Being good at Twitter isn’t something I would normally say about someone. Now this goes beyond understanding social media as a professional, and it’s more than being a “digital native” whatever that actually means. But when I think about Chris Black who’s new book I Know You Think You Know It All was inspired by his informative use of social media, I almost always come to the realization that this guy is just good at Twitter. Obviously Chris is good at many other things and not just some highly evolved Twitter jockey. If you know Chris in real life it is easy to see how his brand of quirkiness and humor translate so seamlessly to first Twitter’s punchy medium, but also to this humorous (and honestly, helpful) new book. I met with with Chris for a quick Q&A at one of my favorite haunts Lafayette to see if perhaps I do actually do know it all.
Michael Williams: How did this, or when did the idea for the book come about? … When did you first get the idea for something like this?
Chris Black: I didn’t have the idea, actually. Powerhouse had the idea.
MW: Oh really?
CB: Powerhouse approached me about doing it, and I was obviously open to it. Who doesn’t want to make a book, you know what I mean? Especially if someone asks you. But it was you know his, Wes from Powerhouse who’s my publisher, I think the idea stemmed from Twitter, you know. That’s where he got the idea from.
MW: He saw your Twitter?
CB: Yeah, and him and I were friendly, and he followed me and his wife, who follows me too, and they like kinda talked about it is the story that I heard and then they asked me if I would do it, and I was like yeah man, whatever, you know.
MW: So were they thinking like you know you’re good at Twitter, obviously. You’re a quasi social media professional.
CB: Very quasi.
MW: If you wanna put that label on yourself. So they’re seeing your feed and it’s not like this is a themed Goldman Sachs elevator Twitter thing.
CB: No, no.
MW: They had to read between the lines a little bit. Read between the tweets.
CB: We talked about it twice, and then he sent me fifty tweets that he had pulled out himself, being like “this is what I’m talking about,” and it’s like, the idea from the get go was life’s little instruction book, but modern. You know, so numbered, super easy to digest, quick stuff, which I was all for. I mean, I don’t know if I could sit down and write a real book, so this is as close as I’m gonna get. But that was always the concept.
MW: I think it’s a real book, though.
CB: I mean, it’s a real book. You can go buy it in the fucking store, but I want to make it clear that it’s not a novel. I’m not up for a pulitzer. I want to make that very clear that you’re not getting that for ten bucks, you know what I mean.
MW: So you’re not taking yourself all too seriously, but this is a serious, all of this is real shit that people need to hear.
CB: I think it’s advice someone should take a hundred percent. I’m very serious about it. I just don’t take it very seriously. You know, that’s the whole theme of the book.
MW: Let me ask an annoying interview type of question. What is the one thing in the book, one of your rules or things not to do that you actually do and sort of regret. Is it like “use emoji.”
CB: I no I think I’ve done a lot of it. That’s part of the learning process. I wouldn’t be qualified to write it if I didn’t do some of them myself. I mean, I don’t know, there’s definitely some, though. Oh, there’s one that’s like “know how to cook one dish well.” I don’t know how to cook a single fucking thing. I can’t cook to save my life. If you asked me to cook, it would be embarrassing.
MW: So some of these are things that you’ve done and learned from, some of them maybe are aspirations.
CB: Yeah, c’mon, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s aspirational, it’s real life, you know. It’s all of the above.
MW: And it’s like for a guy, for a girl, someone that lives in the city.
CB: I think it’s for everyone. Yeah, I think that because I’m a dude and I live in New York, it’ll probably lean towards that, you know, just because some of those experiences are specific to that. But I think it’s for everybody. I think women are buying it was much as guys, I hope.
MW: Did this stunt your Twitter at all because you….
CB: Save gems?
CB: No, not even. It was pretty fun because I downloaded my entire history, and I worked with an assistant, this girl Nicki Jaggerman, in LA. She goes to UCB, and she co hosts a podcast. She’s a funny person. So her and I sat down. The goal was to get five hundred Tweets. We downloaded my entire history, which is a very humbling experience. It is, looking through that shit from five years, you know, 2008, I think.
MW: Were you embarrassed at some of the things you were saying?
CB: I mean, I used hashtags at one point, which is so embarrassing to me. I would never do that now, but like yeah in 2009, I was using hashtags like everybody else. So it was, that part of the process was really fun. And it also shows kind of, it was you know, how the world works, where we’ve come, what’s acceptable in that short amount of time has changed quite a lot. Especially online where things move really quickly. You know five years is a lot. There’s some things I’d be like “what the fuck am I talking about,” you know. But it was totally relevant then. But that process was fun, it was embarrassing. Because Nicki and I know each other, and we’re friends, but we’re not like best friends, and that was kind of, that’s who I wanted. I wanted somebody to be like “that’s bad,” “that’s good,” “that’s bad,” “that’s good,” you know what I mean.
CB: Yeah and it was helpful because I don’t think anybody, I think it’s much more fun to do it that way, too.
MW: That’s cool. That’s funny. I want to ask you a couple more specific questions, but what do you think about how Twitter has changed in that time?
CB: I mean, I think it used to be a little, well, I think now it’s outrage based. You know, I think, sadly, everyone wants to complain about their airline, or you know, say somebody said something they didn’t like, et cetera, et cetera. I think at the beginning it was more people trying to figure out what is this, you know, what is this thing. I’m gonna talk about my lunch, which to me is equally as boring was talking about Delta Flight #300 is fucked up. But I think that now, and maybe it’s because this is what I like and this is what I try to do, but I use it more informationally, you know.
MW: As news?
CB: Yeah, and I think that’s why I’ve got a following that’s not even in today’s standards not even big. You know, I think the quality is high. A certain kind of person is following me, which to me is more important than having 100,000 people. I mean I’d love 100,000 people, but not as important.
MW: Do you think that it’s not like the, to me it seems like people aren’t sitting Twitter like waiting for things to happen in the way that it used to sort of be a window that was open on everyone’s browser. Now it feels like people aren’t as checked in.
CB: That’s 100% true. There’s Instagram. That’s visual. It’s easier to do. It’s easier to see a picture and instantly react to it is one less step than having to click on a link to something. The headline’s great. You have to click on the link, and then it’s another step, you know. I think Instagram, Snapchat for the teens, all that shit has taken over. And Twitter, I would love for Twitter to, I hope it weeds people out, and Twitter becomes more of an information source. That’s what I think it should be. I think that’s what it’s perfect for.
MW: So what do you hope to come from the book?
CB: I mean, I would love to do some TV stuff. I think that would be super fun. I’ve done some of that in the past when I was managing bands and did some stuff on MTV, like Talking Head stuff. That whole thing has kind of died out a lot, but I think there’s a place for that, you know, for that still. Hopefully, you know.
MW: Do you worry about your follow up book to this? (laughs)
CB: Yeah, right, I haven’t even gotten that far. The book’s only been out for a bit.
MW: Who knows what’s gonna happen in five years from now.
CB: For sure. It’s nice to have a tangible product in the world, you know. It’s one thing to be like “oh I follow you on Twitter,” like cool, but to be like “Oh I bought your book,” that’s different, that’s more committed.
MW: Or even better than that is “I took a lot of the advice.”
CB: Yeah, yeah, that’s much preferred, all of those things. I think there’s people that, I think it’s very shareable that way people will tell me “Number 179 really struck a chord with me and my girlfriend said 203 is my problem I have that I need to work on.” So if that sparks that kind of debate or conversation among friends or in relationships, that’s the whole point.
MW: Did you look and see if any of your top tweets made it in, or what was your most fav’d or most retweeted.
CB: I actually didn’t at all. It was strictly, is this funny, does it need to be updated a little because this was 2010 because the idea was there but it needs to be something more current, you know. But there’s also, we were very mindful that it not be anything that could be dated very quickly, you know what I mean. I make fun of Coldplay, and I argue with my editor that Coldplay’s still gonna be bad in five years. Coldplay is not gonna be gone and they’re not gonna be good. That’s one I’m gonna stick to. He relented on that.
MW: So it’s meant to be funny but it’s also meant to be real advice. You can take a lot out of this. It’s not like don’t take it at total face value, but some of these things…
CB: Yeah it’s a nudge-nudge, wink-wink, like yeah that’s funny and it’s presented in a funny way, but it’s a problem. These things need to be dealt with. There’s a lot of that in the world.
MW: I think it’s interesting, when I read through the book, I was fucking just laughing.
CB: That’s the idea, thank you.
MW: I think it’s, I think you hit the right balance of being funny, being self-deprecating, being self aware, but also not being overly pretentious or taking yourself too seriously. I think that’s what makes it really fun.
CB: I think that’s the greatest compliment. That’s what I try to be as a human, you know what I mean. I don’t claim to know everything, but I think that having a strong opinion is something that is valuable. People can disagree with you or agree with you, but at least they’re gonna talk about it. That’s how things get going. That’s how friendships are made, that’s how discussions are started, that’s how the world goes around.
MW: Chris, you’re the man.