I overheard a woman in a bar recently ask her friend "How is it possible Ashton Kutcher still has like, millions of twits following him?"
"Is that really what you call them?" her friend asked, "Twits?"
While 2011 further galvanized Twitter as a global tool, a voice in censored communities, a unifying platform for Arab Springs and Occupy marches, somehow Ashton Kutcher, aka Michael Kelso, remains Twitter's de facto mayor.
To his credit Ashton was onboard with hashtags long before it was trendy and was the first Twitter account to reach 1 million followers in a 2009 race against CNN. But today while Ashton hangs in among the "Tweet Ten" (Gaga leads with 16 million followed by Beiber and P.O.T.U.S.), he arguably stands out as the person who's presence most betrays any specific relevance. And it is exactly this non-specificity that makes him fascinating.
While Ashton is no doubt a person of interest, the arc of his celebrity is somewhat vague. That 70's Show went off-air years ago, his screen roles have been anemic, and aside from a high profile Kaballah marriage, his greatest successes have been as a producer.
If we think of Twitter as a radio frequency, there seems little reason you'd seek out Ashton when Kanye and Katy Perry are a channel away. Yet his @aplusk account has grown 700% in the past two years and by some calculations he claims close to 10% of the site's universal monthly following.
Notably, Ashton was one of the first personalities to use the microblogging site as a reality platform. While other celebrities were using their feeds as fan-focused PA system Ashton was sharing the minutia of being Ashton. When you opt to "follow" Kutcher it is announced you are entering the place he shares "collaborations of thoughts dreams and actions." You do have to wade through links, tune-ins and re-tweets but he makes the personal stuff the reward. Kutcher acknowledges the "spammy" potential of Twitter; He's also banking on the theory that for many his spam is a meal.
I used to listen to a radio show where David Lynch called in daily from an undisclosed location to deliver the weather report. It wasn't the meteorological facts he relayed that drove listeners, it was the idea that you might share a storm system with David Lynch. No one wants to get pinged by their favorite band while they are recording their next great EP anymore. We want tweets from them while they are playing kickball in between recordings. That's what matters.
Twitter, when used this way taps into a great paradox; while presenting the mundane we feel somehow more intimately connected to the fantasy. Perhaps because while reminding us that celebrities are just like us it also implies, quite importantly, that we are just like them.
It is interesting to note that Kutcher, founder of his own social media company, Katalyst, also holds a self professed fetish for lifecasters, the cadre of devoted e-celebrities who, like human SIMS, offer subscribers a continuous broadcast feed of their lives. Perhaps inspired by this approach, Ashton and the good sport Demi have shared everything from bikini shots, family trips, near death experiences and a plethora electronic TMI, all before a combined 10 million of their closest friend-followers.
We are back in the bar now and I am hearing the two women wave for their check. They are pulling up @aplusk and reading a cryptic September post, one Ashton crafted in defense of his Sarah Leal encounter: "When you ASSUME to know that which you know nothing of you make an AS$ out of U and ME."
Of Twitter's current 175 million open accounts Ashton is willingly followed by over 7 million of them. Twitter is still challenged to flesh out specifics though we know they are female and older than we think (only 11 percent of Twitter users are teenagers.)
As with all reality media the slippery slope develops when we lose ourselves watching things we might well be doing if we weren't watching; following with our own lives others in the act of living.
Twitter the tool is not to blame. It's how our consciousness is driving it. If twits are merely those who follow there is little room for any among the visionaries who create great art, engineer pandemic vaccines or incite political change; those defined not by whom they follow but by cultivating the goods to lead. One would bet even Ashton would "like" this theory, lest social media make twits out of U and ME.