Pierce Gleeson wrote a short story titled “Four Million Followers” about an unemployed post-grad who starts writing and managing the Twitter page for a popular beverage company called Quark Cola.
More than a soft critique on corporate communication or Twitter, the story examines how our interaction becomes where, “We’re just echoing awareness, not creating it.” This leaves a lot of sad lonely people in the world. You’d think technology could solve a problem like this (*wink).
He was staring listlessly at the incoming tweets one Tuesday afternoon when a message appeared. Hey @quarkcola, I’m going to commit suicide tonight. Thanks for all the sugary memories. The icon next to the tweet was an ordinary self portrait of a young man. He checked the user’s page and found it had been active, intermittently, for more than two years.
He replied with three tweets in quick succession. The first was a link to suicide prevention hotlines in the man’s apparent country. The second: @gregorpegor You need to tell a real person before you do this. Just in case you are confused and they can help. Thirdly, he recommended the man read Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus.
There was no reply in the following days. The user was a very infrequent poster, and so the lack of follow up could not be considered proof of anything. He informed Samantha about the incident, and she submitted it to the legal team, who advised him to forget it, but to ignore all such entreaties in future. The very act of responding to such a message made you an active participant in what followed. Were a user to later kill themselves, then their family could potentially claim damages against Quark Cola for its interference. A non-reply could reasonably be interpreted as an unseen message, and would as such clear Quark Cola of any potential liability.
Two weeks later, during which he often agonised over his replies to the suicide announcement, he received a direct message from the user…
Facebook is the tool which represent the past (ie. yesterday’s pictures, last month’s vacation, that one crazy night, etc.) while Twitter represent the consciousness of the present. This is one reason why Twitter is utilized to analyze an audience reaction to a television show or a politician’s speech.
After Obama’s State of the Union address Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave his rebuttal and took an awkward pause to drink from a Poland Springs bottle of water. The Poland Springs marketing department must not exist. While Twitterverse blew up with memes and jokes, Poland Springs Twitter lay dormant.
Poland Spring Water hasn’t Tweeted since July, 2010. Right now, their rep is frantically trying to remember the password. #PolandSprings
— Jory John (@joryjohn)
Read the story because I imagine you’ll laugh and relate. But then also think about some of the broader implications of what it means to @reply, hashtag, and direct message. They’re more than ways of living or learning or being. And they have little to do with Twitter.
Also read: A Series on Creativity.