God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
-- The Serenity Prayer
Some things, I've learned, are just going to happen. No matter what. And the less you kid yourself about their inevitability, the happier you'll be. For example, yesterday I purchased a Snuggie
. I tried to resist this for a long time. I said to myself, "Self, that thing looks ridiculous! If anyone ever saw you wearing that, you'd die friendless and destitute! The Snuggie is not your friend, no matter how warm and functional!" But every time I saw the commercials, I'd hear a tiny voice speaking an undeniable truth: a blanket with sleeves for the bargain basement price of $14.95 can only exist so long before it must be in my living room. Plus, it comes with a free booklight!
In this spirit, I finally gave up and hit the fast-forward button on something else that is bound to happen to all of us. I joined Twitter
Twitter, for those who still don't know, is sort of a global version of the Facebook newsfeed. Users post 140-character answers (disgustingly referred to as "tweets") to one simple question: "What are you doing?" Separating it from Facebook is the fact that, along with your friends, many famous people tweet (including members of Congress
). In addition to posting your own tweets (I don't think I'll ever get used to that word), you can subscribe to as many other feeds as you like, keeping you informed about the myriad banalities of countless lives, all in two-sentence increments.
For example, when I joined, I became a "follower" of Warren Ellis (one of my favorite writers), Alyson Hannigan (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
, y'all), and Senator Barbara Boxer. I quickly began receiving information about their lives. It was Alyson's birthday; Warren Ellis really likes The Pogues; and Senator Boxer thinks the AIG bonuses are "disgraceful." This was kind of exciting! Although the information wasn't exactly useful, I now had a window into the real lives of people I had previously encountered only in media.
But it didn't stop there. Shortly after I became a follower of Alyson Hannigan, I received an e-mail saying she was now following my
Twitter. This blew my mind. The redheaded witch in the television, on whom I'd had a crush since 7th grade, was now allegedly reading 140-character summaries of my
stupid life! I couldn't believe it! No way would this moderately famous person bother to read anything I posted. I decided to test her. I posted a tweet (grr) specifically wishing Ms. Hannigan a happy birthday and thanking her for following my Twitter. Low and behold, she responded on her own "twitscape" (Jon Stewart coined that one, and we're keeping it) with a message to me: "@[myusername], you're welcome!"
I share this story not just to lose your respect, but also to illustrate the strange and possibly transformative effect Twitter could have on how we communicate. The cool thing about Twitter is it does seem to do a better job of connecting people than Facebook. Sure, you can become a "fan" of Barack Obama on facebook and get his weekly youtube address in your e-mail. But Twitter allows for greater possibility of actual back and forth between the masses and public figures--be they Buffy
alums, journalists, or US Senators. It works because tweeting takes so little effort. You can read dozens of tweets in a minute, and respond in just a few seconds. Even public figures, who get flooded with tweets (@#$%) each day, can read and respond to many of them in the time it would take to compose a single e-mail.
But after two days, I'm finding this feature is also Twitter's greatest weakness. How much can anyone really say in 140 characters? Does it help me to know that Barbara Boxer is disgusted with the AIG bonuses, if she can't tell me why? Is there any possibility my conversations with Alyson Hannigan will ever be more than one-line deep? Striking a balance between convenience and usefulness is going to be Twitter's great challenge. If it manages find the right formula, it could prove a truly interesting realm of public speech. If not, it's likely to remain the domain of nerds stalking their television crushes.
One thing is certain: you're all going to join. Just give up.
UPDATE: Twitter either saved someone's life
or got a student expelled--possibly both, but probably just the latter. Still, it's one of those "Wow, internet!" stories. I love those.