3.15.2009

Twitter: The New Smoking

Twitter drives me crazy. I'm not saying I'm not drawn to its infectious, somewhat addictive nature. But I realized recently that for me, Twitter is a lot like cigarette smoking, and social smoking in particular. I want to do it -- all my friends are doing it, and it looks rather cool. Everyone's talking about it -- it's all over the blogosphere and news, and it certainly seems like the "thing to do" of the moment. But when I actually sit down in the bar and light up a Twitter account, first of all, I find I don't actually enjoy its strange, abbreviated form of oversharing. Then I realize I'm surrounded by fumes and totally can't control which ones invade my consciousness -- it's pretty much all or nothing. And then even after I've left the bar, I can't get the smell out of my hair. If I had an addictive personality, I'd probably be coming back for more (luckily, I don't). Yup -- Twitter is the new smoking.

Anyone with a personal blog already understands the desire to share one's thoughts with the world. Individual reasons vary beyond that broad, overarching goal. I started this blog as a way to motivate myself to formulate my random thoughts into somewhat coherent written essays and vignettes. Over time, I realized it was a great way to keep in contact with long-distance friends and family. And now that I've moved on from EGM and 1UP, of course, it is a way to keep in touch with the community of gamers and friends I made along the way. A bonus is being able to share my thoughts and knowledge with people typing particular keywords into search engines. So, lots of good reasons, if I may say so.

Facebook enabled me to share my thoughts in a more automated manner with many of the same people. I call it "automated" because Facebook's format means you can be expressive without actually having to come up with a thesis, developing arguments, and a conclusion. You certainly don't need to be articulate, and even proper grammar and spelling is rather optional. Plus, what with superpokes, photo tagging, chain-letter notes, having the Bigger Brain or Word Challenge score, and the like, Facebook gives you words when you can't think up any of your own. And often, those means of communication end up being much more effective than a beautifully penned treatise. Sure, you could come right out and say, "Hey, we were good friends once, and I've thought about you a lot over the years. I'd love to reconnect and keep in touch, but don't expect to hear from me very often because obviously I have a pretty busy life. Still, that doesn't mean I don't care!" But that's so direct, emotionally honest -- even confrontational. It's much more humane to just invite your old friend to play Scrabble once in a while, occasionally noting in the chat how cute their kids are or how you've been stressed out at work lately. Better yet, you just challenge them to an '80s movie trivia quiz and remember fondly the slumber parties where you watched all those movies together. I appreciate Facebook for this ability to make connecting with friends less emotional, less articulate, less carefully thought-out, and it's been a damn near miracle how it's reconnected me with people I thought were totally gone from my life for good.

And then there's Twitter. To me, Twitter is like a double-derivative. You take the derivative of blogging and you get Facebook. Then you take the derivative of Facebook and you get Twitter. It's all that oversharing boiled down again and again to its most addictive, infectious essence. I've noticed this among my circle of friends. You had the early smokers -- the ones who got right into Twitter and really enjoyed the up-to-the-minute newsiness of it. Then, just the way so many otherwise healthy-living, conscientious folks will smoke cigarettes socially, Twitter started to ensnare friend after friend into its weird, stream-of-consciousness blabbing. The difference for me between Twitter and Facebook or a blog is that I often care what people write in those other two forums. I really like reading people's blogs, because they often have some thought and care put into them. And Facebook is a nice way of recounting the overall ups and downs of ordinary life. But Twitter gives people a little too much freedom in recounting a few too many ups and downs. Like, bodily functions, people? Really? It's also taken the questionable grammar practices of 1337speak and Facebook and put them front and center, to the point where it seems people are almost trying as hard as they can to write 140 characters of broken English. And it's made this whole @soandso format seem like an almost normal way of referring to your friends. Like, "Yeah, what'd you do this weekend? Oh I changed @Alex's diaper and did @Nick's laundry. Went out to breakfast with @Grandparents and then took @Fido for a walk."

It drives me crazy. Obviously, Twitter is not going away, and luckily, it's a hell of a lot healthier than smoking. But it's also lucky I don't have an addictive personality, and though I do give my occasional update on Twitter, I think for now I'll stick with my other two primary avenues for oversharing.