Portland, Infinity, and Beyond

January 16, 2009

I attended the tweetup (Twitter meetup–everything about Twitter must be twprefixed!) in Portland, Maine last night. Some random observations–most not specific to Portland, or even tweetups:

  • Portland, Maine is a cool little town, artsy and funkadelic. The rest of Maine: not so much. But Portland, you’re OK.
  • Portland  is cold in the winter. I walked outside in a suit coat, but the locals were walking by in four layers capped with arctic parkas, looking at me funny. Hey, I’m wearing gloves! It’s a whole 5 degrees F. here. Man up! You too, lady! But to that other slim lady–the elegant one gracefully loitering outside to have a smoke: You, my dear, are hardcore. You, I salute! Inside, the temperature wasn’t much a topic of discussion. I guess by now, all the locals know it’s cold outside, and are bored with the topic. But “I don’t know if I can hack these winters!” and “I wonder how much longer I want to hack this?” are apparently still on the table. Kids, it could be worse. Talk to some friends in Minnesota, or Canada. They hack it. And to the Portland policemen that did a double-take: What? You’ve never seen a car with the windows rolled down? Move along; nothing to see here. Though I must admit, the -6 and breezy on the way home: that’s brisk.
  • “Following” on Twitter is basically legalized stalking. And people love it. It’s not awkward at all in Twitterdom to ask for someone’s userid. Even the hot girls give theirs out without a second thought. No more awkward “can I get your number?” or “what’s your email?” And I mean this not just in a tawdry, trolling-for-romance-and-good-times way. Continued social interaction after a Twitter event–with whomever you like, and at whatever level–is genuinely and admirably easier than IRL. Interaction is the mixing of the human glue. People who’ve not experienced Twitter don’t get how much it helps. The email, IM, Myspace, and Facebook experience sheds little light. No matter how much she baked in a conventional oven, grandma never could understand a microwave oven. Similarly, eventually everyone will take it for granted.
  • The hottest girls in the room aren’t always the Hot Girls in the room. The coolest guys in the room aren’t always the Cool Guys in the room. In fact, they probably aren’t.
  • Those that profess the most shyness or social ineptitude aren’t the shyest and most socially inept people. Far from it. Sure, they may feel shyness or social anxiety just like everyone else who wasn’t born a glad-hander. But the reason you hear their complaints is that they’re articulating them. To other people. Go ahead, reread that. I’ll wait right here. The shyest and most socially challenged are those that don’t speak or express themselves, that don’t interact. Even more so, those that don’t come at all–that that aren’t out there, trying. Sorry to burst your bubbles, people in the 83th percentile of social capability and outgoingness; I know you’re not at the glib 95th percentile, but Get Real already.
  • Everyone judges. I had a discussion with @fashionbitch before the event in which we agreed to sit back, people-watch, and judge to our hearts content. She is apparently famous among the Portland twitterati for doing just that at a previous tweetup. We didn’t do much sitting, but my oh my! did we do some good people-watching and judging. I judged her, she judged me, together we judged other people and groups, everyone else judged us–and then people all shifted around and started the process over again with, and within, different teams.  The Favrd crowd often moans about those who just use Twitter as a sort of chat room. Well, lemmie tellya! The chat-roomers make fun right back! And no one seems to like those who answer what Twitter originally asks: What are you doing? Conclusion: bo-RING! UN-follow! Everyone frames, everyone interprets within their frame;  Phenomenology gives another real-time demonstration. Good fun, and the human condition at work.
  • Trust neither avatars nor usernames. They just don’t convey the person. @timorousme? Not really timorous. @heroicnudity? Great, great username, man–but I doubt it. SRSLY. The truly HAWT girl in the room? Your avatar (and the larger picture behind it) does you no justice. None. NONE. Conversely, those with fabulous avatars can be kinda meh in person.
  • Twitter is more honest than most forms of communication. Sure, we front. Others pose. That girl over there has several accounts:  not all of them are ostensibly female, some of them obviously pseudopeople. (It’s interesting how many people have figured this out.) Fakery, compartmentalization, and best-foot-forward (among other sins and foils) are possible–indeed, assured–as long as it’s humans doing the communicating. But in general, Twitter’s real-time, short, text messages expose more of the real us–the way we really think about and react to things, than pretty much any other media. Messages are longer and more articulate than kid’s txts, but not there usually isn’t time for the careful editing seen with email, nor the retouching ubiqitous with pictures and video. There isn’t space in 140 characters to weave more than a little bit of an artful web. One or a few tweets may front, but it’s harder to do that on a large-scale basis. Your whole body of tweets is available, to pretty much whomever’d like to look them over. Like open source, many eyes make finding the lies, errors, inconsistencies, and omissions faster and more likely. Human communication is only ostensibly honest to begin with, but Twitter’s style and restrictions seem to weed out some of the common dishonesties of other media. The emotional distance of the network also allows and encourages a higher level of openness. So while I don’t believe you’re “the most socially awkward kid ever,” I completely buy the “I’m feeling awkward” admission beneath it; such notes are admirably open and real expressions. This is something you probably wouldn’t talk about face-to-face–or at best, hint at or talk vaguely around. Here, it’s really what you’re feeling. More honest, open communications and an outlet for expression FTW.
  • More honesty goes only so far. The same confortable zones and cliques operate when we’re face-to-face.
  • Social media experts don’t have to be douchetards. No, I’m not precisely sure what that means, either–but I can guess, and it seems the internet insult du jour. @ccmaine was the only “social media expert” that I identified in the room. And she has exactly the right view: “social media experts” = users. There are no email experts, at least any more, and there shouldn’t be a specific, separate, designated class of social networking priests and priestesses. FWIW, other “social media experts” that I’ve interacted with–@lindstifa and @coffeecupkat for example–also seem nice, sane, smart, and unannoying. There may be a bit of  over-judging and strawman-bashing of webcocks.
  • Not all local Twitter communities do the same thing. Here in Nashua, NH we often go out to eat together, get our nails done together, have parties, move furniture, play Rock Band, and travel together, among other things. Some of us have fallen in love with each other. Portland seems to just have stand-up meetings with beverages on the side. Several folks there noted that they almost never see each other except on Twitter and at designated tweetups. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” It’s just interesting to see how different communities act, behave, and are.
  • I’m glad I went. The timing wasn’t so good (I missed another tweetup in nearby Portsmouth, NH scheduled for exactly the same time; next time: co-ord-in-a-tion–try it!). And I missed some of the Portland folks I really wanted to meet face-to-face. But I met some good new folks. And it helped crystalize some general thoughts I’ve had about the twitterati.


  1. Jonathan –

    I really enjoyed meeting, judging, and discussing digital voyeurism with you. I’m a “social media expert” – I’m contracted as one at least – and I agree – it shouldn’t all be douchery, but a lot of it is. I think we’ll see that change. Allow me to reflect on that a bit and I’ll get back to you.

    Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts,

  2. Well, see, I’ve miscounted by one more. We talked, but I wouldn’t have called you a social media expert–a user, sure, but certainly not an SME in the all-marketing-all-the-time, webcock vein.

    It turns out, given your admission plus some further reading the Twitter pages of attendees, that there were maybe a half-dozen “experts” in the room. No one offered to bump my follower count, or drive business to my website, or any such thing. I actually liked all of the SMEs I talked to; they all seemed like nice, sane, non-annoying folk. And that is to the good.

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