I caved. Like an over-dipped rusk or a beer can in the fist of a furious man, I crumpled and gave in. Sadly, I can no longer look down on other people, because I, too, have joined Twitter.
I’ve been waging a silent (and probably quite useless) war with Twitter since I found out about the site during Obama’s election campaign. My strategy? To ignore it completely, make an oath with a friend that I would never become a Twitterer, and smirk ruthlessly at the friends susceptible enough to sign up to the 140-character driven social networking site. I even wrote an article about it, and have been resolutely turning my nose up the concept of tweeting, as if I was taking the moral high ground when it came to the net.
Now, however, I am tweeting. Just writing that sentence makes me feel sad. It feels like I’ve reduced my communication skills to chirping noises, and in a way, I have. All Twitter lets you communicate with is 140 characters – not 140 words, people, 140 characters. I’ve always compared a tweet to a Facebook status update, but at least Facebook gives you 420 characters before it cuts you off. I agreed with Steven Johnson in his article ‘How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live’ when he wrote, “I had met Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-creator, a couple of times in the dotcom ’90s when he was launching Blogger.com. Back then, what people worried about was the threat that blogging posed to our attention span… With Twitter, Williams was launching a communications platform that limited you to a couple of sentences at most. What was next? Software that lets you send a single punctuation mark to describe your mood?”
Ironic to write this in a blog, I know, considering the quote above, but one of my worries about Twitter is that it feeds society’s penchant for short attention spans. But Johnson tells me that tweeting leads to more than a bunch of narcissistic twits lazily communicating on the net (excuse the lame but unavoidable pun please). In discussing a conference he went to in which tweeting was integrated into the talks, Johnson writes: “Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.”
It feels like technology is allowing us to step further and further away from each other while still keeping in touch. Face-to-face communication and even letter writing have been replaced by the cold blue light of the computer screen. Smses indicate one level of separation from one another, and Facebook introduced another one. Now Twitter has enabled us to stay in touch (barely) with even less effort.
I’m closer to a lot more people now (including complete strangers – I even have three following me on Twitter. Unless they mistook me for the other Samantha Steele? She has a clothing optional career. But more on that another time) and further away from the people that really matter to me. I’ll chat with friends on instant messaging sites like Gmail or MSN, but rarely will we have proper conversations about the important things in their life. I’ll glean the superficial from our chats, but not important information that requires a coffee and maybe a tissue.
On the plus side, I’m following Barack Obama now! His mini 140-character biography states simply that he is the “44th President of the United States”. I can just imagine him fist pumping the air after his inauguration when he clicked the ‘edit’ button on his Twitter profile.
You can find me on Twitter under the name ‘steelesm’. Of course ‘samsteele’ was taken (there are a gazillion of us out there). A friend (well, she calls herself my friend) suggested I become ‘sampiesteele’. I snorted and typed in ‘samsteelio’ instead, which was also available. However, my sensible side came to the fore and typed in the more demure and publicly acceptable steelesm (my surname and initials). I’m not going to suggest you follow me (after all, I do officially Disapprove) but feel free to “join the conversation”, as Twitter urges. If you’re going to cave, why do it alone?