When I was first introduced to Twitter it sounded to me like another in a long line of social networking tools that I could happily live without. Conventional wisdom seems to be that MySpace and Facebook and Twitter are giant convention centers full of kids, parents’ stolen credit cards in hand, desperate to interact with musicians great and small. I am supposed to be out there hawking my wares, instant-messaging with teenaged super-fans in Nebraska and Smolensk, presenting myself as just the right blend of charming and superficially complicated to be intriguing without being dangerous. I’d rather eat ground glass. This almost universal consensus that social networking is the ONLY way for musicians to promote and distribute their music sounds like a bunch of publicist crap. God help us if it’s true.
So Twitter seemed stupid and boring, something just for salespeople, extroverts/sex-addicts, con-artists and lonely twits. A few close friends in the tech industry were singing its praises early on, but I’ve got a drawer full of cameras, phones, MP3 players, and other garbage that these same people told me I couldn’t live without. I stopped listening to them years ago.
On a recent trip to LA, sitting in the bar at the Chateau Marmont with a lively bunch of newly famous comedians and actors, I was astonished to find almost every one of them was Twittering throughout our drinks and dinner. It was annoying, as you can imagine, but also intriguing. Comedians are the most naturally cynical sub-group of humanity after diplomats. They wouldn’t pull one of their fans from a burning building, let alone text-message them at dinner. What was the appeal?
They encouraged me to sign up, and much to my surprise I took to it instantly. The Twitter site itself was just a portal, the real innovation was the concept: 140 character messages broadcast free to subscribers. Sure, you can be a dull narcissist and post about your meals and your menstrual cycle, but you can also embrace the limitations and try to contain as much wit, plot, story, and/or poesy as possible in those few lines. Tweets could be little tales, or koans, or aphorisms, or gags. They were so simple and transitory, but their insignificance was their great appeal. Rather than belabor them, agonize over them, or overwork them, each Tweet was more or less a burst of colored smoke. They were so basic, so small, even the best ones were gone in seconds. Not quite a new literary form they were nonetheless right at the heart of creating meaning through arranging words.
I had gradually lost touch with the pleasures of writing just for the thrill of it, but now here it was again. I had no idea who was reading, no sense of who I was writing for, no ambition to compete or sell, I was just playing. Very quickly I found myself thinking in the 140 character format, waking up in the middle of the night with ideas almost fully formed. I set myself the additional challenge of trying to make every one of my posts as close to exactly 140 characters as I could manage. This not only restricted me from posting things like “I am really tired today” (which kind of pointless blather makes up the lion’s share of writing on the internet) but it also subverted one of Twitter’s primary methods of promulgation, the “retweet”. Just as the constraints of meter and melody force song lyrics in interesting directions, so did the challenges of my Twitter rules produce, for me, exciting results.
From December ’08 to May of ’09, almost exactly six months, I posted an average of three times a day, ruminating on bachelorhood, anthropomorphizing the raccoons and crows, and spinning yarn out of a small portion of my inner life. Then, just as whimsically as I’d begun, I quit entirely. I can’t offer any explanation as to why Twittering suddenly lost its appeal, except by quoting Neil Young’s resignation from CSNY: “Funny how things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach.”
Now that brief explosion of posts has been collected in a book. It’s the final step in contravening everything that internet social networking purports to be. Not transitory, not impermanent, not “in-the-moment” or fleeting, this book, Electric Aphorisms, is a real, solid, lasting physical object you can read, hold, throw, and pack in a cardboard box when you move.
Available now from Publication Studio