OPINION: New media, new neuroses

If I can’t take credit for TweetFright, at least I can claim Faceblock.

My best friend introduced me to Paula Poundstone. Not actually Paula herself, but her Twitter page. Poundstone, if you’re not familiar, is a stand-up comedienne who became a star in the late 80s and early 90s, then dropped out of sight after a bout with substance abuse and bizarre behaviour. She’s making a comeback now, and she is – and I will brook no contradiction here – the Funniest Woman Alive. (Her riff on dry cleaning still gives me paroxysms of laughter.)

The thing about becoming a follower of Paula’s is, bless her heart, she becomes a follower of you. (I don’t have many followers. My 11-year-old has more than I do.) “I feel such pressure to be witty now,” says my friend.

I considered that, and I haven’t tweeted since.

What if Paula reads my efforts at byte-sized humour and says, “Meh,” and stops following me?

I soon made the connection between my online reticence and my attitude toward public speaking, which is, more or less, “I’d rather have root canal.” I’m suffering from online stagefright. I even coined a term for it: TweetFright.

Except someone got there first. The earliest reference I can find to TweetFright in my limited research – I mean, come on, is this really worth doctorate-calibre effort? – is from May 2008 on Rachna Jain’s Friendfeed: “Tweetfright: when you all of a sudden feel nervous about performing on Twitter.” So this isn’t a new phenomenon. It probably dates back to the second person on Twitter, worrying what Biz Stone might think of him.

TweetFright is a manifestation of the same online neurosis as Faceblock, a condition that causes you to avoid updating your Facebook status for weeks on end because nothing even remotely interesting is happening in your life. I mention Faceblock only because, as near as I can tell, nobody’s used the word in such a context before, so I win. (Maybe someone has, but I can’t find it on Google. If Christopher Columbus can take credit for discovering America, I can claim Faceblock.)

TweetFright and Faceblock, like many neuroses, are rooted in fear. This is no bad thing in such a public forum.

Consider this: My 11-year-old follows me on Twitter. Until then, most of my thin herd of followers were framily (my favourite new neologism: friends who are like family). We have our in-jokes, we’re all adults, chronologically anyway, and my tweets, while not exactly racy, tend to be aimed at a mature audience. For example, I was about to tweet: “Had the chicken pot pie for lunch. Rip-off. There’s no pot in it.” But on consideration, I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my daughter – or by extension, my ex – that while Daddy’s not exactly an Okie from Muskokie, he’s not a dope-smoking hippy either. Kids can be very literal. The chicken pot pie remains untweeted.

Adults, too, can be literal, and this is where a little bit of Web 2.0 fear can be, as Martha Stewart says, A Good Thing. My Twitter account doesn’t bear my name. On Facebook, I make no professional representations, though many of my friends are also colleagues. But still, my status updates and tweets can bleed over into my professional life. There have been enough examples of career-limiting Facebook faux-pas reported in the press – and that’s a tiny fraction of the number out in the wild – that a little bit of discretion goes a long way.

So, Paula, forgive me if you’ve been huddled over your laptop, waiting for me to tweet. This is something my therapist and I shall deal with. And the chicken pot pie, by the way, was, “Meh.”

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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