The New York Times reports that the Internet is making us stupid. Perhaps that is so. It certainly has undermined my productivity, and I am taking steps today to right that.
About two months ago, I finally succumbed and opened a Twitter account. I wanted to see what all the fuss was. When I first heard of Twitter, I learned that each message must be 140 characters or less. That seemed to me beyond brief. What could a verbal ejaculation accomplish other than a cheap sense of release?
But I succumbed. I always succumb when it comes to quick gratification. I am as a lazy as the laziest man alive, and I know it.
So I have twitted now. I follow folks. I have followers. I get a steady stream of information on topics ranging from books to gardening to the law and to politics. But I also fritter away time with sniping and attempts at wit that almost invariably fail or are misunderstood.
Yesterday I engaged a good fried, via Twitter, in a long debate about whether cyberbullying was worthy of any response at all. His volley? A healthy ego and decent self-regard ought to make the comments of others irrelevant. My response? Reputation matters for those who seek to make a living selling their services to members of the public at large. Back and forth we went in brief ejaculations. I was starting to get testy. It seemed to me I could not get my point across. My friend seemed to grow testy as well.
Our debate was really no debate at all. In the end, I think we concluded that both of us were right. Hostile comments do not undermine healthy self-regard. But reputations do matter in a community. We were both right. As is so often the case in an argument, nuance governed. Twitter and nuance are often unaligned.
This conversation could have taken five minutes on the phone. Instead, it took, perhaps, half an hour on line. And we had the bad taste to torture those who follow us by debating the issue in public. Shame on both of us.
If the Internet lowers the barrier between the written word and impulse, Twitter eliminates that barrier altogether. The only thing better than Twitter would be some hard-wired translation device sitting atop the barrier between the Id and Ego, flashing whatever passes through the filmy barrier separating conscious control from unconscious impulse. On your mark, get set, rage!
Years ago I learned a painful lesson on so-called listserves. I loved instantaneous communication with friends and colleagues sharing interests. But I also wasted valuable time engaging in debates that lacked substance and were often little more than posturing, at least on my part. I am verbally competitive, and I cannot resist a war of words. But how often did I fight about nothing at all? What's worse, how often did I pick fights or seek disagreement merely because I could? It has been years now since I darkened the door of any listservice. I am a verbal assoholic, and I know better now than to make that first link. Watching others stumble through the electronic door is only so entertaining.
I fear I am stumbling down the same sinkhole on Twitter. It is a sinkhole that can expand and encompass even a blogger's desire to express himself and be heard. So I read the article in the Times this morning with a grim sense of recognition. I need limits. I need to avoid the too-easy thrill of instantaneous feedback and the electronic contact with the world at large. I have already done so by limiting email communication during the day.
The world has changed in the past few decades. Electronic communication is here to stay. But the 24/7 rush of it all threatens to overtake my easily overcome boundaries. Hence a new resolution: to stay away from the maddening electronic crowd during the work day. Somehow, that resolves seems like a challenge.