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The Twittering of Time

May 22, 2009
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Daniel Hauser

Can you picture this on your computer or cellphone? “The United States Government is following you on Twitter. You reached 48 miles per hour today on a 40-mile-per-hour road. You owe $150 which you can pay at www.ustreasury.gov. And don’t forget the Hershey’s KitKat bar you just snuck past the remote camera. That’s 80 calories over your lunch snack allowance which will cost another $60, payable to us. And we still show you are overdue for your swine flu virus shot and your tetanus shot. You have 10 days to comply. Have a nice day.”

 

I just got my third notice that someone is “following me on Twitter.” I didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up on the advice of a friend who wrote that I could follow his comedy club schedule and his meetings with “comics and celebrities.”

            I was curious about being the voyeur but I don’t think I like being followed. I still haven’t tweeted yet.

            The only twitter I ever heard about was Conway until this new form of internet time-wasting became well known. The definitions of the word, “twitter,” are to “utter a succession of small, tremulous sounds, as a bird,” to “talk lightly and rapidly, esp. of trivial matters; chatter,” to “titter; giggle,” and to “tremble with excitement or the like; be in a flutter.”

            It seems to me that the name is accurate. Twitter is limited to 140 characters of fluttering, chattering, giggling triviality. If I downloaded the TwitterBerry for my BlackBerry, I could let you know when I ate my lunch, took a nap, went to the bathroom, or answered an email. I know you must be trembling with excitement at the prospect of knowing every trivial detail about my life, but this is what the world has come to.

            Because Oprah tweeted “FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY” and other celebrities tweet to feel watched and goo-goo’d at, the rest of the chattering classes follow. A woman tweeted, “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weight the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” And even the mammoth and influential General Electric began its own “Tweet Squad” site this month. (“Managing the Tweets,” Business Week, June 1, 2009) It’s enough to make you turn back nostalgically to the time when a simple email was fast and exciting. Now, the young would call basic email “snail mail.”

            Everything’s an overwhelming, hyperkinetic race. It’s not enough to be overwhelmed by the succession of Chrysler bankrolled by the U.S. government going Chapter 11 and GM pushed the same direction with another $30 billion of taxpayer money. It’s not enough to hear Bill Gross from PIMCO say that the United States will probably lose its AAA credit rating or that AIG’s government installed CEO, Ed Liddy, will step down. (I guess the $1 per year salary is too much for what he’s done.)

            The amount of news and information comes fast and furiously. Who has time to be nervous about the astronomical debt the U.S. is accumulating or the way the government keeps pushing into business and health care and our private lives. Is freedom a thing of the past? Is Communist China copying us or are we copying them? When a court can force a mother to give her child another round of vomiting-inducing chemotherapy because it’s the most doctor-accepted way to save him, I know that we have finally reached the status of China.

Well, that didn’t take long, did it? Daniel Hauser, who has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and his mother are on the run from the “authorities” because they are terrified of getting more of the violent side effects from more rounds of chemo and want to find something less toxic to try. Anyone who thinks that someone should be forced to take chemo obviously has no idea what chemo does. Even though chemo can often save a young child’s life, it usually has devastating and debilitating side effects, such as renal failure. (“Don’t judge the chemo kid,” Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. www.salon.com.)

            Now, the United States is helping to run General Motors, the courts dictate medical treatment for a child, American taxpayers pay the bills for the largest insurance company, and cars will be forced to get better mileage no matter how many more deaths by car accidents are caused. You would think there would be nothing but furious chatter about what’s going on, but what is everybody focused on? Twitter, Facebook, celebrity watches and all sorts of other mindless ways to escape.

            Can you picture this on your computer or cellphone? “The United States Government is watching you on Twitter. You reached 48 miles per hour today on a 40-mile-per-hour road. You owe $150 which you can pay at www.ustreasury.gov. And don’t forget the Hershey’s KitKat bar you just snuck past the remote camera. That’s 80 calories over your lunch snack allowance. Another $60, payable to us. And we still show you are overdue for your swine flu virus shot and your tetanus shot. You have 10 days to comply. Have a nice day.”

            It’s enough to make me, the modern electronically challenged American, become an orthodox Jew. Then, I can plead religious autonomy and skip all the useless vaccines mandated by the government. I can turn off my cell phone and electronic gadgets and focus on reading and praying on Saturday. I can leave all electronic messages out of my life and reach inside myself and let the world go.

As Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” On this first night of the Sabbath, I should stop chattering and end this writing and pay no more attention to all this useless information.

I can leave all the trivial chatter behind and go outside and focus instead on the twittering of birds. Like listening to a lovely Hebrew melody sung by a cantor or an Italian song by Andrea Bocelli, I can close my eyes and just listen.

I will twitter the time away, understanding no words except the timeless magic of the music of birds. This is the way twittering was meant to be.

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