The President of the United States held the first-ever Twitter press conference recently, and while it’s true the event did not mark the end of Western Civilization, it did lead me to believe that when the end comes, the last living historian will Tweet: “2bad :(”
There was one heartening aspect to the White House exercise, however: Although the questioners all stuck to Twitter’s 140-character-max requirement, the Tweeter-In-Chief responded in actual unlimited, thoughtful sentences, fully understanding that unless you happen to be the likes of e.e. cummings, real ideas require the utilization of what we have come to fondly call “Language.”
It’s not really the brevity of the Twitter format that irks me. Haiku, sonnets, and limericks are all strictly limiting literary forms. But they were created in the name of qualities like serenity, beauty, and laughter. Twitter, in contrast, aims for nothing more profound than “Nails done…now off to Chili’s!”
So now everyone around me in the media world is all exercised over Twitter. “You should be Tweeting!” my bosses tell me. Yes, and four years ago they all told me, “You should be on MySpace.” And a little before that “Why aren’t you on LinkedIn?” And even before that “Look, we’ll pay for your AOL account.” And way back, “Didn’t you see that on CompuServe?”
I wasn’t always a Luddite. Back in 1980, when I arrived at the newsroom of the National Enquirer, everybody there was toiling away on manual typewriters. I went to my boss and timidly told him I couldn’t work on anything less than an IBM Selectric.
I fully expected to be shown the door. Astonishingly, the next day there was an IBM on my desk, its shiny newness dimmed only by the gleaming daggers flying from the eyes of the hardcore newsies seated around me.
But even then, I was only asking for a 20-year-old technology. Within a few years we all had PCs, and the Enquirer’s reporters were all issued Radio Shack Tandy 200 laptops (the most remarkable thing about those machines, we all soon discovered, was if you hit the right combination of keys, you could manipulate the Ks and Ps to resemble an army of ants marching up the screen).
I’ve even got my doubts about the longevity of Facebook, although I do use it occasionally in a shameless ploy to attract readers to this blog. There are those whose tens of thousands of Facebook “friends” turn them into Blogosphere powerhouses, bloviating endlessly, pontificating as if they had a brain in their heads, making themselves feel like essential opinion shapers when in reality they are as disposable as your IPhone will be the day after that solar storm, if there’s a God in Heaven, fries every circuit board from here to Mountain View, California, forcing us all to reacquaint our fingers with the feel of a ballpoint pen and our palms with the sweet, smooth surface of a blank piece of paper.
In the meantime, on that day when a better tool for drumming up blog readers arrives, I’ll drop Facebook faster than you can say “Netscape”—and so will every one of those who now worship at its altar. But even my rudimentary use of Facebook underlines the most distasteful aspect of social media: It’s all about me. All me, all the time. And if you don’t find me absolutely fascinating, well, what’s the matter with you?
So, no, before you ask, don’t Tweet me. I don’t want to know what you had for lunch (I barely remember what I had for my lunch—in what universe would I care about yours?). I don’t care that you’re stuck in traffic (and why are you Tweeting behind the wheel, by the way?). And by the way, your seat-of-the-pants opinion of last night’s Dancing With The Stars should stay where it came from.
Brevity may be the soul of wit, but mindless Tweeting is the role of Twits.