By now we all know about the controversy shrouding the mysterious surprise announcement that Harper Lee’s new/super-old novel, Go Set a Watchmen, would be published after “disappearing” for half a century. It’s tough to remember, in the week of sordid details since, how pure and incredible and fantastic those initial moments were. The moments lived in the Twitterverse.
The first Tweet I read, a Retweet of a headline “BREAKING: Sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird Being Published,” stirred up an early morning, pre-work eyeroll. Great. Some more shitty fanfiction getting some giant advance deal. But as the Tweets kept appearing, the picture quickly popped into focus. Harper Lee, who has been in the No Follow-Ups camp for most of our lifetimes, decided to gift the world (and especially, we wanted to think, us devoted library nerds) with a second helping of a favorite. There was a collective gasp of WTF BBC Retweets. The frank “Harper Lee is still alive?!” realization. The George R.R. Martin jokes. Jokes about Amazon and Truman Capote’s ghost and not calling it a comeback.
(Oh yeah, that’s me, doing social media stuffs.)
But most of all, there was joy. Everyone was bouncing Tweets back and forth, bantering, like some kind of crazy intellectual Christmas morning. The news that we were getting new work from a beloved writer was great; sharing it with other people who were just as ecstatic while the real world of fellow commuters, coffee shop baristas and cubicle world coworkers shifted unmoved and glassy-eyed around us was even better.
About an hour later, I remembered that I was neglecting my social media spouse, Facebook. Hmm. I should probably see what people over there are saying. Switching apps, I wrote a quick post about morning surprises. The fact that I saw an antique, full-sized Conestoga wagon being towed down the I-5 freeway on my way to work was a good pairing to the Mockingbird news.
Seriously, Facebook peoples? The party’s been raging for over an hour and I’m breaking in with it? I added the oft-cited BBC article to the Comment thread and switched back over to Twitter. That day, I didn’t look back. And after six years of Facebook devotion, I’m switching back less and less.
I struggle to define “literary Twitter” to anyone who isn’t in with it. Okay, honestly I’ve never tried. It’s a part of my life that you don’t see unless you’re, well, following me on Twitter. If we’re following each other on Twitter, there’s a good chance that we’ve never met. There’s also a good chance that I’ve read your work. There are no high school classmates I haven’t spoken to since graduation night, no relatives, not even my husband understands how to Tweet. It is purely a place to see and talk with other writers (and, of course, famous internet cats). I love how unapologetically lit-nerd I can be there, and how the laws of the Twitterverse are so much more forgiving than those of Facebook. I can shoot off as many or as few stupid fleeting thoughts as I want in a day. The turnover on a Twitter feed is so fast, no one will notice if I’m feeling chatty or reserved. I can Retweet as many of my friends’ stories and essays and submission calls as I please without looking deranged.
There is a democracy in Twitter that’s devolved away from pay-to-play Facebook. A Tweet from Roxane Gay or Neil Gaiman is fed in the same way into a follower’s wall as my own Tweets, if they follow all of us. I don’t need ten million followers for people to see what I’d like to share. It’s also less socially awkward, given the relative informality of Twitter, to follow people you might feel sheepish Friending on Facebook, like authors you admired from a reading a month ago or someone whose Tweets you just find really, ridiculously hilarious. That random person you bump into and follow at the AWP Bookfair might turn into your next Literary Twitter BFF (this totally, truly happens).
Perhaps most of all, Twitter doesn’t make me sad the way that Facebook does. There’s something decaying about that old stand-by social network. And no, not just all the doomsday articles about the sunset of Zuckerberg’s empire. I mean that it’s depressing to go on and sift through people I no longer feel close enough to talk to, a smattering of reminders that I’ve grown apart and away from a number of friends. So often I get hyped up about posting something new and then end up with Chrissy Teigan face when I get 2 likes (one, naturally, from my mom).
On Twitter, you can unfollow people without guilt. There’s so many of you, so much information, no one’s going to notice. And if no one likes your genius contribution into the zeitgeist? Someone’s sure to boost your next idea. The wall has the memory of a goldfish.
The next day after we all digested the headline BREAKING HARPER LEE NEWS was more of the same on both sites: an errant cute or funny picture of a dog/vacation/pie on Facebook, sandwiched between airport check-ins and mandatory birthday wishes. Twitter was tidal waving with new journal issues, rejection lamentations, Harper Lee conspiracy theories, book recommendations, breakthroughs on novels-in-progress. An obligation, a treat. Someday I’ll have the strength for a real, honest and true Facebreakup. Until then, my torrid affair makes up for the slog.