I can’t believe I’m already old enough to be nostalgic for the early days of Twitter. Or that Twitter is old enough to have people be nostalgic for it. Regardless, when I first got involved it really did feel like a lovely club of interesting, chatty people. In 2010, you could still just about @ Stephen Fry or, in my case Ashton Kutcher, and get a response.
Fast forward five years to today (and specifically Cannes bloody Festival) and it is total carnage. Just the anarchic playground of a young offenders institute on lunch break. I recently talked my pal Nathan back onto Twitter and was instantly and acutely aware of the cesspit of content it had become.
Even at work, where I manage the Wolff Olins Twitter account, it’s feels impossible to have a decent conversation these days. So, who’s in the playground? Let’s hold our pepper spray behind our backs and have a look…
The reluctant wallflowers.
There were a couple of years when I felt like part of a really great gang on Twitter. We were honest and controversial, and we could be because we knew that noone was listening in. But — and cue the tiny violins — we became a victim of our own success. We got known, and since then, our bosses and our clients have all followed us — favouriting our tweets and bringing them up over lunch. So we had to go pro, tone it down and stay ‘on message’. And we’re good at that, but it’s really no fun at all. My best chats these days happen behind DM’s and in Slack Rooms and on email threads. And in real life. WTF?
Hanging out on Twitter requires basic etiquette — being friendly, listening when people are speaking and not talking with your mouth full of bullshit. But some people (and, still, lots of brands) use Twitter as a rant device, shouting into the ether and picking on people they don’t know. There was a time when I simply phoned up anyone slinging mud online and asked them to stop it (you know who you are and you were very gracious about it). Now it’s bots and maniacs with names like @D1eyupp1e$cum. The worst offenders are the brands who have still not learnt how to act normal. Whether they’re pitifully repeating the same sales statement over and over or living it up in uncanny valley with their tone of voice guidelines and engagement quotas, it’s creepy and I want them to stop.
These are the ‘on Wednesdays we wear pink’ of Twitter. And, apologies, but they’re generally dudes. Super cliquey, full of in-jokes and basically having a private conversation in public so they feel better about that expensive conference they’re attending alone. Joining in ‘the conversation’ feels like wading into a dinner party you’ve not been invited to and everyone assumes you’re staff. Of course, the gang I was in was nothing like this. We were awesome. And hilarious.
The Head Boys and Girls.
I went to see John Maeda talk this week. He was the best. He has 414k followers. Or Marc Andreessen — 343k. Or Caitlin Moran — 541k. Awesome, fascinating people who’ve racked up the numbers purely for being awesome and fascinating and for staying firmly on their meds when it comes to Twitter. But, how do they handle that? Is it fun for them to have a near constant stream of people saying waddup? By being approachable, they’ve become unreachable.
And that’s what it all keeps coming back to: it’s just not fun or exciting anymore. Back in 2011, I went to see Grace Dent talk about her new book “How To Leave Twitter”. It was a funny title, because at that time Twitter was the place to be and be seen. Leave? Yeah right. She described Twitter as a “cyber-room of one’s own”. Yes it was great platform for women, but in 2011 it was a great platform for humankind. We had high, optimistic hopes for what might be possible — for the wonderful things that might happen in that room and extend out from it. Today, I hold my hand up and admit we might have fucked it. We did nothing with our magnificent power. Well, those Egyptians did, but we didn’t. Somewhere between the distraction of Instagramming our lattes, and waiting for our Uber’s we missed the kind of opportunity that is unlikely to emerge again in our lifetime.
Maybe there’s still time though… maybe we’ll get the band back together and do something incredible. Just need to work out the hashtag for it first…
This most first appeared on Medium. To read it again there click here