Okay, Jim Carrey was never my favorite, and I'd wager he wasn't yours either. But his Elin-blaming antics on Twitter this weekend confirmed a longtime suspicion I've had: when it comes to the Internet, some people should consider shutting up.
No, I'm not silencing anyone who wants to jump into in this unfettered form of communication, particularly a famous person who wants to connect directly with The People. Nor do I think, as some commentators do, that Twitter is all about indulging in the banal, the narcissistic, and the unearned. (Sorry, Jon Stewart, you lost me on this.) When it comes to embracing the future (or rather, the present), I am generally as pro-Twitter as it gets.
I'm just suggesting that certain people reconsider how goddamn annoying they can be. Because it turns out that plenty of high-profile people are not that smart, at least not all the time. Or at least not without the intervention of lots of people whose job it is to make them look good. And sometimes I would just rather not know how far short they fall.
If you've ever met a public figure you previously admired, you know it can seriously undermine whatever drew you to them in the first place. When I was pounding the pavement as a media reporter, there were plenty of writers and editors I met who more than lived up to fangirl expectations with their sparkling in-person insights. Then there were the ones that sloppily regurgitated conventional wisdom, or were giant social climbers or total leches. Still sorta ruins it every time I encounter their byline!
Twitter is like that, all the time.
It's hard for me, given what I do all day, to admit how many of these are high-profile women in media whose work I generally cheer. But the Internet is supposed to be all about honesty — Twitter-enabled niceness aside — so let's have it out.
New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, your unselfaware, coquettish oversharing about yourself and your chickens is not cute, and I can never read your longform work in the same way again. (Some 40,000 people clearly disagree, though several Jezebel staffers back me up on this.) Former Gourmet editor and bestselling memoirist Ruth Reichl may have a sense of humor about her rhapsodic, haiku-like tweets, but they persist in their overwrought glory. Nation editor in chief Katrina van den Heuvel, I can't figure out what you're trying to do with the slashes. This is not poetry. Sadie is fed up with Margaret Atwood's Twitter verbosity — I can't bring myself to follow her. (There's also MSNBC's David Shuster getting himself in trouble on Twitter and elsewhere, but I guess I never expected much from him. And, come to think of it, Touré has had some, um, issues too. But by then I'd already unfollowed him.)
Plenty of these people are old media types who are gamely crossing over, but who are used to a filter, or maybe an invisible army of editors, factcheckers, and research assistants massaging their raw material. Now we know what they're like without the entourage, and what happens when you give them a Blackberry and a delayed flight. They often do the things that make you unfollow your real-life friends.
Actual celebrities, even ones you might not have had a high opinion of — or previously had no opinion of whatsoever — do even worse in this regard, alternating the mundane with idiocy and, occasionally, casual racism. Things we now know that we may not have known through the old celebrity publicity apparatus: that Jim Carrey is kind of a misogynistic dick, that Scott Baio thinks it's okay to trash Michelle Obama because his wife's best friend is black, that Kirstie Alley thinks that black people are more "free and fun," that Jessica Stam is tone deaf when it comes to the spouses of housekeeping staff, that Amanda Bynes likes her men "chocolate," that both Lindsay Lohan and Michael Lohan need no tabloid editor's help in their public pursuit of being the biggest train wreck on earth. And John Mayer... well, he can hang himself on all platforms, apparently.
All of them may or may not have had something they were good at — being a late-80s heartthrob, or looking pretty on the runway, or crooning, or... I can't remember. But they are not good at this.
Social media engagement can be a beautiful, even essential thing, and there are some people I like better for getting to know them this way. (Roger Ebert is the epitome of this phenomenon, and Tracie vouches for Josh Groban and Rob Thomas as entirely pleasant surprises). But all this makes Orlean's fellow New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell's relative new-media prissiness seem refreshing. He said recently,
I don't feel I lack for platforms for expressing myself. I have books, I write for the New Yorker. If I gave people any more, they'd get sick of me.
Very possible! It turns out not everyone is worth listening to all the time. Of course, it's also possible that the people who have decided to follow me dislike a good portion of what I myself have to say. But I try to exercise a heightened awareness of not wanting to waste the time of the people who have so kindly subscribed to my feed — having watched what I'd consider abuse of the privilege far too many times.
So why don't I just unfollow these people? After all, this is an opt-in system. But being mildly infuriated by all this chatter is glorious torture, the ideal fodder for the last kinds of internet communication that, at least on the face of it, remain relatively private — IMs and emails. Although maybe I should have listened to my own advice and kept it that way. Too late now!
Related: Malcolm Gladwell: The Quiet Canadian [Globe & Mail]
Jon Stewart Still Baffled By Twitter [Zap2It]
The Eight Types Of People To Unfollow On Twitter Or Defriend On Facebook [Gawker]
The New Internet Civility [NYM]
David Shuster's Twitter Silent Since Breitbart-O'Keefe Battle [Mediaite]
Black Like @KirstieAlley [Media Assassin]
Reichl Lampoons Her Tweets On Bourdain's Radio Show [Eater]
The Mysterious Case Of Toure Praising Raped Slaves For Seducing Massa [Gawker]
Earlier: Jim Carrey Continues To Blame Elin Nordegren, Women In General, On Twitter
Scott Baio Slammed On Twitter After Mocking Michelle Obama
Michael & Lindsay Lohan's Dramz On Twitter
John Mayer Is Back Online, Still A Jerk