Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Debate Over the Debate Over Twitter

I sometimes think it would be nice if people stopped complaining. But then, upon further reflection, it occurs to me that if people stopped complaining, there would be very little to talk about. The opposable thumb. The ability to make use of tools. Complaining. These are the very essence of what makes human beings human. So, OK, complaining stays. But maybe some limitations on what people complain about. Here's a suggestion: how about if people tried to complain about only things that had some actual bearing on their lives?

One particular, recent hot button issue is Twitter. In case you haven't opened a newspaper or web browser in the past six months, Twitter is a website where people can post short messages that can then be followed by readers who have signed up to follow the writers. The messages - "tweets" - are usually of either the "does anyone know how to do some thing I want to do" variety, the "holy shit; I'm trapped in a burning building" variety, or, probably most commonly, the "I am considering scratching myself" / "what I ate for breakfast" variety.

A lot of people love Twitter and a lot of people hate Twitter. No big deal. A lot of people also love and hate collecting porcelain pony figurines. But while you can go for years - decades sometimes - without reading a single op-ed about porcelain pony figurine collecting, an incomprehensibly huge number of people seem to feel the need to write, voluminously and passionately, about why, and the extent to which, they love or hate Twitter (and just to be clear, I am not going to write here about why I love or hate Twitter, but rather about what I think about people writing about what they love or hate about Twitter).

I understand the natural tendency to want to blather and gush about the things you’re into. If you love something, you want to spread the word (see, e.g., why I love running). And I understand the equally powerful need to rant and huff about things you don't like that, for whatever reason, are a part of your life. Like mosquitoes. Or taxes. Or when the minimum wage-earning high school kid at Taco Bell gives you a chalupa, all slathered in guacamole, instead of the gordita, with guacamole on the side, that you ordered. When you’re confronted with something that bothers you, it feels good to get it off your chest.

But something about Twitter really hits a nerve. In editorials and newspaper columns, and just in talking to people, I have seen people get so worked up about Twitter you'd think they were talking about a new government plan to tax toilet paper or to require people to tattoo their infants. For some, the idea that someone would want to read about what someone else just had for breakfast is somehow deeply offensive and blisteringly infuriating. And while I understand completely why people need to rant about mosquitoes and taxes and messed up Taco Bell orders and the infinite variety of life’s other impositions, what confounds me is why people bother to spend the time and effort to rant about things they have the power to completely ignore.

The power to ignore is what makes Twitter different than mosquitoes and taxes and messed up Taco Bell orders. While there is almost no way of escaping these other irritants (short of staying in the house, living off the grid and renouncing fast food – obviously not tenable options for most of us), all you have to do in order to live the entire rest of your life without ever having to read one single tweet is to: NOT open your web browser and go to; NOT choose a unique user ID and twelve character password; NOT enter a bunch of personal information; NOT agree to the terms and conditions; NOT choose all of the fellow Twitterers whose posts you want to follow; and then NOT check back to the website every day to see what new updates have been posted. Not doing all of this is very, very easy. By way of demonstration, try closing your eyes and counting to three. See? Just like that, you have NOT enrolled in Twitter and will never, ever see a single tweet.

So, if Twitter can be completely shut off, and if no taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize it, and if no one is being bound and gagged and dragged from his home and forced to set up an account, then why all the fuss? There are only two ways I can fathom why you might feel like Twitter was imposing on you even if you have successfully NOT followed the enrollment steps described above.

First, maybe you feel like the reason your Taco Bell order got all screwed up in the first place, and the reason you are now back at your cubicle with a guacamole-soaked chalupa you don’t want, is that instead of giving your order the benefit of her undivided attention, the kid behind the counter at Taco Bell was busy Twittering her friends (perhaps about how lame it is to spend all day hawking chalupas to luddites). But Twitter, in this scenario, is an unfair bogeyman. Since the dawn of human commerce, customers at counters have been receiving sub-par service from underpaid employees on the other side of said counters because said employees were preoccupied with something else. 50 years ago, when guys wanted help buying, say, fedoras from the fedora counter, the fedora seller guys were probably reading the horse racing pages and talking to little kids about getting their 2 cent bets over to the bookies. 11 million years ago when Neanderthals were trying the exchange piles of rocks for ripped off hunks of antelope meat, the kids at the antelope meat cave (this was before counters were invented) were probably busy flirting with Neanderthal-ettes or trying to start fires. And, in the not too distant future, when Twitter has been long forgotten and when kids all have wifi connections hooked up directly to their brains, while it may be less obvious what exactly it is that the kid behind the counter is distracted by, rest assured that he will not be giving you his undivided attention.

The second way in which Twitter may affect people who do not read tweets is just having to hear incessantly about how much people love or hate Twitter. If this is what is getting people so upset, all I can say is that it’s the people who hate Twitter who started it.

So here is my two cents on the debate over the debate over Twitter. If you’re a big fan, then right on. Good for you. Tweet your days away to your heart’s content. Perhaps compose some tweets about the joy of Twittering. And if Twitter is not your bag, do not sign up for Twitter and do not spend any further time recounting to anyone the reasons you are not interested in Twitter. Go get interested in something else, and spend time on that. Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea to apply this concept to just about every other issue in the world. If someone else likes it, and if it’s no skin off your back, maybe just let it slide. I know I’m not the first person to come up with the live-and-let-live idea. Maybe it just needs to be reiterated. Maybe I’ll tweet about it.


Ben Szekely said...

Perhaps due to some feeling of left-outedness people who do not care to read Tweets and/or are uncomfortable sharing the asininities of their day with the world are trying to keep others from enjoying it to mitigate their insecurities about their own lack of twittering. I think you could make the same arguments about Facebook and maybe even key-parties.

Rich said...

That damn rock-n-roll music.

dfields said...

Begs the quetion: What is this whole "God" thing about anyway?