By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
"I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man's being unable to sit still in a room."
-- Blaise Pascal
We are sitting in a restaurant, sipping wine and chatting, when my friend begins twittering.
Not in the usual way. Two women twittering turn no heads. Rather, she is "twittering" via her iPhone, typing out a message to subscribers who inhabit the quantum universe of blogs, URLs and spheres.
For those who still commune by glance and gesture, "to twitter" roughly means to express an abbreviated thought or observation in real time to a live, self-selecting audience of brain voyeurs. People who want to know your every cogitation and sign up for the privilege.
Shorter than a blog posting, a "tweet" consists of a concise sentence or two and essentially answers the question: What are you doing?
Often, the answer is not riveting, as in: "Getting ready for work." Other times, as in the recent election, twitterers have been put to constructive use, such as reporting possible poll shenanigans.
Under ideal circumstances, a tweet would offer something insightful -- or newsy, such as: "Rahm Emanuel just walked in."
As, in fact, he did the evening of my twit-initiation. Instantly, my friend's twitterees -- all 5,000 of them -- knew what she knew and were, for what it was worth, As Good As There.
In the Information Age: Knowing equals Being.
Twittering isn't entirely new, of course. The Facebook generation has been sort of twittering for years, posting prosaic bulletins about their whims and whereabouts, providing a glimpse of what the world would be like if hummingbirds could type:
"Jordan is busy busy!"
"Josh is driving to the mountains today."
"Kate is sooooooooo never drinking martinis again."
On Planet Facebook, nothing in one's life is not worth mentioning. To what end, one can only surmise. I am, therefore I am, therefore I am. But what are friends for, if not to feign interest in what's not the least bit interesting?
Serious twitter subscribers expect more than a mood update, I'm told, and presumably won't stick around long for less. Or will they? I recently created an account at Twitter.com. Nary a tweet have I posted thus far, yet already I have a dozen subscribers.
Who are they? How long will they wait? Why do they wait? Will they spurn me if I fail to twitter? Would a banter suffice? In the spirit of gamesmanship, herewith a tweet:
"James Dobson's letter-writing campaign to set me straight re God and GOP appears to be backfiring. Most e-mails from his Web site the past two days disagree with Dobson."
As my son would say, "Baaam!"
Truth be known, I confess to a certain, inexplicable calm. Gratification, if you will. Perhaps there is something to this twittering business.
One's every other thought couldn't be considered compelling, surely. But there may be merit to this yet-new thing. Wouldn't we be interested in, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's twitterings? Barack Obama's? Sarah Palin's?
Come to think of it, how long before we begin to expect, if not demand, that public officials twitter? Already, blogging is de rigueur for anyone seeking a wide audience or market share. Nearly every newspaper Web site now offers multiple, topic-specific blogs to which reporters, editors and columnists are expected to post.
The Obama campaign revolutionized political communication and fundraising. Fireside chats and radio addresses may nurture our nostalgia, but blogs and twitters feed our need for speed. They also give an impression of human contact without the muss and fuss of actual intimacy.
For serious twitterers, there is additionally a commercial aspect. Building one's base, so to speak, eventually leads to possible marketing opportunities. When one has a million subscribers to one's thoughts, one may have a salable asset. A penny for your thoughts potentially becomes legal tender.
What all this means in the long term is anyone's guess. How much information can a brain usefully process? What end is served by the random tweets of countless individuals? The impulse to be incessantly in touch can be viewed either as gregarious or as a sign of consuming anxiety. Twittering may be the opiate of the obsessively, compulsively disordered.
Who needs the couch, after all, when no thought is ever repressed?
Something to consider. Or, perchance, to tweet?