THE GADFLY: I Won't Tweet, Don't Ask Me

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8533/1243284362-gadfly2.jpgCall me an old fogie, a troglodyte, stuck in the mud or any other term you care to use to describe my resistance to the ever-increasing impingement of technology on our daily lives, but I still won't succumb to the most recent incarnation of communication known, euphemistically, as social networking. I won't “tweet” on Twitter, link to LinkedIn, show my face on Facebook, or share my space with MySpace, and I'll give you fair warning: don't try to make me. I don't have, and don't want, 200 friends. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the handful I already have.

As it is, I do everything in my power to avoid unwanted contact with the outside world. What can I say: I'm a big believer in privacy, something which, in the era of government eavesdropping and multi-million name databases, is all but gone. I have an unpublished phone number (the only effective way to avoid bill collectors, stockbrokers, and the occasional nostalgic ex-girlfriend), and an e-mail address that's guarded by so many layers of spam protection it sometimes blocks the messages I actually want to receive.

I assume that most of my friends would, as they should, be just as uninterested in the minutiae of my mundane daily life as I am in theirs. So, why, for heaven's sake, would I subscribe to a service that would enable me, as was reported of one recent “tweet,” to hear from a friend while she was undergoing her gynecological examination? I certainly wouldn't pain her with the details of my prostate exam (not that I could do it from that position even if I wanted to). Some experiences, I assure you, are not meant to be shared.

And, if you think broadcasting while your nether regions are being palpated is weird, then how about broadcasting those nether regions themselves. Yes, according to an article in the New York Times, one of our local hospitals, right here in River City, is actually “tweeting” (via YouTube) brain operations.

And why are they doing that? Why, for marketing purposes, of course. They're not getting enough of our overstretched healthcare dollar, apparently, and billboards stopped being graphic enough to gin up a sufficient amount of the cash cow neurosurgery business. What next: breast augmentations (bigger “tweets,” perhaps) and vasectomies? Please, if these procedures are already on YouTube, I don't want to know about it.

The lie these sites propagate is that, by using them, you are somehow promoting communication, keeping in touch, not being a stranger, etc. The phone company used to have a promotion that encouraged subscribers to “reach out and touch someone.” Well, in the age when the most innocuous or best-intended of comments can find you on the wrong end of a sexual harassment complaint, that may not be such a good idea anymore.

But, more importantly, as we increasingly substitute electronic communication for live, in-person, face-to-face (or telephonic—-remember that quaint technology) conversation, we also increasingly promote a kind of remoteness and disconnectedness that can give rise to many misunderstandings. Who among us hasn't had the experience of having an e-mail message badly misunderstood simply because we could not, instantaneously, prevent the message's unintended interpretation?

If I want you to reach me, I'll give you my phone number, or my triple-Spam-protected e-mail address, and I assume, if you feel the same way, you'll reciprocate that privilege. And, in so doing, we'll gladly forego the ability to use those methods to communicate 24/7, as the social networking sites promote. Who needs to communicate 24/7, anyway?

And if you want me to know who your friends are, what music you like to hear, or food you like to eat, I assume you'll invite me to a party (the original, and still best, form of social networking) where I can meet those friends, listen to some of your favorite music and eat some of your favorite food.

What started out as a mechanism to increase our intimacy has, instead, resulted in increasing our detachment. It's no accident that the dictionary definition for the term used for a Twitter communication, the “tweet,” is “a weak chirping sound.” See, even the dictionary knows what, apparently, the technology-addicted don't: tweeting is a weak substitute for meaningful communication.

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