Twitter users are tiring of it: the pang of envy that comes when someone they are following on the social networking site is clearly having a better time than they are — right now.
Recent tweets from attendees at elite conferences like TED and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have prompted bitter ripostes, accusing the authors of showing off rather than sharing. (From ’@davewiner: “can’t breathe their air, don’t want their tweets.”) Even those tweeting from warm weather spots have felt the jealous wrath — or “jealz,” in Twitter shorthand— of followers stuck in frosty climes. @Courtni_ROSE: “I get it already!!!!”)
And this week, as thousands of the nation’s Twitterati gathered at the South by Southwest technology and music festival in Austin, Texas, their exhaustive, real-time accounts of barbecue, beta tests and Jake Gyllenhaal sightings have prompted a backlash by those not in attendance.
“It feels like high school,” tweeted @JillVanWyke, who teaches journalism in Des Moines, as tweets from other journalism professors rolled in from Austin. “All the cool kids are at a cool party, and I’m home on a Fri night.”
Even as Twitter says half a million people a day are signing up for the service, some of its most devoted users are warning that the tantalizing window it provides on the lives of friends, colleagues, rivals and celebrities can have a downside. In a blog entry, Caterina Fake, the co-founder of the photo-sharing sight Flickr, called the anxiety produced by the technology “fear of missing out,” or FOMO.
“If you didn’t know that party was going on, you’d be home contentedly reading your latest New Yorker,” Fake wrote. “But since you do, you hungrily watch each new tweet.”
The festival, where Twitter first caught on four years ago, mixes new technology with music, film screenings and forecasts of the future of media.
Fake, who stayed home, said she noticed tweets from people at one party in Austin who wished they were at another party that friends were tweeting about from across town.
Disenchanted with the vicarious version, some Twitter users installed “not at sxsw” software designed to block tweets tagged with the festival’s moniker, which were emanating from Austin at a rate of 110 per minute, according to one measurement. Others have banished the most egregious offenders for good.
“Take one sxsw, mix in 3 parts oversharing, 2 parts vanity, and unfollow liberally,” advised Jonathan Hersh, 26, a software developer in San Francisco.
While anyone with a Twitter account can “follow” any other user, the chosen can also be “unfollowed” with the click of a mouse. Some festivalgoers, aware that they might be alienating their Twitter fan base, sought to pacify them.
“To my followers who don’t care about SXSW,” one graphic designer apologized. “Please don’t unfollow me.”
But many users have been loath to edit anyone out of the network they have hand-selected, perhaps a testament to the power of what is often referred to, with affection, as the Twitter “hive mind.” As in: “Does anyone in Hive Mind have access to a photograph of Doris Kearns Goodwin wearing a Boston Red Sox Hat?” or “Good Morning, hive mind.”
Zac Morris, 26, tweeted a threat to block messages from South by Southwest, but then backtracked.
“I don’t want to miss anything important,” said Morris, who relies on the hive for a mix of news, voyeurism, self-promotion and camaraderie. “Even if it pains me.”
That pain, some Twitterverse inhabitants say, stems from the immediacy of the tweeted experience, relayed in 140-character increments — often by cell phone — as events unfold.
Without Twitter, Melody Lau, 20, a music writer in Toronto, might never have known when her friends were “eating wicked food down in Austin and I’m here and it’s snowing,” she noted.
And if she did hear about it when they returned a week later, the envy quotient would have dissipated with time. Moreover, unlike blog posts or articles on a website, tweets appear in what users call “my timeline” and seem more personal, even when they are being sent to hundreds.
“The ‘you are there’ feeling is more powerful with Twitter,” said Marc Smith, a sociologist who studies social networks, admitting to a jealous twinge himself as he measured festival tweets from his office in Belmont, Calif. “So it raises the ‘wish you were there’ response more powerfully.”
If some blame the nature of the technology, others say Twitter envy is stoked by tone-deaf tweeters.
Comedian John Hodgman’s tweet from the TED conference this month that getting a massage had caused him to miss a good panel (because “B Gates put together an amazing line up”) was of the type that prompted Jeffrey Zeldman to complain that TED tweeters “aren’t sharing knowledge” but rather “letting you know they’re at TED and reminding you you’re not.” (“Retweeted” by many of Zeldman’s 156,000 followers, the post seemed to strike a chord.) Against the backdrop of the disasters in Japan, some accused Austin tweeters of particular insensitivity.
Still, some critics admit that they may just be feeling a little sorry for themselves.
“When so many people you know are at an invite-only affair that you weren’t invited to, it makes you wonder how they could possibly have so much fun without you,” said Dave Winer, a software developer who had vowed to unfollow tweeters from the Davos conference.