I’ve been “tweeting” for about a year now. As many of my friends know, I joined fairly reluctantly, but felt it was one of those things I just “had” to do professionally. Over time my use of the service varied, but I tried to stick to using it for mostly professional purposes (with exceptions of important life events, like my hospital stay, the birth of my son, the time I had to wait extra-long at the bus stop, and about that really yummy cookie I got at Specialty’s). In the past year, Twitter usage has grown leaps and bounds, and their brand awareness is clearly reaching the mainstream.
Now there are those who feel this is bad for society, as we reduce content intake to bite-size formats and become headline crazy. Personally I think this happened over a decade ago, and Twitter is merely the cough to our lack-of-depth cultural pneumonia that’s going around. That said, there’s something a bit more to the Twitter effect than the other rapid-fire tools people seem to have at their disposal. When you talk to people who really use Twitter (I’ve tried to do so to find employees, refer business, donate money, rally volunteers, but none of these efforts really go anywhere for me – I think you have to be in the Scoblesphere to actually have impact on your followers), they talk about it differently than virtually any other Web service they use. Further, there seems to be a little bit more… fanaticism to Twitter than anything else I’ve seen. I’ll paraphrase the commentary I’ve heard and seen…
“You aren’t on Twitter? Dude, *everyone* is on Twitter, what are you thinking?”
“Did you see my funny Tweet today? It got retweeted like 4 times!”
“I’m already up to 600 followers, but I gotta find more.”
“OMG, @garyvee is following me now! I’m special and important!”
To the non-twitterers, this kind of talk is clearly reminiscent of the Smurfs, with more gibberish words being used to describe any derivation of a Twitter-based action. But as I’ve spent time watching the unbelievable quantity of discussion about Twitter itself, it’s become utterly clear to me. Twitter is a cult. Maybe not we’re-all-going-to-live-on-the-great-spaceship cult, but a cult nonetheless.
Warning to the thin-skinned: there are broad generalizations here – if you cannot deal with that as a concept, go here instead! As sourced by The Internet, a cult can be defined as a group having all of the following 5 characteristics:
- It uses psychological coercion to recruit, indoctrinate and retain its members
Twitter users attempt to get non-Twitter users to join. They talk about the urgent necessity of being on Twitter (funny video on this). New twitterers are welcomed with very open arms. Gaining followers is rewarded psychologically (go find a single human being not happy with “being followed”), and once a user has a mass of followers, they are highly dis-incented to leave Twitter.
- It forms an elitist totalitarian society
Twitterers tweet to each other, and in person, talk about their tweets. Twitterers believe that everybody should be twittering. Non-twitterers are ignored. Companies and individuals who do not use Twitter are belittled, and generally looked down upon. Having followers is “good”, not having them is “bad”.
- Its founder/leader is self-appointed, dogmatic, messianic, not accountable and has charisma
Okay, this one is a stretch – first, I don’t know the founders at all, and second, from what I do know about them it doesn’t seem like a very accurate claim whatsoever (though they certainly are treated like royalty around the valley). But instead of thinking about this in context of the individual founders, think of the so-called “twitterati”. Many “top” twitterers absolutely act these ways. They make bold claims, talk about the famous people they are meting with, and otherwise spend a lot of time self-aggrandizing on Twitter.
- It believes ‘the end justifies the means’ in order to solicit funds/recruit people
Forget the solicit funds, since we are still waiting to hear about a business model, but again, look at the communication style of self-proclaimed “Twitter experts” and the utter requirement on dragging anyone and everyone into the twittersphere. People have offered to spend money to be a “recommended twitterer”. Social Media Consultants tell 100% of their clients they “must” get on Twitter. And it’s all self-serving – companies “have” to be on Twitter, because “that’s where the conversation is happening” – and by the way, they need to pay someone to get there and pay for advice on how to Tweet and pay for others to “monitor” their Twitter topics. If topics like ROI arise, they are swept aside by the “importance of the conversation” and being told “all the early adopters are there”. Buzzword merchants rule the day, and rational business logic is thrown out the window. Don’t misread me here – there are early adopters on Twitter, and there are plenty of reasons to get your business listening and engaging in the 140-character-at-a-time shouting match, but the manic rush to push big business there is truly amazing.
- Its wealth does not benefit its members or society
As I linked to above, studies are showing the concerns of impact Twitter may have on society. Personally, I found myself agreeing with many points raised. As I saw what I will call “prominent” technology Twitterers reacting to the article, their comments treat it with disdain. Why? Because it’s a threat to the foundation that Twitter must be good. While I have seen a few examples of people using Twitter to actually produce a benefit (raising some money, rescue stranded bloggers from the desert, etc), it’s pretty hard to justify other true benefits. It certainly occupies time, and is unquestionably a fascinating method of communication (albeit a fundamentally broken one), but I’d wager a fine penny that heavy Twitter users are not healthier, happier, or otherwise more satisfied with life than the poor schlubs out there limited to such primitive tools as the phone and texting to just one person at a time.
Quick update: Just read “Twitter Leads to Immorality? C’mon!” – one other common attribute of a cult is the complete inability to handle negativity nor criticism about the cult itself.
Now before anyone massively overreacts to my statements (oops, too late, the angry reactions probably got written as comments/tweets long before most readers would even get this far), I’m not saying “all Twitter use is bad”! But maybe we need to really consider the role it plays and how we could and should use it. I fundamentally believe it is not creating “a community” and I am also deeply concerned about the combination of “Attention Grabbing Headlines” with the lack of responsibility used by many Twitterers (urban myth perpetuation, worms/attacks, and, of course, Rickrolling).
If there’s one thing I do believe is that Twitter is pushing us even further down the perilous road of “instant reporting”, regardless of the news or facts about a situation. Fact-checking is all but dead in traditional writing, let alone 140 character chunks. This pace is part of the contribution to the “work creeps into personal time” calamity modern society faces. Yes, it’s a calamity – did you know that when we were hunter-gatherers the average human “worked” for about 17 hours per week?
How to solve the problem: calm down about the Twitter. Don’t have to stop. Don’t have to quit. But also… don’t have to have 50,000 followers. Don’t have to be retweeted a hundred times a day. Don’t have to have everyone know every intimate detail of your day. Don’t call me up to tell me about a cool tweet you wrote. Don’t try to recruit your grandpa to sign up. Don’t expect every company to beckon to win your love just because you wrote (something negative) about them in 45 seconds.
And, of course, don’t expect a free latte just because you have some followers.
Twitter is like a decaffeinated latte compared to the crack like triple shot caramel infused straight back straight up black tar heroin that is also known as FriendFeed.
Am sure that you are aware of the following irony: 1) this excellent blog post is being retweeted like crazy (and reason how I found out about it). 2) you will gain quite a few followers because of this. 3) You may unwittingly become one of the Twitter cult Poobahs after this.
Twitter is not a cult. It is just a computer program. Ones and zeros, ones and zeros. Nothing more.
It is also a recognized 501c3 organization by the IRS.
Jeremy, thanks for your assessment. I am a Twitter user and really like the bite-size pieces that Twitter focuses on. What I don’t like is the lack of emotion that exists. Even in business I have found that there are plenty of times when a call is better than an email. That’s why I use PhotoShare — an iPhone application (yes, I am co-founder) that starts with an image from the iPhone camera and allows users to add comments, mash photos up, add text, etc. It’s interactive and adds a visual component into the stream which is missing from Twitter. PhotoShare can push photos (through a link) to Twitter. There is a place for services like Twitter, but I think PhotoShare provides a much richer and better experience for users. http://www.bcphotoshare.com. Thanks, Adam.
The pitchfork mob tendencies are what bother me about these newest realtime socnets. The #amazonfail fiasco is a prime example of how a very large group can get agitated very quickly, jump to conclusions based on very little accurate info, draw a huge amount of attention to themselves, and do serious damage to a company’s reputation and relationships with its customers. (I admit being impressed by the troll who put that Amazon hack together – he put his finger right on a pressure point of a group that was pre-irritated for his convenience.) But the mob that demanded answers and claimed that Amazon was “stonewalling” because they hadn’t produced a full accounting after only 48 hours over a holiday weekend is of the same category that publicly shamed, outed, humiliated, and harassed a Korean woman whose heinous crime against the internets was to fail to clean up after her dog on the subway (google “dog poop girl” for that story).
I guess I wonder – how would I protect myself from an Internet mob with pitchforks and torches? And why should I be subject to their justice?
You’re making light of the we’re all going to be on the spaceship cult, but think about it.
Web services are building a critical social infrastructure for space colonization. As if people would colonize other planets or star systems without Facebook.
While our species is waiting for our engineers to get around to the conceptual and hardware tech – OK, we’ll be waiting centuries for the “collapsar jump” or the “hyperspace drive”, perhaps, but still – we are developing here and now the psychological infrastructure that, now that it exists, obviously always was a precondition to the spaceship – we just had no idea that we needed it until it actually existed.
I loves me some Twitter, but I’ve had people ask me about it and depending on why they want to use it, I’ve told them it’s not for them. I think it’s a kick-ass business tool, but I keep track of friends and family on Facebook.
Nice Job and great tweetbait 🙂 opps sorry that was too cultish .. Seriously good Angle on Twitter because that is how newbies look at Twitter.
This is a big positioning issue for Twitter. Like Thomas Hawks says about Friendfeed is worse and that has caused them some growth problems. Twitter is great. I love the service. The way to solve the cult potential positioning is to “get a life”.
“It is also a recognized 501c3 organization by the IRS”
okay, this just cannot be accurate. They MIGHT have an org in there somewhere, seperate from the corp/inc. but the whole thing is not a charity.
btw. Nice post! POST, not a tweet.
We’ve missed you JT!
The fatal flaw you overlook, is that there are those of us that don’t fit all five requirements of a cult, and therefore, aren’t members of it. And of course, by your above definition, all established religions are indeed cults, therefore, a more accurate definition is needed. Otherwise, fine article. Oh, and follow me on Twitter 🙂
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