elephantsThe anonymity of the Internet fosters a great deal of boasting.  One of my nephews likes the term “e-penis effect” due to the fact that it seems to be a largely (crass pun intended) male phenomenon.

This well-meaning male has occasionally blundered into a bit of controversy on the subject, specific to twitter followers.  It seems that even offhand tweets that are abstract, facetious or self-deprecating are taboo if they touch on the forbidden topic of follower counts.  The fact that I frequently and objectively indulge in all three flavors of commentary, usually in an analytical mode, is lost on some.  The unspoken rule is firm and clear:

Thou Shalt Not Discuss Thy Followers.

I wonder if pre-Internet prophets ran into this sort of thing.  I imagine Moses taking census in the Sinai:

Moses: Holy cow!  A million followers!
Aaron: Shhh!  Some will throw stones.

I don’t think the entire million would pelt him.  But even a volley from the 1% could get ugly.  And for the record: I am not comparing myself to a biblical prophet.  Just could not resist the imagery.

Speaking of imagery, I’m put in mind of the apocryphal elephant in the room.  Twitter follower counts are publicly displayed, so the elephant is patently obvious.  Apparently he is just not to be mentioned.  Not in the abstract.  Not in jest.  The twitter stream is supposed to flow speedily around him uninterrupted by the cries of naive tour guides.  It’s been suggested to me that, ironically, acknowledging your followers could cost you followers.  My feeble brain fails on death-spiraling thoughts like this.

If the irony is true, that self-defeating tendency puts me in awkward territory.  I like to show appreciation for the X number of souls who bear with me through twitter rants, raves and meltdowns.  And it makes me wonder why the popular Follow Friday is acceptable, given that one of the goals is to increase follower counts.

Maybe it’s okay to boost the follower sum but not publicly post on the process.

Of course, I do understand the cultural prohibition from one standpoint.  Some of the follower talk leads to bots.  Bots lead to spam.  Spam leads to complaints in the twitter stream.  Complaints in the stream lead to more bots.

It’s like a sardonic DirecTV commercial.

As an analytical sort, I’m always curious as to why people choose to follow someone and, conversely, to leave.  The reasons for each are naturally different for everyone; I’ve had twitterers tell me they started following me for the same reasons that others say they quit.  This concerns me.  If that’s the norm, then we are all oozing into homogeneous blobs of like-minded gasbags.

That said, I’ve unfollowed some who think drastically different than I do on topics I hold dear; not for the differences per se but rather their approach to sharing.  I’m sure I’ve been dropped for the same reasons.  But according to conventional wisdom, I’m not allowed to ask.

As we grow more and more into a world where everyone can indeed experience their fifteen minutes of fame, then ultimately twitter follower count should become a zero-sum game.  At some point in the distant future, follower numbers should seek their own level like water around that hypothetical elephant.  I picture a day when Ashton Kutcher and I find perfect balance in Follower Number Nirvana.

Of course, most of mine will be bots.

(originally published at post404)

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