People have different barometers for assessing trends. Some look at very specific metrics, expensive reports, or Google Zeitgeist. My approach is not so scientific: sisters and sitcoms. If my sister in Dallas is suddenly singing along to 50 Cent, the guy's reached critical mass. Or, if I hear a phrase uttered on a network sitcom (like: "Not so much," "No you d'int," "Really?!?"), I know it has trended past its prime. "Jump the shark," the phrase that defines that moment of trend expiration, was derived from a sitcom, but has since been so overused, it might have jumped the shark itself.
So, last week, it didn't take sisters or sitcoms to show me that Twitter -- about to enter its third year of existence -- had just entered its first solid moment of critical mass. I know that Twitter has already raised millions for charity, helped people find gas during a shortage in Atlanta, and directed lost ones to each other during emergencies (and crowded concerts). And I am well aware that celebrities were Twittering at the Oscars and that senators sent tweets from the joint session of Congress. I've seen the mass media coverage, thank you very much.
But it was in researching this blog entry about Twitter -- during which I got sucked into the Twitter vortex (the Twortex?) -- that I realized one of the most interesting effects that Twitter has had so far. A byproduct so meta that I daresay even co-founder Evan Williams might not even have pondered it.
More than Twitter itself, Twitter's buzz is bringing us together. And that, my friends, is a trend in its prime.
During his interview on Charlie Rose, Williams touted the Twitter way of "living a little more transparently" as, yes, potentially narcissistic, but also as "an authentic, open way to live your life that people enjoy... and makes everyone richer." He talked about how Twitter and other websites fulfill "the most basic human desire to connect with each other socially."
Critics of Twitter claim it does the opposite, allowing us to avoid our meaningful relationships while wasting our time and 140 characters on less important ones. For this reason, by one blogger's barometer, "Twitter Jumped the Shark This Week." (Yes, he used that phrase.)
Ok, but what of me, Twittering, reading every piece of press, in the Twortex, but then using every opportunity to talk about the phenomenon with people all around me?
In this way, Twitter, like all trends "crossing the chasm," has power way beyond its original means. Yes, Twitter allows me to track Demi and Ashton's bedside reading, to see who else watches "Friday Night Lights," and to amass a greater ego with every follower I attract. But much more than any of that, Twitter has afforded me one of life's truly great shared experiences. Bring it up in conversation, and you'll see what I mean. Most everyone has an opinion about Twitter, even if it's just blind curiosity. It's a great topic of debate, a great means for connection. And you don't even have to be one of the millions already tweeting.
Of course, there are lots of other wondrous water cooler topics out there right now. ShamWow? Snuggie? C'mon! You can't help but bond friendships when you mention these universally awe-inspiring trends!
All's I'm sayin' is: while we're on the topic of social connectivity, and we're giving props (or disses, as the case may be) to Twitter, Facebook, and other tools in our midst, we should also take the time to give a little shout-out to the Zeitgeist. It connects us.
I'm sure Evan Williams, along with the creators of ShamWow and Snuggie, would be even more thrilled to see all of us Zeitgeisters actually use their products.
But I think they should just be happy that we're connecting because of them.