Virtual unreality

While Twitter has opened up insular design debates to a wider audience, to some devotees it’s a perpetual distraction from what’s going on in the physical world, argues Jim Davies

Jim Davies

Picture the scene if you will. In black-and-white preferably. A nubile young couple straight out of a Calvin Klein ad in the heated throes of passion. Their perfect union easing to its perfect conclusion, when the rippling Lothario pulls away suddenly. ’Whatever are you doing, my love?’ pants his quivering paramour, a picture of heaving frustration on artfully crumpled sheets. ’Oh,’ he replies, ’I’m just tweeting everyone to let them know how it’s all going.’

For social media, read anti-social media. For some creatives it’s an addiction. They can’t help themselves. In meetings and brainstorms, in cabs, trains and buses, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, down the pub, down the Old Kent Road. I don’t mean to put you off your sandwich here, but I’ve actually seen someone tweeting one-handed from a urinal. What pithy observation he had to impart to his followers I’ll never know hopefully that he was about to wash his hands.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly Twitterate, and see there’s a positive side to this story too. Twitter has hugely impacted the design industry. It’s opened up what were once parochial debates to a much wider audience, taken design mainstream and arguably fostered greater appetite and appreciation for our world. It’s made designers come off the fence, with criticism given and taken more readily. PR fluff is neither possible nor tolerated any more.

News travels at a furious rate. Tweets are like incessant taps on the shoulder: look at this, check that, new work, new job, would you believe it, guess what?

Small informal networks of designers, writers, illustrators, photographers and printers have formed, linking ever-outwards like repeating virtual Venn diagrams. The design press send regular titbits, tempting us to their main sites for a full meal. And we do the same, reeling in eager Twish to our websites, to improve our Google Analytics stats and SEO rankings.

We’ve also seen the emergence of a kind of Twitterati of the design world: Erik Speikermann’s spiky, humorous observations; soundbites and cultured speculation from RID’s John Maeda; Adrian Shaughnessy’s enlightening pointers and links; David Carson’s relentless plugging of his eponymous new magazine; Jeremy Leslie’s finger on pulse @magculture; Michael Johnson and Someone’s Simon Manchipp, prolific tweeters always ready to voice their opinion. And a special mention for Robert Newman (@newmanology), former art director of Details and Fortune, whose links send you off to obscure online collections of fabulous vintage magazines.

There’s something reassuringly old-fashioned about online Twitiquette. The welcoming of new followers, thankyous for retweets, acknowledging source material, follow Fridays and so on. It’s surprisingly civilised and supportive at least in the circles I follow. But sadly, this doesn’t translate to real life.

Many seem more concerned about the impression they make in the Twittersphere than in the here and now. Often they’re too busy broadcasting and connecting online to appreciate what’s happening right in front of their noses. It’s really tedious having to repeat yourself because someone can’t stop tinkering with their precious iPhone. Less is more, it takes an ego of certain proportions to think anyone could possibly be interested in every nose scratch or trouser adjustment. If they weren’t tweeting about the minutiae of the breakfast, perhaps they’d enjoy their scrambled eggs more.

Twitter is great. But it certainly isn’t a patch on the real thing.

Jim Davies is founder of copywriting studio Total Content

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  • Caroline Collett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Couldn’t agree more! I am involved, like you, and see some positives, but can’t bear the narcissism of the endlessly self-involved Tweeters…

  • Caroline Collett November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    How perfect is this in response to your article? A new product designed to bridge the gap between Twitter and the real, physical world! – http://www.despoke.com/2011/04/26/tweetingseat-by-chris-mcnicholl/

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