March 4, 2009 in Opinion

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Tweets fail need-to-know test

Leonard Pitts Jr.
 

Today, I make you a solemn promise: I will never Twitter you. Or is it tweet? I’m never sure.

And here, let me pause to help the technologically illiterate catch up. One uses Twitter to send tweets (no, I am NOT making that up!), i.e., electronic notes, to one’s online friends, family and other subscribers. A tweet, which is limited to 140 characters (i.e., shorter than this very sentence), is supposed to bring interested parties up to date on what you are doing, seeing, thinking, in that exact moment.

When I first heard of this latest advance (?) in interpersonal communication, I pegged it as a fad that would be big among high school and college students – i.e., young people, who frequently have the attention span of a squirrel on cocaine. Last week’s presidential speech to a joint session of Congress shows how wrong I was. It turns out that, as the leader of the free world was addressing them on matters of urgent national importance, some of our elected representatives were hunched over their handheld devices madly tweeting, like fifth-graders passing notes in the back of the class.

For instance, the Washington Post reported that Republican Rep. Robert Wittman, tweeted the following urgent observation: “I am sitting behind Sens Graham and McCain.” “Place is on fire,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican from Montana.

Which is not to imply that only pols have gone Twitter mad. CNN’s Roland Martin is stuck at an airport in Chicago, trying to get to snowbound New York City even as I write this: “No flights allowed in,” he tweets. “I was on plane in Chicago, we pulled out, got word, now back at gate.”

NBC’s Ann Curry, meantime, is in New York enjoying the snow: “All stars are not the proper shoes for NYC today. But seeing this dark city frosted in white is worth my cold toes.”

And you and I need to know this because …?

No, you are not being forced to look. But if you choose to, please reflect on the fact that life is short and you just spent some irretrievable fraction of yours learning that Roland Martin’s flight is delayed and Ann Curry’s feet are cold.

In the ’90s, you often heard people complain of how memoir writers and afternoon talk shows had turned our public spaces into a communal confessional, intimate secrets once necessary for whispering now shouted into the ether like an order at a fast-food joint. Ten years later, we are not just sharing secrets; we are sharing lives. And not the good parts, either, but the banal, the mundane, the everyday.

I’m darned if I can see the fascination. I mean, I’m not surprised that technology allows this. But I am surprised that people – by the thousands – buy in to it.

Take it as one more example of the medium becoming its own message. After all, every new advance in communications from telegraphs to Twitter has been sold as a means of perfecting human relationships, allowing us to interact more easily, understand one another more readily. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Indeed, you have to wonder if, as communication becomes ever easier, we have not gone in the opposite direction, crossing the point of diminishing returns as we did. More people have more ways to reach more people than at any point in history. But it turns out – read a message board or an unsolicited e-mail, if you don’t believe me – many of us don’t have a whole lot to say. Unless, that is, you find some socially redeeming value in banality, cruelty and crudity, which have become ubiquitous.

You have to wonder what that says about us.

Now here is Twitter, which encourages you to narrate your life in real time as opposed to, well … living it. I’m sorry, but include me out.

I will never Twitter you.

In the first place, you have better things to do. In the second, I am not that interesting.

No one is.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His e-mail address is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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