I tweet, therefore I am a chirpy little cog in the massive culturally phenomenal mechanism known as social media.
Who could have predicted that something with a name reminiscent of a yellow chubby-cheeked Warner Bros. cartoon canary would swell into the virtual connective tissue of society with the potential to unite all living beings -- humans, mostly, and maybe the occasional canary, if he can get Wi-Fi in his cage.
Somewhere in the back of my mind is a dim memory of the first time I heard of Twitter, back in the mid-aughts, when many of us still referred to it as "the Twitter." One of our former Oakland Tribune news interns had somehow gotten himself thrown in an Egyptian prison, but he still had his cellphone and managed to send out a single tweet about his plight, alerting friends to contact the appropriate lawyers and/or authorities and/or Dennis Rodman to help get him out.
I recall wondering, "What's a tweet? Who would have received it? What kind of slacker prison guards would let this troublemaking American keep his cellphone instead of strip searching him to the bone?" At the time, Twitter seemed surely a passing trend, in the style of Jell-O Pudding Pops or people going on Snuggie pub crawls.
Yet it grew. And now such a lone tweet as our intern's innocent plea would probably get lost in the avalanche of posts about eating a turkey sandwich or hating Seth MacFarlane or the dozens of messages every day from William Shatner. (I had. Expected. Shatner's posts. To be. All. Like. This. Instead, they're usually segments of a direct conversation with a specific follower, which, of course, goes to all his upward of 1.3 million followers, so the rest of us have no idea what he's talking about, and I want to say, "Damn it, Jim! I'm a tweeter, not a mind reader!" which I could tweet to him directly, but then he'd tweet back a response, and the rest of you would have no idea what he's talking about, and you'd want to say, "Damn it, Jim! I'm a tweeter, not a mind reader!" which you could tweet to him directly, but. ...)
Like many cultural phenomena, tweeting is useful and stupid all at the same time. Or, as I like to say, usepid. Posts warning about a gunman on a high school campus are helpful (if true). But trust me, people, the world does not care if you are currently at a Chipotle. And if you cram any more #'s and @'s in there thinking it makes you look cool, your post just ends up resembling expletives in a comic strip thought bubble.
In fact, while many businesses and news agencies look to Twitter as a gauge of public sentiment, a study from the Pew Research Center released last week suggests the comments are not representative of the general population, as monitored in national polls and surveys. The study notes that, "Often it is the overall negativity that stands out" on Twitter. So just because there are posts mocking James Franco's alleged star quality, it doesn't mean the rest of the non-tweeting world agrees. (OK, I posted the Franco thing, but you can still like him if you want.)
Were it up to me, I would probably not participate in this phenomenon, but we're supposed to do it for work -- to tweet out links to our stories and develop an online presence so more readers will go to our website. I can understand that. It's the way of the world. So, yes, I have an account, and, as of today, I have 269 followers (thank you, followers!). But so far, I have only tweeted 45 times ever. Rounding up, that's about ï»¿17/100 of a tweet per follower. So I need to improve my stats so folks don't feel they've clicked my follow box in vain.
Unlike many of my tweet-savvy co-workers, though, I'm not very good at coming up with short, pithy or useful remarks. As evidenced in this column, I am barely able to confine a sentence to half a page of text before I accidentally approach anything resembling pith country, so it's no surprise keeping to 140 characters is a stretch. Plus, if I do miraculously come up with a clever line, I want to save it for an opportune moment, perhaps at a swanky dinner party with friends when discussing world events or Michelle Obama's bangs, so that when I say my line -- out loud, in the real world -- then I will have the instant gratification of watching everyone's eyes widen in awe. You can't see awe on Twitter.
Pardon me while I go tweet out this very @#^$% usepid story.