Still, I signed up so I could have an account (I have to do a lot of this "defensive registering" on social networks, which is lame, but a fact of life) and that was that.
I don't know when it exactly happened, but I recall Warren Ellis saying that our friend Rich Stevens used Twitter not just to tell people what he was doing, but to say funny things and share whatever thoughts he had, 140 characters at a time. That was, as they say, the lightbulb moment for me. Shortly after that, Sean and I ended up at the wedding of our friends Kathleen and Atom, where we ended up twittering the whole reception, almost in real time, to our mutual amusement. It was just a few months later that Twitter really exploded, and though I'd been using it regularly, I felt compelled to write this.
I guess you could say that I was a reluctant early adopter who was rather quickly transformed into a passionate and enthusiastic early adopter, and I've never looked back, even when the spambots were out of control.
If history takes nothing else away from Twitter, I hope it will be something like this: communication is incredibly powerful. Making it easy for people to communicate, to directly talk to each other can change the world. We saw it in Iran, we see it during natural disasters, and I've seen it directly in my own life, in ways that don't even compare, but are still pretty damn profound for me, personally.
And that's what this post is about today: it's about how Twitter fundamentally changed my world, and how grateful I am for that.
From podcasts and pictures to books and audiobooks, I am compelled to create. I've tried to fight it - it's not the easiest life in the world, especially when you're responsible for a family - but I can't deny that I'm an artist any more than I can deny that I'm a human being. Most artists will tell you quite honestly that they would create their art for free. I know from personal experience that that is absolutely true. I loved writing and performing sketch comedy so much, I did years of shows at ACME for no other return than the joy of making people laugh, and the camaraderie that came with being in an ensemble cast. Ultimately, I had to leave ACME because I couldn't afford to invest the time and energy in the shows, but the years I was there remain some of the happiest and most creatively rewarding of my entire adult life.
While the experience of creating something artistic is rewarding and satisfying all on its own, it's not enough for me. I want to share my work with an audience. I want to affect people emotionally. I want to make people think. I want to entertain, I want to challenge, I want to inspire. I can't do that solely by creating things that are satisfying to me but never find their way to an audience.
Way back in 2002, when I decided to write and self-publish Dancing Barefoot, I knew that the world was changing, because it was easier than ever before for creators to connect and directly interact with our audience. At least a year before The Long Tail was formalized, I was thinking about a similar paradigm shift in publishing: why compete with huge publishing houses and established authors for shelf space, when I had built up a small audience by writing on my blog, who I could reach directly with the Internet? I never would have thought about publishing my writing (back then, I was still determined to just be an actor) if so many blog readers hadn't told me over and over again to do it, so why wouldn't I just go directly to them and give them what they asked for? The Internet made it easy to give anyone who wanted my books an easy way to purchase them ... I just had to let those people know how to find them.
Back then, the only way I could do that was by promoting my work on my blog, and hoping that other websites with large audiences, like Fark, boingboing and Slashdot, would be interested enough in what I was doing to link to it. There were no guarantees, because communicating directly with large numbers of people (I once heard that a 3% conversion of audience to customers is really good, and 5% is nearly impossible) wasn't quick or easy.
This is where Twitter comes in.
My last two books, Sunken Treasure and Memories of the Future, Volume One, sold more copies, faster, than The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I've earned more from Sunken Treasure, which was published in 2009, than I did from Just A Geek, which was published all the way back in 2004. I don't have a scientific way to separate correlation from causation, but I just don't believe it's a coincidence that Happiest Days and Just A Geek were published before I had Twitter to make it easy for me to directly interact with a large number of people, and let them all know that these new books were available.
(It's important to me to make something super duper clear: if you think that simply using Twitter to advertise your stuff is an easy path to financial success, you should probably grab the nearest Pets.com sockpuppet and have a serious heart-to-heart talk.)
When Paul and Storm and Adam Savage and I started talking about w00tstock, our plan was to mention the shows on Twitter, and then approach other blogs and online journals, in the hopes that they'd talk to us about the show, and we'd get some promotion. We never got past mentioning it on Twitter (and our own blogs, which we would have done anyway) because the show in San Francisco sold out so fast - propelled almost entirely by word-of-Twitter - that we added a second show, which also sold out. Using Twitter as our primary means of letting people know - and encouraging them to let their friends know - about w00tstock worked better than any of us ever thought. That's just ... that's just incredible.
But Twitter has done more than help me remain a moderately successful independent publisher and independent performing artist. Twitter made it possible for me to reconnect with old friends like LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner, and it made it possible for me to meet and interact with people I'd never come across in my daily routine, like Greg Grunberg.
Which brings me to the next point in this rambling love note to Ev and Biz.
One night a long time ago, I logged into Twitter and saw that Greg Grunberg, an actor who I loved in Alias and Heroes, had sent me a message, asking if I was interested in working on Heroes. I told him that I was, but there was no way I'd ever get cast on his show; I'd had a couple of chances in auditions, and I'd been so excited that I sucked out loud. If anyone in a position to hire me for Heroes was interested in hiring me, they'd had the opportunity and (wisely) chosen an actor who didn't let his nerdsquee overwhelm his performance in the audition.
As it turned out, I was right ... but Greg and I kept talking in DMs, @'s, and via e-mail. In one of those e-mails, he asked if I'd be interested in doing some voiceovers for Star Trek. Over a year later, I could finally reveal the awesome results of that particular conversation.
Back in the old days, the only way something like that could have possibly happened is if I ran into Greg at a party or some other social situation. This assumes that 1) I would ever be invited to something like that, and 2) I'd have the courage to talk to someone I know from TV. Because I've only been to one Hollywood party that I actually enjoyed - less than 4 months ago - I was never really in a position to meet and interact with people in that kind of social situation. It sounds funny to me to put it this way, but that was really the first time I used a so-called "social network" to, uh, network in any way ... and it wasn't even intentional. Twitter has made it possible for me to meet and talk with people, in a professional and purely social capacity, like nothing else that came before it. Maybe this seems self evident to everyone else in the world, but it's pretty incredible to me, and makes me grateful to be, as I so often say, living in the future.
In fact, now that I think about it, my role as Evil Wil Wheaton on The Big Bang Theory came directly out of my mentioning on Twitter how much I loved the show. Steven Molaro, one of the writers on the series, saw my comment, and apparently went directly into Bill Prady's office with the suggestion that they cast me as Sheldon's nemesis. Again, this is another one of those things that simply never would have happened without the immediacy of Twitter.
The last thing I wanted to mention isn't as life-changing or profound as the others, but it's just as cool as anything else in this post, and it happened just last week, when Anne and I got to attend The Pee Wee Herman show.
This was totally unexpected, because I'd forgotten that Paul was on Twitter at all when I said in reply to many queries, "Regarding Star Trek Online, I will borrow a phrase from Pee Wee Herman: I don't have to play it, Dottie. I lived it."
Somehow, Paul saw that and retweeted it. Shortly after that, we exchanged DMs and he invited me to come see his show - which I'd wanted to see since it was announced last summer - as his guest. There is no way I would ever be in a place where I could be overheard by Paul Reubens as I referenced one of his movies, totally unaware that he could hear me. This never would have happened without Twitter.
And now, the obligatory wrap-up.
I've always believed that when you work hard and are kind to people, wonderful things will happen, and some of those wonderful things will happen to you. (It was awesome to hear something similar from Conan O'Brien recently; that made me feel like I've been on the right track.) I've always hoped that the work would just speak for itself, but in all aspects of the entertainment industry, just being good at what you do or just being good to work with aren't enough. Just being an entertaining author or filmmaker or performer isn't enough; you need to get your work in front of an audience, especially if you hope to make a living from your art. There is a whole lot of reality at the root of the old cliché about who you know and networking. I didn't expect it, and it's not even my primary reason for using it, but Twitter has ended up filling that gap in my professional life, and the results have been nothing short of astounding.
So thank you, @Biz and @Ev, for founding (and maintaining, for free) something useful and fun and awesome and life-changing. Thank you to everyone who follows and interacts with me on Twitter. And thank you to Sean Bonner, for introducing me to Twitter in the first place all the way back in 2007, when none of us had any idea about where this whole thing was heading.