, most have abandoned medication and therapy in favor of tweeting. Ever heard the term ‘wisdom of crowds?’ When it comes to Twitter, I can confidently vouch that the ‘crowds’ part is true.
3. Hang on. It’s not all that bad. Twitter’s an awesome place to get life changing advice…
If you’re looking for advice on life, love, marriage, raising children or running countries, I can think of no better place to find it than on Twitter. A lot of the advice will come from 16 year olds, misogynists, feminists, right wingers, left wingers, bloggers, satirists and stand-up comedians. But hey, who can resist free advice from strangers, right?
4. … and get a crash course on the art of living, while you’re at it.
As you’re aware, the Internet has more inspirational quotes on it than should be legally allowed. You will find people who’ve taken it as their life mission to copy & paste all of these quotes onto Twitter. God bless them. They are the new age transporters, hell bent on ushering us into a new state of cosmic consciousness. It’s tragic that Confucius and Gandhi missed out on this era. The amount of money they could make today, by publishing a book of quotes which they didn’t even utter in the first place, boggles the mind.
5. Twitter has its geniuses …
It’s but a thin line that separates genius from lunacy. There are some fine folks on Twitter who walk the razor’s edge every day. Having said that, Twitter has also shown me that any human being is capable of stunning and brilliant humor, if inspired appropriately by a politician, cricketer or movie star.
6. … and abounds in experts, leaders and statesmen.
A lot of people wake up each morning wondering what to do with that uninformed opinion that no one else is interested in. And then they share it on Twitter. You can find people from all vocations on Twitter. Engineers, business types, politicians, movie stars, lawyers, doctors, etc. etc. The list goes on. I know what you’re thinking. It’s comforting to know that your doctor is not neglecting his Twitter followers as he examines your prostate, right? Well, it’s only a matter of time before firemen, emergency room specialists and air traffic controllers get onto Twitter and life, as we know it, ceases to exist.
7. And then you have the truly gifted ones.
This part is fascinating. You will do well to pay attention here. There is a small number of special people on Twitter, who have the singular gift of being able to spontaneously regurgitate Wikipedia on any topic that may be trending on any given day. You can spot these whiz kids by their instant and crisp solutions in 140 characters to critical matters of national and global importance. In fact, I wonder why we haven’t yet abandoned democracy and handed over the responsibility of running our country to these geniuses, whose delusion of self-grandeur is only matched by their impressively large following on Twitter. After all, they know everything.
8. So which way should you go?
Well, that depends entirely on where you want to go. Human beings were designed for many things. Twitter is not one of them. Someone once said that man is a social networking animal. How true. The animal part, that is. But if you feel its tug, foray into it you must.
9. And who do you follow?
Twitter tries to be helpful with this. It ‘suggests’ people who it thinks that you might like following. I’m not sure what kind of an algorithm they deploy here. What I’ve noticed is that this algorithm is entirely unnecessary. We, the people, are perfectly capable of making our own blunders.
10. The road to hell is paved with re-tweets and followers.
There are many ways to build a following. Engaging humor. Insightful comments. Being Lady Gaga. And then, there are those who'll say any nonsense to get followers. That's the vilest, sickest and most successful approach I've seen. Be careful what you wish for. For you just might get it. With great following sometimes comes great irresponsibility. The sort of irresponsibility which arises from the intoxication of succeeding at this game of ‘action-reaction-more-followers’ and one which could quickly result in apathy towards your family, friends and all those other wonderful things that exist in what’s otherwise known as the real world.
The closing argument.
At first glance, Twitter displays the randomness which can only result from millions of primates banging away aimlessly on keyboards. At the same time, it’s this giant ocean with waves of collective consciousness which keep trying to push some message or the other in a bottle to the shore. There’s a fairly good chance that you will come across some wonderful messages. And interact with some really awesome people. It might not be a bad idea to get your own bottle and check it out.
Now, back to the beginning.
I hold in my possession incontrovertible evidence that reason has abandoned this planet. My follower count which stood at 16 in January 2012 has now teetered past the 3,000 mark, a fact that has destroyed any semblance of belief I’ve had in the ability of the human race to save itself from destruction. Which leads me to my final piece of life changing advice.
You must follow me on Twitter at Follow @waatho
*****For readers not familiar with Srini's work, his year end recap will serve as a fine primer.