Surrender, Dorothy!” — the Wicked Witch in ‘The Wizard of Oz’
“You can’t win, Rock!” — Mickey in ‘Rocky III’
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“Resistance is futile!” — The Borg in ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’
That’s kind of how I feel right now, except that, unlike Dorothy, Rocky Balboa and Captain Picard, I’m throwing in the towel. Four years ago I made a vow. Now I’m here to break it.
“Today,” I wrote in 2009, “I make you a solemn promise: I will never Twitter you. Or is it tweet? I’m never sure.”
Four years later, I’ve resolved my noun/verb confusion. And I just tweeted you for the first time.
Some of you will wonder how this could be. You’ve been following me for years, you say.
Actually, you haven’t. You’ve been following somebody who’s been using my name (or, for all I know, using his own name) but you haven’t been following me. That hasn’t been possible til right now:
just opened for business.
There is, I suppose, some consoling satisfaction to be found in the fact that I’ve kept this promise for four years, kept it through the non-stop eye rolling of my Twitter-happy youngest son, the relentless grilling of a roomful of college students struggling to comprehend why anyone would chose a life of such deprivation, and the aggravation of an editor who asked me to tweet real time reactions to a political convention — only to be told I could not.
I am not a Luddite (he said somewhat defensively). I know a Luddite when I see one. My cousin (Fred Flintstone I call him) was still using a rotary dial phone last I checked and has yet to send an email. He’s younger than I. That’s a Luddite.
I, by contrast, have an iPad, eBooks, digital music and a cloud computing account. I am not a Luddite.
But what I am is a guy who thinks we as a society too often buy too uncritically into the idea of technology as salvation. New is not necessarily improved and having more ways to say a thing only equals more ways to create noise pollution if you have nothing to say.
Four years ago you have to remember, Twitter was primarily the domain of people narrating the minutiae of their lives in real time. In the 2009 column, I made fun of Roland Martin (then of CNN) tweeting that he was stuck on an airplane and NBC’s Ann Curry tweeting that her feet were cold.
Ask yourself: would anyone have cared about such ephemera if Martin had shared it by phone or Curry had sent a letter? No. Because the message did not matter; the medium did.
Four years later, Twitter is no longer quite so trivial. Four years later, it is a valuable tool of opinion and information sharing. Four years later, a colleague asks for my Twitter handle in a tone that takes for granted that I have one. What was a novelty is now a utility.
So fine, here I am, tweeting. I shared this news with my 22-year old daughter, another Twitter holdout.
“Sellout,” she said.
Sellout though I may be, I remain skeptical of the idea that tech is its own reward. I still think the ubiquity of social media has impacts upon privacy, attention span, intelligence and interpersonal relationships we have barely begun to address, much less quantify. And I continue to think life is too short to be spending any part of it being informed about the state of Ann Curry’s feet.
You will not be surprised to learn that yours truly was also the last person in America to get a cellphone. In defending that choice 16 years ago, I wrote that what was being lost was the ability to be out of touch. I waxed rhapsodic about “moments unaccounted, time spent beyond responsibility’s reach.”
And yes, 16 years later, I am as wedded to my cell as the next guy. Novelties become utilities. I get that.
But even so, I was right about cellphones. And you know something? I’m right about this, too.