Twitter has grown exponentially over the past two years and so has the culture that has blossomed around the communications tool. The Twitterverse, through the means of the user, has developed a currency based in thought capital, designated by the few to be spread through the many. As in other cultures, currencies develop and are attributed meaning that change over time.
For example, an early currency of Twitter was the number of followers a user had. The more followers meant the more influential you were, but that seemed to be a fleeting currency, as the purpose of social media isn’t quantity but quality.
Another currency that popped up was the retweet. This still has some value, as it’s a great way to spread information and qualify yourself (by being retweeted) that you have some thought capital to spend.
The most recent, which also means the most discussed, currency is the Twitter List, where you can create lists (public or private) to help navigate through the morass of Twitter or to help your followers learn about others (which kind of negates Follow Friday. But, since our culture is one of habit, we’ll still be seeing Follow Fridays for a while).
I want to qualify the following argument by saying this: Since we’re all still learning about social media in general and these lists in particular, this is just an initial reaction. What one may think today most likely will change tomorrow – especially in such a nascent space. On the face of it, lists appear to be a great tool for discovery. But it also appears to be just another way for people to say (not so much explicitly, but tacitly through the lists they’re on) “Hey, look at me!”
Social media is just like high school and lists are the modern equivalent of the segmentation of the jocks, the nerds, the band kids, the potheads, the Goths, the greasers, the cheerleaders: what/whose list are you on? Social media, as it’s preached, is about community where the sum is greater than the parts. Lists turn that idea on its head by pointing out that the community isn’t as important as the individuals on a list.
There’s a discipline in the communications field that studies how and why we build lists to segregate people in real life, called Constructivism. Constructivism “describes how human perception influences the skillful production and interpretation of a variety of social influence messages (Delia, O’Keefe, & O’Keefe, 1982. The constructivist approach to communication. Human Communication Theory. New York: Harper and Row, 147-91.). Since we put people in lists, we create prototypes and stereotypes, and we try to communicate against the boxes we’ve created for people. Social media is no different and these new Twitter Lists drive this idea home.
Lists create distrust:
I see a list called VIP created by someone I trust. Naturally, I take a look around to see who these VIPs are; there are some very important people on that list, but also some that I would consider the complete opposite of VIP. I now question the list-maker’s decisions, which may lead to me not trusting the content to come from this person in the future.
Lists create segregation:
Constructs are created and people are put into boxes (in this case, lists). When we put people into lists, we are defining them by that list. If I’m on a Brooklyn list, a Jewish list, a musician list, etc, people who don’t know me fall on their prototypes of what it means to be a Brooklyn, Jewish musician. Thus, it sets the stage for biased communication.
Finally, the Twitter list is flawed in the very simple logic that I cannot put together a list of the top 100 whatever because I only follow 500 people. We’re seeing lists out there with those declarative titles, and even though, as someone told me, “It’s the nature of reality,” it’s impossible to create a list that doesn’t bruise someone’s ego or leaves out many qualified people.
While some may argue the reason I’m anti List is because I’m not on any, well, like everyone who plays in the social media space (and life), I just want to be noticed but not defined.