By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"When you look at Twitter and what people are putting out at 140 characters, each tweet is like a guitar riff or a pulse from a user," Lee says.
Houston Web designer and entrepreneur Jason Armstrong (@elegantmachines) compares Twitter to a huge virtual cocktail party.
"You can 'overhear' what other people are talking about. Say if we both followed the same person, and you say something to another person we both follow that interests me, like about Apple products, then I can jump into the conversation too."
Rice University professor and Caroline Collective (@CarolineCo) head Matthew Wettergreen (@organprinter) was a very early proponent of Twitter in Houston, starting out way back in March 2007.
"Not only are we spending time online conversing, and possibly slacking in our jobs, but we're meeting regularly in real time in real space to share our lives. There are friendships being forged online between people who share similar interests, but those friendships are also being expanded to create entire communities of interest and communities of practice between Houstonians who are actively working to be part of a community, not just a circle of friends," Wettergreen says.
"We have one of the most cohesive Twitter communities in the nation, keeping in touch with each other on a regular basis online, but what really differentiates us is that we meet in real life often, much more than you would predict for online friendships," he adds.
It's a perspective that Lee echoes.
"The Houston Twitter community is a whole new generation of people who aren't just discovering technology, but they are using it as a tool to do real things. They are promoting good causes and events, raising awareness. This community knows more about what's going on socially, but they aren't just using it to party. J.R. Cohen used it to not just leverage a coffee shop, but to also promote the community and tap into people who have a like mind."
What Merrill says about Dallas' Twitterverse echoes Wettergreen's own thoughts as well, but with a slightly different bent.
"From a Dallas perspective, you see it used heavily on a social level. People figuring out where the crowds are and people are building social currency by sharing good ideas, good venues and good discounts. Overall, people are using it as a source of information. Where are the good restaurants, where should I shop? That's common amongst all social media."
Brandon Dalton is known as @cannedtoona to his fellow Dallas-based tweet folk. It took a while for the married digital graphics artist and Fort Worth resident to figure out where he would fit in.
"Early on, Twitter was just this barren landscape. You didn't know who to follow, no one did. Then a flood of graphic designers took over Twitter, these purists. They said that if you didn't have anything key, on-point, or profound to say, you should get off Twitter. Then the funny came, and that's why I stuck around."
Twitter helps funny people kick out their jams 24 hours a day and at 140 characters a clip. A funny aside gathered while waiting at the doctor's office or even having a hangover while serving as a groomsman at a wedding (a dubious feat this author is sadly guilty of) can become chuckle fodder for scores of followers.
Think of comedy on Twitter as an inside joke shared with the world, with no governor set on the degree of appropriateness, always aiming for that guttural chuckle. Nationally known accounts like Justin Halpern's @shitmydadsays, which chronicles his life as a twentysomething living at home, or @TheMime (sample tweet: "...") (yes, there's nothing there), popped up overnight and grew to have thousands of followers.
Mainstream comedians like The State's Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack) and Late Night's Jimmy Fallon (@jimmyfallon) are some of the most popular, commanding nearly three million followers and growing. The fake Twitter accounts for beleaguered actors Nick Nolte (@Nick_Nolte) and Gary Busey (@GaryJBusey) are pure comedy gold, albeit extremely filthy gold.
And, of course, there's the king of Twitter, actor Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk), who is followed by nearly 5 million people and counting. His Twitter persona isn't that far off from his film or television ones, passing on hilarious vignettes about married life with wife Demi Moore and his adventures with fellow Hollywood folk. Get retweeted by Kutcher, and the rewards can be in the thousands.
Houston and Dallas are both wellsprings of funny people constantly updating their slanted takes on daily life, and the twentysomething photographer Cat Kane is one of them. Since last fall, the Northwest Houston native has been tweeting torrential downpours of scatological free associations as @la_merde, which yes, does translate to "the shit" in French. Great deals of Kane's tweets seem to come from another time zone or dimension (sample tweet: "I don't like clothes unless they are on my floor"). She's proud of the following she has amassed, but largely doesn't see what the big deal is when people find some of her more salty transmissions unsettling.
"I don't alter anything. I mean, I tweet about taking shits. I'm nice in real life, but I just have an open mouth," Kane says demurely.