by Mike Duran

I was recently asked, “Do you Tweet?” “No,” I replied. “But I’ve been known to crow.” Okay, bad joke.

Really, it’s a legitimate question being asked these days. What with Twitter becoming one of the fastest growing social platforms, more and more authors are using and advocating the free service. The line of reasoning goes like this:

Twitter provides up-to-the-second info on people and events you’re interested in, allows you to stay connected to a vast array of friends, followers and cultural icons, and assists you in building a platform for services, exchange of ideas, or product sales.

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, in a post entitled How Much Time Does Twittering Really Take? writes that Twitter “…offers an unparalleled opportunity for brand-building, social networking, and customer engagement.”

So why not Twitter?

As a marketing or PR tool, Twitter excels. Large groups of people can be alerted with news or updates in a matter of seconds. With the push of a virtual button the title of your book, teaser, giveaways, release date, and signing venues can be broadcast to friends and followers. You can connect with other authors, become fans of the biggest of dogs, and peek in on their daily escapades and personal thoughts. There’s no question that Twitter can serve a valuable purpose for the businessperson, author, or run-of-the-mill groupie.

However, in my experience the majority of tweets are utterly inane. Took dog 2 vet. Cleaned barf from bck seat. Feeling blah. Chugged Monst3r. Feeling better. Work sucks. Got caught tweeting. Now w/out work. The minutiae is never ending. Call me anti-social, but I just don’t care enough about anyone to need a 24/7 ticker of their daily life. Heck, why not just implant webcams in our foreheads, then we’ll never be without the smarmy details.

And is there a better way to inflate your importance than Twitter? Nowadays, building your brand means carefully cultivating a digital image. You can pick and choose your Profile photo (preferably one that doesn’t reveal your double-chin and receding hairline), and share info and interests that do nothing but make you look cooler than you really are. You needn’t reveal anything about your short-temper, snootiness, chemical addictions, or previous marriages. It’s the ultimate “sock puppet.” You can engineer tweets to subtly exaggerate your significance (Spotted Snoop Dawg in Rio. I didn’t have time to chat), convey class (sushi after the Getty overlooking Pacific before the Bowl), or simply congratulate yourself for some accomplishment (Sold article to High Times. Dude!). Talk about shameless self-promotion. Twitter is the ultimate House of Mirrors, where no one is as they appear.

Making friends is a stated objective of Twitter, and there is an unspoken esteem placed on people with lots of them. Of course, out of one thousand friends you might only know 75 of them. But in the Land of Twitter, that doesn’t really matter. You see, Twitter friends come in two kinds — The people you actually know and the people who are trying to up their follower count. The former is the kind you must learn to love, communicate with, and forgive. The latter is the kind you get promotional blurbs and sales pitches from. Don’t get me wrong: there are people I’ve never physically met who I find witty, informative, and interesting. But I’m mistaken if I think that “friending” any of them will make me either witty, informative, or interesting.

For a writer who is building a brand, Twitter can be a useful tool. However, there are many tools and many authors who have succeeded without ever tweeting. In fact, many of those who enthusiastically endorse Twitter are often ones who already have an existing following, several existing platforms, or an established business. So of course it’s easy for Agent X or Author Y to endorse Twitter — their name and product is already out there. Shaq is guaranteed a gazillion “friends” just by showing up. But using Twitter as a means of self-branding has a downside, primarily that of motivation. “Befriending” people (in the Twitter sense) can simply be a means to selling them something. Perhaps that’s the nature of the author /reader relationship. But it feels so… sneaky.

Okay, so I’m behind the times. But I’ve seen enough technological trends to know that most developments are not nearly as revolutionary as they seem in the present. (Case in point: My Palm E2, one of my most important writing tools, is now obsolete.) First there were blogs. Then MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. Devices and apps will come and go. Some will remain and morph. At some future point, Twitter will be replaced by (or re-incorporated into) another technological tool. And when that day comes, we will debate its upside and downside. Until then — and until I get more time, money, and discipline — I shall remain Twitterless.

(But, just in case you’re interested, it’s 9:00 P.M. Pacific Time, Wilco’s playing on my iPod, and I’m writing this in my jammies!)