Only Connect…Or Only Collect? The Whole Follower Question

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect…”

E.M. Forster


While it is probably unwise to begin a blog post by quoting superior writer, it’s a mistake I’m going to repeat twice, because it was the brilliant Corvida Raven, whose thoughtful musings served to kick start my little grey cells and nimble typing fingers. She asked the following question in terms of social media networks:

Everything is about connecting to others, but have you considered the type of connection you’d like to have with people?


I’m not going to tip-toe through the minefield and muck of “suggested Twitter users” – dangerous territory already well covered elsewhere- like here for a start.


Hopefully the most common answer to Corvida’s question is ” a meaningful one.”

But from where I sit, the type of connection a person has with someone on a social media network such as Twitter can depend on their motive for engaging with and being engaged by that network in the first place. Are they trying to connect – connect to ideas and increase your knowledge? Connect to people with whom they can discuss shared passions or debate differing outlooks? Or are they looking for something else entirely?


Are they looking to boost their ego? More and more there seems to be a sharp increase in people simply looking to amass numbers – be elected electronic prom queen so-to-speak – rather than actually connect. A sort of  “Mine’s bigger than yours” mentality- only this time having to do with numbers of Twitter followers.

It’s a mindset that’s been encouraged by tools like – something that was meant to be helpful in measuring marketing reach (itself a dubious prospect in terms of what these networks were designed for) that has instead somehow been twisted into a popularity meter for many a person.

You know you’ve seen those tweets – “I’m ranked number __ in the city of Oz.” And frankly it’s disheartening.


And that’s just regarding individuals, that says nothing about the unfortunate new inroads spammers and unscrupulous marketers are trying to take.

It’s getting worse too. If you don’t believe me, take a look at more expert opinions – such as the one tweeted by PurpleCar (who writes quite a bit about online behaviour and does it very well)  yesterday when speaking of, an “opt-in group” to help rapidly build a base of followers.   this is a total travesty” she tweeted, followed by “what’s the point of tweepme after a while? Mainstreamers will realize you can rig the system and not use twitter. Follow rates lost value”


It seems to me that trend of collecting has had a tremendously negative impact, having lead to all kinds of dubious services and narcissistic behaviour. Collectors will pander, flirt and provoke shamelessly just to raise their numbers. This kind of tactic is very seductive but ultimately cheapens whatever “connection” there might be. How meaningful is your connection if you are one of thousands?

The truth of this is hammered home if you take into consideration a recent, beautifully crafted commentary on Posterous concerning Dunbar’s number.

In it Melanie McBride sagely noted:

there are only so many people we can treat reasonably and thoughtfully given the fixed capacity of the human OS and available relationship RAM.


If you are in fact considering the type of connection that you want to have online, if you want to have meaning, doesn’t it seem better to focus on quality than quantity?

Ironically, given his massive legion of followers, Robert Scoble may have best summed up why it is best not to be a collector and not to focus so much on the size of your following:

If you define yourself by who is following you you’ll always feel inadequate. After all, you can’t control your followers and any idiot can follow people. But, define yourself by who you are following and you can really build something of high value.

In other words, isn’t it best for the tenor of these social networks and your experience on them that people try — really try — to connect and not just to collect?


2 comments so far

  1. awordlessordinary on

    You’ve summed up a brilliant and important issue. This commentary on the evolution of twitter and the de-evolution of the self has been something I’ve been coming up with myself.

    I’m not interested in who follows me. I’ve been trying to follow artists, musicians, comics book writers and a few members of the social media field.

    Lately, I’ve been having that feeling when you bite into a chocolate rabbit and find out that it’s not solid (curse you dollar store specials). The empty feeling bothers me when I look at all the ppl following me an realize I neither no nor care. If anything I feel more isolated. If you imagine me in an Edward Hopper painting on a laptop in a downtown dinner then you get the idea.

    But is this just a twitter problem? Will it extend to Friend Feed or even Face Book as it continues with it’s own experiments in micro-blogging.

    Funny, I once heard it said the most effective social net-working tool was a bread-line.

    • abbymartin on

      Thank you for your comment.
      An interesting tangent here- today on FriendFeed Robert Scoble was musing about the fact that he was considering deleting his twitter account. [Now that the masses have discovered it, the early adopters are off to something else- I am not sure what or where that is yet but I am very curious to find out. These folks interest me – they’re the ones shaping this form of media.] I am not as interested in celebrity “tweeters” – though when I was on Twitter I did follow Eddie Izzard because he’s brilliant and Stephen Fry because he is smart and genuinely engaged by technology. I tend to be interested more in people whose “voices” or thoughts intrigue me.

      FF has been of less interest than usual as of late but still is where I go to learn. FB is where I keep in touch with people I actually know- and where I learn about what they are doing. I see FF as less “me, me ME”
      than Twitter because Twitter is a statement (“I’m doing/thinking this!”) whereas FF is a conversation (or an argument on bad days.) But YMMV.

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