I Am Not Above Shameless Self-Promotion


Published: April 9, 2009

Follow me on Twitter (@AndrewDHudson). I tweet fascinating links, clever poetry, reports on strange people on the street. You can keep up with all the great stuff I’m doing: columns I write, lectures I teach, awards I win, et al. I promise you that my bullshit will be a valuable contribution to the running bullshit ticker of your Twitter feed.

Mostly, though, you should follow me on Twitter (@AndrewDHudson) because I’m hip and going all the way to the top, baby. Any day now I’ll get picked up, asked to blog for BoingBoing, syndicated by The Huffington Post, and make posts that all get thousands of votes on Digg. I’ll be rich and Internet-famous and never have to do anything except snark ever again.

This is the dream, isn’t it? Like the American dream, the blogosphere has a rags-to-riches story of clever commentators that gain sudden popularity. These lucky bloggers cast their convictions and their ideas into the ether, seeking nothing but self-expression. They were heard, however, and their words were seen as virtuous, and their names were whispered and shouted up through the ranks until everyone on the Internet knew and respected them. It is an epic story, and I think a lot of people are drawn to blogging by the prospect of reaching a real audience—and making their fortunes at the same time.

Twitter is just the latest manifestation of this urge. Twitter, if you don’t know yet, is a micro-blogging service and social network. You can broadcast 140 words at a time to those who have chosen to follow your comments, and you receive a stream of similar mini-blog entries from all those whom you have elected to follow. Twitter is the latest big thing. News anchors are responding on air to questions sent to them on Twitter. Congressmen are liveblogging on Twitter during the president’s State of the Union address. As of February, Twitter is the third largest social network, and it is becoming ever more popular among media professionals, businesses and hundreds of thousands of others interested in networking with the hippest of the Internet’s elite.

So much of the conversation on Twitter turns out to be little more than self-promotion, however: PR people pushing their clients, celebrities and wannabes pushing themselves. There are gems of wisdom amidst all the useless clatter, of course, and eddies of brilliant creativity that only reveal themselves if you follow enough of the right people. But these may be the exception, not the rule. Twitter’s forced brevity is arguably problematic, especially when so many already accuse online life of shortening our attention spans and making our values shallow and tinny. It is hard to deflect claims that people scan headlines more and read articles less, even if the result is a better, broader understanding of the zeitgeist. Twitter only feeds these criticisms.

In the end, though, I think the main problem is that Twitter’s metaphor of followers and following is too tempting to the get-rich-quick, fame-and-fortune facets of our ambitions. I don’t think that everyone who joins Twitter is out to get famous, but this American Internet dream is implicit in Twitter’s culture.

And there is a problem: the Internet is too big now. There are too many voices for yours or mine to stand out without preexisting fame or success to make people stop and listen. Maybe it was always like this. Maybe this dream was never possible—just a myth, an over- simplification of a few success stories years ago.

There are real connections to be made on Twitter, and real stories to tell. We shouldn’t let self-promotion become the dominant tenor of our great and gathering conversation. Twitter sharpens our digital shadows with the simple question, “What are you doing?” The answer to is often pretty mundane. And that’s okay. Because if you look beneath the dreams and ambitions of a civilization, you will see that we are all pretty much the same, all just people.

I am not against shameless self-promotion. I want the respect and fortune, the Internet-fame. But maybe I don’t need it. Maybe I should just work out an answer to Twitter’s question that I can be proud of. Maybe that’s enough.