LB: Live! From Paradise #220 – “Welcome Twitters”

(Image from the intro to this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

The Twitter revolution is here. A tidal wave of short, stark messages is cascading over the Internet, and for many web surfers it’s become a matter of shooting the curl or drowning.

For those who have been doing silly things like reading books or going to concerts and movies or even watching TV and listening to the radio instead of getting their heads irradiated by sitting 18 inches from their computer monitors day in and day out, Twitter is a website where folks can join up and both send and receive short messages to and from their friends…and about a bazillion other people as well.

And when I say short, I mean it. The longest any message can be is 140 characters. That means 140 letters, spaces, and punctuation marks. AKA one or two very short sentences. (And I thought Sesame Street was destroying our attention spans!)

Twitter messages (which for some metaphorical purpose far beyond my ability to understand are called “tweets”) fall into two main categories.

The first category is what can best be described as “The Personal Report.” As in:

“(yawn) Long day of work draws to a close. Happy half hour spent watching Powerpuff Girls before collapsing. 🙂 Night, all!” by a Twitterer called dduane.

The second category is anything but personal. It’s “Salesmanship 101.” As in:

“Webcast your brain surgery? Hospitals see marketing tool…” by well-known Twitterer GuyKawasaki.

I admit to having a Twitter account of my own, and to being fascinated by the haiku-like possibilities of the Tweet. How else can I explain this message I sent a while ago?

“People keep telling us we’re not here. But we know we are. Existential crisis imminent?”

All in all, this short form is fun. It enables me to communicate with people quickly, without having to agonize over every noun, verb, and, especially, adjective. And it enables others to communicate with me in the same easy cavalier way.

But no matter how hard I try to be cutting edge, I’m still hardly the King of Tomorrow. Because what I enjoy receiving most are messages that are about something. And because they’re about something they bring me into the writers’ lives in a way no usual Tweet can.

Messages like this one, from reader Rob O’Hannon:

“My wife and I have a 1995 Saturn…that we both love…230,000 miles, and still a good kick to it…

“Today my mechanic gave me the bad news. The front supports are…rotted out… To repair the damage would probably cost more than the car’s worth. And so, by the end of the month, we need to say goodbye…

“I remember blizzard days when I took the long way home instead of facing the insanity storms bring to highway drivers. Riding down back roads, up and over ice-covered hills, bopping along to the tape deck, she never let me down. We were road warriors together; I could feel through her, and she responded to my needs.

“…She was never the prettiest car in the world. She’s needed some minor, and not so minor, repairs here and there. But I always felt safe in her. And I always knew that when the chips were down, we’d both make it home.

“I’m going to miss that come next winter.”

And this, from fellow Arkansan D.C. Rowlett:

“Out at Possum Trot when I was a boy it was a sure sign of rain when the road grader ran. No matter if there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, if that road grader ran it would rain within a few hours.

“During cotton…picking season I almost worshiped that road grader. When I saw the black diesel smoke and heard the roar of the engine I knew without a doubt I was gonna get a day or so off from the back breaking labor…

“Here on the Ponderosa that magic is still alive, only these days it is not the road grader, nosirree. It is the garden tiller that has the power to summon the rain.

“…Each time I fire up the…tiller we get a gully washer and a toad strangler. Yesterday I fired up the big tiller—oh why didn’t I just use the hoe and little garden weasel thingy?

“Sorry, folks, but I used the…tiller and it is gonna be raining awhile!”

Okay, so neither of these two messages is in the same class as Oprah Winfrey’s first Tweet:

“HI TWITTERS. THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY.”

But, just between us, man, am I glad.