Being and Nothingness: How Twitter Affects My Social Consciousness

twitter, smartphone, humorGMP Humor Editor, Omar Shaukat, on life since Twitter.

Roughly a year ago, I had an Internet-based nervous breakdown. While traveling through Europe, I began to fall in love with the slowed down way of life around me. I ditched my smartphone, and I attempted to completely delete my Internet presence. In less than an hour, everything was gone. My facebook, flickr (the most regretful of the decisions), tumblrs, wordpresses, last.fm, everything. I felt liberated.

When I returned to my fast-paced double shot of espresso fueled early 20s lifestyle, I realized this anonymity was not working out. If I briefly met someone who wanted to get in touch later over Facebook, I just gave them a superficial nod. If I were to tell them I didn’t have a Facebook, then the friendly conversation would transform into an interrogation. “Why aren’t you on Facebook?”, “How do you keep in touch with friends?”, “How else are you supposed to creep on girls?”, “How’s Ted Bundy doing?” You know, the usual stuff.

Over the past few months, I’ve slowly crawled back into the social networking fold. I’ve got an iPhone 5, I’m back to blogging, and I even joined the one thing I used to hate more than anything else: Twitter.

My hatred for Twitter runs deep. Though it mostly deals with the nature of the format. Twitter, for me, was always synonymous with superficiality. When I say superficiality I mean it in the most Hollywood sense of the word. I feel that Twitter promotes the concept that everyone and anyone can be a celebrity. One’s personal stock is often evaluated by how many followers they accrue on the site. This to me is the most frustrating part of Twitter. Why does one person’s voice carry so much more meaning than another’s all on account of how many people are following them?

I have friends who have become obsessed with their own celebrity status. People who constantly talk about how many people follow them on Twitter, or how a certain tweet got a number of people to follow or unfollow them. When I see them talk about it, I can tell there is a sense of pride that comes with it.

This doesn’t even get into the number of times meals, conversations, and activities with friends have been disrupted by Twitter. The sense that people genuinely need to know about the slice of pizza you’re having (Guilty of this one — Though it was Washington DC Jumbo Slice, and that is a thing of beauty), or who you’re hanging out with while you use the hashtags #foodporn and @ the people you’re spending time with changes the dynamic of person-to-person interactions.

If I have all this hatred for Twitter, then why did I join it? Thanks for asking, hypothetical reader who I hope has made it this far in my Twitter-hating manifesto. I joined Twitter solely for stand-up comedy. Recently, the New York Times published an article on Twitter and stand-up comics. There is no question that Twitter is revolutionizing comedy. Comedians now constantly have access to an engaging audience to spew out jokes, riffs, and commentaries to. Because Twitter uses the 140-character limit, comics must be precise with the language they use — a skill that is priceless in joke writing. Comedians can use Twitter as frequently or infrequently as they want (Some comedians, like Doug Benson, take it to the extreme and even reads tweets on stage at live performances). Twitter allows comedians, for better or for worse, to be in an almost manic-like comedic mentality 24 hours a day.

I noticed an unhealthy shift in my mindset when I joined Twitter. I constantly pushed myself to try to think of amusing tweets. I grew frustrated when I didn’t produce enough satisfying content throughout the day. I started to notice that when I was hanging out with friends, I was now the one who had the smartphone out and was straining to think of something to tweet. I had become everything I despised. When I realized this, I put the smartphone down and started to listen to the conversations around me.

These days I don’t tweet too often. I can’t tell you off hand how many followers I have, or how many tweets I send off in a day. Some days it could be a dozen, and there could be a string of days where it’s consistently zero. But the one thing Twitter taught me as an aspiring comedian is to never lose sight of what’s right in front of me. If I don’t pay close attention to the world around me, then how am I going to have anything interesting to say about it? By putting down the smartphone and picking up the pen and paper, I’ve learned to observe so much more. And who knows, maybe some of the things I’ve noticed would make for a great 140-character joke.

 

Read more in Men Are Funny.

Image credit: stevegarfield/Flickr

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About Omar Shaukat

Omar Shaukat is a freelance writer and aspiring stand-up comedian living in the Baltimore/DC area. He thoroughly enjoys living in his parents' basement and watching Hugh Grant romantic comedies on repeat with his cat, Midori. When not watching Love Actually, he likes to explore gender and race issues as well as the perils of being in a relationship as a twenty-something. You can follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Twitter changes your “affect?”

    • Omar Shaukat says:

      Yes, it actually does. I guess most readers would think right off the bat that the title is a typo, but I’d like to think that I know the difference between affect and effect. At least I would hope I do. I was speaking of affect in the psychological / mental point of view — how Twitter can change one’s sense of perception and sense of self.

      The title has since been revised as to not lead to anymore confusion.

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