The Genteel
March 1, 2021


Sketch of Aliza Licht, formerly @DKNYPRGirl (Illustration by Dallas Shaw).

I can't think about Twitter too hard, or for too long, because it makes me feel weird. If you had asked me when Facebook launched if I would sign-up (circa 2005 in Canada), I would have told you no. Three months later, I had a profile. If you had asked me the same question about Twitter, I would have probably laughed out loud. But here I am, years later - and probably right beside you - actively using both social media outlets. 

If you're not familiar with Twitter, it's a website that allows you to post updates in 140 characters or less, about anything. It's an intricate network of followers and hashtags, and if you need any more information beyond that refer to this. I'm not sure when Twitter became an active extension of its users' lives, nor am I certain when it became imperative to share every thought, moment or experience. In April 2011, Twitter, notoriously guarded with its registration data, revealed that it had 200 million accounts on its platform. Recent numbers suggest that Twitter currently houses 462 million users, and estimates say this number will climb to 900 million by the end 2012 with 250 million active users. It's a striking phenomenon that I never imagined would be possible or necessary - and I'm a digital native. (As an aside, Canada also has the third highest number of users in the world.)

If the goal is to get and keep people "talking," they don't speak any faster than this.

So how exactly has Twitter impacted our world? It has permeated industry membranes in symbiotic ways. Personal accounts from celebrities to scientists are available for those interested or, at very least, curious. At its core, it's an opportunity to make reality a little more transparent. (A quick timeline of how Twitter became a valuable resource, most notably after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, can be found here.) And more recently, a New York Times article examined how tools like Twitter have enabled the web to "flex its muscle." In light of things like the SOPA/PiPA anti-piracy/fight-for-the-freedom-of-the-Internet soap opera, the site reported that over two million posts circulated around the website. It contributed to the bill being postponed indefinitely. But the power of the Internet and its lifelines amazes, no? 

The microblogging movement - through both Twitter, and other similar platforms with more multimedia options like Tumblr - has begun to ameliorate the connections among communities with a shared interested in, say, fashion. This piece in the Guardian, published in 2009, does a great job of exploring, in a staccato sort of way, the insurgence of Twitter through the fashion industry, evolving from an outlet for Perez Hilton's 9-1-1 calls to a potential source of inspiration for Stefano Gabbana. In September 2011, Burberry teamed with the growing network for an industry first: the British brand notified followers of a "Tweetwalk" in advance of its SS 2012 runway show, where it would give users a first look at the new collection. This was in addition to streaming the entire presentation live in HD on its Facebook page. Just last week, this simple round-up of the Golden Globes style was an interesting way to see how fashion funnels down to the masses; while insiders and critics were rating the red carpet, people at home could follow along and offer their own opinions as well. This helps keep "the wheels turning." The same is true about fashion shows. Isn't all press good press? If the goal is to get and keep people "talking," they don't speak any faster than this.

What both of these ladies represent, however, is a strong perspective on the other side of the runway, and they are an invaluable resource for dialogue that extends beyond buy-this-and-look-at-that.

Twitter has also produced some unexpected style stars who would otherwise play second string to editors, It girls and designers. In September 2010, during New York Fashion Week, The Wall Street Journal ran a profile on Erika Bearman, the 31-year-old director of communications for Oscar de la Renta. Better known, and widely followed, as @OscarPRGirl on Twitter, Bearman has risen steadily over the last two years in her own right, noting that "people responded more to glimpses of her personality." The journal also examines Twitter's effects on the de la Renta brand: "In the last month, Ms. Bearman has been attracting roughly 1,000 new followers a week, by her own calculations…In the weekly executive meetings with the CEO, feedback from Twitter followers comes up more often than not. She recently used Twitter to solicit applications for a job opening - and extended an offer to a Twitter candidate." Today, Bearman has over 104,000 followers who keep up with her exploits as a publicist and beyond.

A more intriguing success is Aliza Licht, the PR girl for DKNY who famously tweeted "anonymously" for two years as @DKNY (formerly @DKNYPRGirl) before publicly revealing herself in October 2011 in a YouTube video produced by the brand. In the video, Licht coolly claims she's addicted to Twitter - and now Tumblr - as a way to live and breathe fashion while spreading the word about what she and her team are working on with Donna Karan. The video, mirroring her tweets, provides thoughtful, witty insight for those who want to join the public relations ranks of major fashion houses, and details the intricate relationship between business and social media. Just last month, Licht and her apartment/style were featured on popular fashion website Refinery29, further cementing her as a sought-after figure in the industry - not to mention the girl has 375,000-plus fans - er, I mean followers. What both of these ladies represent, however, is a strong perspective on the other side of the runway, and they are an invaluable resource for dialogue that extends beyond buy-this-and-look-at-that.

Sure, others can predict the future of social media all they want (um, it's headed for your television), but I'm more curious about how its future will relate to my daily life. I say this all the time, and sometimes I mean it, and sometimes I wish I believed it, but I'm not sure if I can see myself as tweeting or taking any of this seriously beyond midlife. I mean, I'd like to think it's a phase or a thing I'll outgrow, but the truth is that I was raised - or conditioned, really - to live in a digital landscape. What if it's just a part of all of us now? I mean, there are 50-year-olds who tweet and Facebook like freshman, but, to their credit, it's also new to them. Or will there be another, easier thing I could care about? Most tech types will probably point you in the direction of Pinterest, an "online pinboard" to "share things you love" and discover new ones, as the place to go. (Bearman has an account if that colours your decision to join, but in the fashion of our oldest social tradition, you need an invite.) It's still in beta mode, but has already experienced strong growth with wicked word-of-mouth, leading some to report that the platform is getting more pageviews than Etsy.

And although Twitter may feel frivolous or unnecessary, in a world full of differences, it is part of the fabric that holds us together. 

Follow Paul Aguirre-Livingston on Twitter @pliving. Because of this piece, and several Facebook confessions of obsession, he also joined Pinterest. He is still figuring it out.

Life, etc.: The world around fashion. On a weekly basis, Paul Aguirre-Livingston takes a break from fashion writing and delivers raw and insightful musings that blend society and culture with self.



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