I have the dubious distinction of ramming my car (actually gently bumping might be more accurate, since I was traveling about 3 mph at the time) into a telephone pole as I cleverly attempted to change the ring tone on my cell phone. I do not recommend this.
Clearly I don’t need more distraction in my life, and, I would argue, neither do you. So, at the risk of being labeled a hypocrite and Luddite (hypidite? ludocrit?) allow me now to rant against the latest in an ever increasing array of Internet distractions. I speak of Twitter. I shouldn’t admit this, especially since I’m in the information business, but I just don’t get it. I am amazed that so many people are enamored with this service.
Twitter, if you are from another planet, is the microblogging website that allows people to post snippets of information on the web using their cell phone text-messaging service or computer. Originally the idea was to keep friends, acquaintances and family informed on what you were doing, when you were doing it in 140 characters or fewer, the standard size of a cell phone text message. I would argue that you could just as easily call or email the few folks who care, and the others don’t need to know. But that’s just me.
Sure, maybe some things are right with Twitter. Along with Facebook and MySpace and other social networking sites, Twitter gained notoriety during the Iran civil unrest as one of the only venues through which information could be conveyed to the outside world. I will grant you it provided a valuable service. I also will grant that Twitter may be useful broadcasting headlines that contain a link to more substantial information, as the Notre Dame public information office and other news organizations use it.
And, yes, Twitter feeds can be helpful and handy. The site, for instance, suggests that if you are running late for an appointment, you could twitter that and then everyone following you on Twitter would know. Of course, maybe if you didn’t spend so much time twittering, you would be on time.
In the final analysis, however, Twitter is one more channel of information, one more too much, I would argue. And I am digging in my heels on that point and drawing a line. I quit. I refuse to follow your tweets. I do not care to know what you are doing even as I write this. I doubt much wisdom can be conveyed in 140 characters or fewer.
Am I a better person because I’ve just read Britney Spears’ latest tweet and now know that she is in Sweden? Or that NBC’s host of Meet the Press, David Gregory, was happy to take his kids to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game? I don’t think so. This used to be the stuff of “TMI,” too much information. In fact, knowing it seems a little creepy to me, like cyber-stalking. On the flip side, how vain is it for these tweeters to believe that others would actually care about this stuff?
Another argument against Twitter: It represents at least one more way to get in trouble, for those who are so inclined. Namely, it offers a new high-tech venue to engage in “drunk dialing,” that phenomenon accompanying intoxication in which a person unloads about how they really feel about someone/something. It’s bad enough if someone leaves an incoherent rant on another person’s voicemail. If the rant is a Twitter post viewed by hundreds or possibly thousands of Facebook-type “friends,” the potential for embarrassment can be truly awesome.
No, as useful as Twitter may be, in my world Tweetie will always be that little yellow canary with the speech impediment, and nothing else. I will not twitter my life away. Famous last words, hunh?
John Monczunski is an associate editor of this magazine.