I was on the Internet long before AOL, embraced e-mail in its infancy, put up a few web pages when you still had to know some basic HTML to do it. I’ve had online photo albums for years, I’m still slogging away with this dumb blog and I even flirted briefly with Facebook. So I don’t consider myself some kind of Andy Rooney luddite, still scratching my head over the Zip Code system. But I still don’t get Twitter.
If you don’t know what Twitter is, fine. Perhaps we are kindred spirits and let’s just enjoy this moment. If you do, that’s fine too. I come not to judge.
Because really, my thinking on this is mixed. We already have the attention spans of Mediterranean fruit flies, and I’m not 100 percent sold on on anything that makes them even shorter. On the other hand, who has time, what with gas prices and the war in Iraq, to put together complete sentences? Twitter asks nothing in this regard and gives much. You riff about about what you’re doing, and you get to read the riffs of friends about what they’re doing, or what they think you’re doing.
Except you’re not doing it, and neither are they. The whole premise of Twitter is that you use it while you’re ostensibly doing something else. This necessarily means that your attention is elsewhere. You can focus on a crappy episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, or a drug intervention with a beloved relative, or you can twitter. You can’t really do both. When people say they’re finishing that Balzac novel, or baking brownies, or teaching the kids a valuable lesson about honesty, they’re lying. At that precise moment, they’re twittering. It is self-evident that their eyes are on the screen, and their hands are on the keyboard. The novel gets kicked under the couch, the brownies burn, the kids wander away to play in the street. What you read in the ephemeral parade of Twitter posts is what people would be doing if they weren’t twittering.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. If stream-of-consciousness text messages bring you closer to people you like but might otherwise ignore, that’s probably good. If you have 295,000 “followers” you never heard of, maybe not. Followers on Twitter are like friends on Facebook: they multiply like locusts and they will not be there for you should things go south.