Wednesday, March 04, 2009
The other night at book club my friends and I were bemoaning what everyone's inevitably lamenting these days: the disastrous economic Armageddon plaguing the world. A few of us admitted that we've given up listening to the media doomsdayers who are bent on bombarding us 24/7 with tales of world demise, and instead have decided to tune it out in favor of more pleasant things. Except that sometimes even that is hard to find, given that we are being deluged with too much stimuli from every angle.
One popular escapist outlet is the myriad of social networking groups on the Internet, from that now-dinosaur/ADD nightmare, MySpace, to Facebook, to Twitter. Add to that blogs, grogs, Library Thing, Red Room, LinkedIn, Yahoo listserves, and niche chat sites that can run the gamut from professional networking to holistic parrot care. All this means absolutely no end to the realm of e-distractions that can drain your brain, and while you're at it, every waking moment of your life as well. I actually found a social network site called VampireFreaks.com. Seriously. That I even bothered to spend the time on the Internet researching that is worrisome to me on some level. Talk about sucking your soul.
I know many sing the praises of this profusion of Internet connectivity. But one could argue whether social networking really is a boon to society, or is merely one more distraction that's holding us back from living our lives more fully. I mean sure, thanks to Facebook (co-opted from the young, who hate us for that), you might now have re-connected with Tommy Stromboli, who sat behind you in sixth grade health class and sketched amazing pictures of Loony Tunes characters (and the occasional body part) while the rest of the class took notes. But honestly, did you need to be back in touch with Tommy? I mean, if you'd really wanted to communicate with him, would you have ever lost contact in the first place?
I have Facebook "friends" from childhood with whom was I not only decidedly not in their circle friends, I wasn't even in their galaxy of acquaintances. Interestingly, though, Facebook seems to be resurrecting that very social strata we all gladly left behind years ago. It's middle school redux: the cool kids still only chat with the cool kids and the others are left out in the cold, this time from the LED screen of your computer in the comfort of your home.
Graduating on from Facebook, we have the latest rage, Twitter, a micro-blogging site. The place to be in the e-ether. If you don't tweet, you're so out of the loop. So everyone's tweeting: a whole lot of blather bloating the e-waves. Twitterers can use no more than 140 concisely-constructed characters to condense their little moment in time for whomever in the world follows them on Twitter. A big New York editor recently endorsed Twitter to encourage writers to tighten their prose. Seems a stretch to me.
Now back when I was in school, I was a doodler. A doodler with absolutely no artistic ability whatsoever. So while I was stuck in classes like symbolic logic with my mind absolutely numb with boredom, I quickly ran out of things to doodle. After so many birds, sunshines, moons with faces, and garden-variety flowers, what was left to draw? But nowadays, instead of doodling with pen and paper, with Twitter you can doodle with your words. And instead of only Tommy Stromboli peering over your shoulder to bear witness to your mindless nothingness, well, hey, you have the entire e-world in which to infuse your verbal helium.
Just think of the people you can touch in the world with that 140-character tweet on Twitter, after all. A quick glimpse of tweets of folks I am following include: I need to shave my legs. Sigh. Or: Finally found a small carton of the elusive pink malted milk balls. Commence sugar shock. Lastly this: Wheat Ritz crackers are just wrong. Who wants a healthy Ritz cracker? There's also a link to a photo of one twitterer eating her foot. She felt compelled to post it after being proven wrong about something she insisted she was right or she'd eat her foot. Okay then.
The thing is, I totally "get" Twitter and have gotten pulled under the riptide of reading and writing tweets myself. Sometimes it's just more of a challenge to come up with something fun or stupid or entirely useless in 140 characters than it is to do something you ought to be doing. But that's the thing of it: it keeps us—i.e. however many hundreds of millions of subscribers to Twitter, Facebook, or you name the site—from doing useful things. Like talking to someone nearby, for instance. Or conducting brain surgery. You laugh, but on the news the other day (that very news we're supposed to be avoiding, due to its glum nature), I heard about doctors tweeting while removing some man's cancerous tumor in his abdominal cavity. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer my doc not tweet while in my gut.
Makes me want to dial 9-1-1, stat, because I fear we have become victims of information overload, and we're now hemorrhaging all that useless knowledge.
My tweet response to that? Remember when ignorance was bliss? Sigh.
I'm not old enough to have experienced the days when you'd pick up the phone and an operator would connect your call for you—hence adding a layer of actual human interface. But I think I miss that sort of interaction nevertheless.
Come to think of it, even more, I miss the days when social networking meant going to a really fun party.