Posted by: Lauren--NY | July 16, 2009

Why Twitter is Not Destroying Your Life

“People thought ‘Beavis & Butthead’ were the end of civilization. Now they seem tame compared to ‘Bret Michaels’s Rock of Love.’ I watched that show for two minutes and I got crabs.” ~Craig Ferguson

Sorry for the long wait, folks. Life intervenes. 🙂

In the short yet incredibly pervasive life of Twitter.com, opinions of the site and its relevance to our culture have been pretty enthusiastic on both sides, without much of a middle ground. Some have hailed it as having more cultural importance and more efficiency than broadcast journalism, and some react with abject horror at the very mention of the website that is destroying the Western world as we know it.

Now…everybody calm down for a second. Twitter may be powerful, as is most obviously illustrated by the incredible ability of whoever the hell is running that thing to constantly duck the Iranian authorities during the aftermath of their “election,” and allowing protesters and freelance journalists alike to exchange information with the outside world. That said, it probably is not going to surpass the outreach of broadcast news any time soon, and conversely, it is certainly not responsible for the downfall of humanity. Ironically, the blogosphere represents the pantheon of Twitter haters, people who cannot believe that any intelligent person would ever use this website, and how it represents the dumbing down of the West, and nobody cares what you ate for lunch, and general tearing and rending of garments.

Of course, this has happened before. It happens every twenty or thirty years or so. This time, however, we’ve broken the pattern. See, we as human beings tend to have essentially the same conversations and basic questions and exchanges of information as the generations that preceded us—from “will there ever be peace on Earth?” to “is there a God?” to “I love you,” to “my God is better than your God, therefore I hate you,” to “life is absurd and hilarious and beautiful, therefore I love you,”—you get the idea. It’s old news by now, or at least it should be. The thing that trips us up is that the lens through which we view and exchange this same information, and the speed at which we view and exchange this same information, keeps changing. The last major change—before the Internet as a whole, that is—was probably that big, scary, blinking picture box in the living room. The one that was going to kill the film industry and eliminate human emotion and traumatize the children and turn them into turnips.

Of course, none of this ever happened, and the Baby Boomers knew it wasn’t going to happen. This didn’t stop the Silvers, a.k.a. the Greatest Generation, from being terrified that television was the worst thing that ever happened to humanity, and when that turned out to be false, from transferring that same fear to the personal computer, along with some of the older Boomers. I knew someone in high school whose grandmother was convinced that their home computer had a secret button somewhere that would alert the Russians to come bomb the crap out of us because we were all on the dadgum ‘puter and wouldn’t be paying attention. No, I am not making that up. Of course, that never happened, either. Despite this fact, the fear remained for a lot of people—ironically again, many of these people love television. Television is a brilliant invention. There is an intimacy and a trust that is innately formed when people like Walter Cronkite and Peter Jennings and Anderson Cooper come into your home, and tell you, “Look, I know this is scary. I’m scared, too, and sad. But we’re strong people; we have been through worse, and you have journalists looking out for you and telling you what the deal is and holding people accountable, and this too shall pass.” Do I sound sappy? Sentimental? Deeply attached to my fellow man? Good. I am. And so is the rest of my generation. People may claim that we’re all running around glued to our Blackberrys and have lost all ability to make true connections with one another. There is a grain of truth to this, but anybody who was in New York during the aftermath of 9/11 knows it isn’t really true. Anybody watching the protests for same-sex marriage and the vigils trying to bring Laura Ling and Euna Lee home knows it isn’t really true. Anybody paying attention to the extraordinary emotion all around the world surrounding the inauguration of President Barack Obama knows that for Generation XYZ, it sure as hell isn’t true.

The reason I said that this pattern has been broken by Twitter is because of the ages of the people doing the complaining. If we were following the pattern we’ve been repeating since time immemorial, then we should expect the Baby Boomers to be having a heart attack about Twitter and how it’s the end of the world, and won’t someone think of the children. Bizarrely, it’s not them, at least not dominantly. Many Boomers, particularly stay-at-home mothers who run online businesses, have realized that Twitter is a much more effective way of building traffic to your sites and links than Facebook or any other social media website could ever hope to be. That’s certainly been my experience. Surprisingly enough, it seems to be largely Generation XYZ-ers who are panicking about Twitter and how it’s ruining the web, and how they don’t want people “tracking their every move,” as if Twitter (likely powered by the Russians) crawls inside your brain and extracts your innermost secrets.

Going back to the pattern…the television industry is also loaded with crap, and false prophets. While television has presented us with wonderful entertainment and up-to-the-minute news, it has also provided us with a lot of shameless vulgarity and ugliness—after all, you can’t really put Flava Flav and Charlie Rose in the same category; can you (please say no)? However, so has the print media that came before it (Rupert Murdoch, are your ears ringing?). Those of us who live in the West have the freedom to pick and choose which television stations we watch, which newspapers we buy and which websites we visit just as we choose our places of worship, and it amazes me that people don’t realize that Twitter offers the exact same options.

Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar (who now tweets, by the way), two people who produce five hours of live television per week that basically consists of them giving us their opinions, have called people who do the exact same thing using Twitter “egotistical”—on national television. It’s enough to make you think you fell down the rabbit hole. In reality, you don’t have to follow your boring neighbor who tweets about his ham sandwiches any more than you have to watch “Denise Richards: It’s Complicated” (please don’t) nor read The New York Post (seriously, please don’t do that). And people aren’t “tracking your every move” through Twitter any more than the Russians are spying on you through your television set, because you alone decide what you post. If you don’t want me to know you’re having some sort of intimate moment with your inflatable friend, don’t tweet about it. The freedom is yours, folks. Yet for some reason, people refuse to realize this, and prefer to gripe. And one thing is definitely changing—they’re griping younger and younger.

Agree? Follow me on Twitter @TheGrottoTweets. 😉

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The Grotto Blog by Lauren E. Moccio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.lauriebethsgrotto.com.

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