What Ashton Kutcher Teaches Us About Twitter

Ad Age‘s Simon Dumenco argues that Ashton Kutcher’s million Twitter followers suggest that, for the big winners in The Attention Economy, social media is, rather than a conversation between equals, just a new way for media elites to broadcast:

But what about the millions of people who have been sucked into Web 2.0 who aren’t live-and-die-by-the-media figures with agendas to advance or products to push or personal brands to burnish? Well, that’s where the supposed social-networking value equation starts to get a little wonky. Sure, plenty of civilians find value in investing a lot of time in virtual friendships. And for them, social-networking is its own reward. Yay. Good for them, too. But the reality is that the Attention Economy works much like a bubble economy in the way it redistributes the “wealth,” or value, of attention.

The most successful Twitterers and the most-friended users of Facebook with really active news feeds are reverting to a rather pre-Web 2.0 paradigm: broadcasting. The Few speaking to The Many. [Bold mine — PS]

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Except that Ev Williams and Biz Stone at Twitter — not to mention Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook — can almost sound like revolutionaries in the way they talk about the leveling power of social networking. But really, not that much has changed!

In most respects, I think, this is true: the superstars of Twitter are often just as aloof as they were before. Twitter and Facebook and various lesser web-gimmicks don’t make stars approachable. Part of the problem is a simple resource shortage: When millions want to know you and interact with you, it’s impossible to do so, no matter what medium you employ. Nor does Twitter instill social openness into stars who had no desire to meet and greet with their fans in a pre-Twitter age.

But one can also look to the social-media presence of stars like Shaq, who not only carries on real conversations with his tens of thousands of fan-followers, but uses Twitter to introduce himself unexpectedly at unassuming diners. Shaq, I suspect, would’ve been kind and open in person to his fans before Twitter. Kutcher seems like he probably would’ve spent a lot of time cultivating a teeny-bopperish fan club, if the option were open to him. The lesson here is that technology doesn’t change people’s character, that connection tools enable people to follow their impulses but don’t change the habits they already have; the medium one uses, in other words, facilitates one’s personality rather than determines it.