Beers and Tweets

a contemplation by
Lauren Grewe

With a still growing brewery and brewpub scene in Austin, perhaps it’s no wonder that people are starting to tweet their choice of beers. If, as Michel Foucault argues, the subject is tied to his or her own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge, beer connoisseurship has certainly become part of that identity for Austinites.

Through apps like Untappd, Twitter users can upload their beer stats and badges to Twitter in real time, even including pictures to inform their followers of their choice of beer that day or night. Untappd itself forms a kind of social network as well (its tagline is "Drink Socially"), as you can add friends and colleagues to see what beer they're sampling. The badges vary from "Land of the Free" for drinking American beers to "Drinking Your Paycheck" for hardy weekend drinking. Similarly, the fact that you can set the app to automatically upload to Twitter is more or less embarrassing depending on the types of beers and time of day during which you're drinking them. I have personally never seen anyone update their Twitter this way with "drinking a Lonestar" at ten o'clock on a Monday morning, but I'm equally sure that some people do this. Which brings up the question: what kind of identity are beer drinkers imagining that they're creating through apps like Untappd and through Twitter?

My own idea of the pinnacle of success for the beer drinker on Twitter is a brewery retweet. For this select group of users, the local breweries retweet the pictures of the user’s beer, probably hoping to inspire other beer drinkers to choose the same beer that night. This also gives these beer drinkers a momentary bump in "likes" and the brief fame of being, to brewery nerds, a Twitter celebrity.

While it's clear why the breweries retweet, it seems less clear why the users tweet their beer drinking in the first place. Is this tweeting a product of the same kind of impulse that causes people to track their steps through activity monitors like FitBit? Or is there something else going on to cause this activity? Back when I had a working Misfit, I was obsessed with tracking my swimming through the watch. Even though it was sometimes inaccurate, this tracking of my activity felt productive and motivating. Tweeting about beer doesn’t seem to fulfill the same function, at least not on the surface.

On the other hand, tweeting about beer makes you part of the tipsy community of Austin beer drinkers. It turns your weekday indulgence into a connoisseurship, a pleasurable hobby. It makes you a beer snob, and that's okay.

Although Twitter has gained some traction as a place for social change, it has also become the domain of restaurants and breweries, places that make interesting, informative or funny tweets in order to lure you into their establishments. As Foucault says, "Power relations are rooted in the system of social networks." Twitter often replicates those power relations, with ordinary people following celebrities. But it's all worth it for that one night of victory, when a brewery retweets your beer choice. If you value your status as a connoisseur, it just better not be a Lone Star.

That Other Paper, 2007
© 2015 Lauren Grewe