Dear People of Twitter,
Please listen carefully: it’s not interesting, neither is it funny, when you read out the little witticisms that you’ve just tweeted. Or that someone has tweeted to you. Or SMSed, for that matter.
It doesn’t translate from text to speech. It’s just not as funny. Really, it isn’t.
This is the key sentiment of Shapshak’s First Theorem on Using Social Media in the Real World. I know it’s hard to impose etiquette on such things but we need to set some boundaries.
When you’re with people, you’re with people. Tweeting is a solitary thing. Tweet if you have to, by all means, but don’t sit on your phone all the time. When you’re with people, be with the people.
It’s like the golden principle of retailing: the customer who has walked through the door to buy something is worth more than the person who is just calling. Deal with the walk-in before answering the phone.
Etiquette will just make it easier. How come Jack Bauer is the only person on television who ever apologises when he takes a phone call?
Which brings me to Shapshak’s First Rule of Dropped Cellphone Calls: the person who made the first call should call again. Otherwise both of us end up getting each other’s voicemail. Twice. Before one of us desists and we can talk again.
I don’t mean to rewrite one of those painful etiquette books from the 19th century – although they are utterly hilarious now, given how much social mores have shifted – I’m just trying to minimise the pain of our digital world. And to keep Tweeters from reading their tweets to me (you know who you are). It’s like trying to explain why the throwaway line “God is a chiropractor” is funny. It’s situational. It’s just doesn’t translate.
Which is not to say that tweets can’t be little episodic gems of wonderful writing. Anyone who follows that learned man of letters Gus Silber (twitter.com/gussilber – or @gussilber in Twitter language) will know what I mean. His comment on the ruinous singing of our national anthem before last November’s disastrous Test against France is the stuff of legend: “It’s a sign of how far we’ve come as a nation, that a Bok rugby squad can sing Nkosi better than a [Rasta] man named Dumisani”.
Or those of you who follow @ShitMyDadSays will know. Justin Halpern is arguably the only person whose tweets do translate – or, more precisely, the blunt and expletive-laden comments his 74-year-old father makes.
I just love that story – it’s a modern day tweets-to-riches tale. Halpern, 28, had decided to move from Los Angeles to live with his girlfriend in San Diego to escape the three-and-a-half hour commute in his clapped out old car. She promptly broke up with him when he arrived at her door and told her what he’d done.
So he moved in with his parents, where he set up “my office (read: ‘my laptop’)” in the lounge, where his blunt and to-the-point father was watching television, and began working on his first column for Maxim.com.
“My dad had a hard time understanding that someone sitting in his pajamas … was working. So he treated me like I wasn’t.”
Halpern started updating his Instant Messenger status, and later a Twitter profile, with some of the profane gems his father spewed at him: all utterly hilarious, all instant truisms about the world and almost all unprintable in this newspaper.
Before long, Halpern had 1.6-million followers and a book deal. One such update: “You pitched a great game, you really did. I’m proud of you. Unfortunately, your team is sh**ty … No, you can’t go getting mad at people because they’re sh**ty. Life will get mad at them, don’t worry.”
People of Twitter, you can repeat Halpern. He’s funny, the rest isn’t.
Shapshak is the publishing editor of Stuff magazine
This column was originally published as “The hidden perils of tweeting” on September 20, 2010 in The Times.