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Alex Beam

Twittering with excitement? Hardly.

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / August 16, 2008
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You have heard about Twitter. Maybe. It's something other people do, mainly younger people. You subscribe to the service, then you can post little messages on people's cellphones, or on their instant message accounts. About nothing.

"Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?"

That's the website's explanation. Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters, which is very few. Even Twitter.com can't explain its purpose in fewer than 154 characters.

This column is written entirely in twitter-length bursts. Isn't that special?

Who really cares what I am doing, every hour of the day? Even I don't care, and I certainly don't have the energy to thumb-type little inanities on my cellphone, like these:

I took my son to the Registry to get his learner's permit. We were in and out in 20 minutes. The staff was extremely helpful. You think I'm goofing you. But I'm not.

Or: We washed our dog with Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap yesterday. You know, the stuff the Old Left brushes their teeth with. Why? Good question.

Or: I was watching the graphically enhanced Olympics at lunchtime, and wondered: Who airbrushed out all the smog? Can we have a country like that? Let's delete . . . Queens.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Epictetus, pretty apropos: "Remember that the contest is now, the Olympic Games are now, and you cannot put things off any more."

It's more like the Olympic Games were then, right? Most of the events you are watching took place already, on the other side of the international date line.

Maybe the Olympics are "happening" in the Matrix, or on a Hollywood soundstage, like the moon landing. Maybe Michael Phelps is actually vacationing with Obama in Hawaii.

So, who twitters? You'd be surprised. The State Department twitters. Governor Schwarzenegger twitters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon twitters. NASA's Mars Phoenix lander twitters:

"MarsPhoenix: Never a dull day here @madrobby ! Completed 1st bake of Rosy Red 3 and now I'll ratchet up the temps. Also, delivered soil to the microscope."

Elsewhere in the universe, the state of Rhode Island twitters:

"Bureau Of Audits Establishes Anonymous Hotline To Report Fraud, Waste, And Abuse At RI Resource Recovery Cor. . ."

Oops. I guess they ran out of room. Comcast has a twitter feed called "Comcastcares," which is pretty funny, when you think about it.

The au courant state of Maine twitters: "Tornado Watch Issued - more at http://maine.gov/." That was twenty-two days ago. You can relax now.

Senator Chuck Grassley used to twitter, doubtless because his staff assured him it was "hip." Here's his fascinating final post, from May 6: "Sitting in on a Farm Bill Meeting."

Barack twitters, of course: "Announcing the VP candidate sometime between now & the Convention by txt msg & email. Text VP to 62262 or visit http://my.barackobama.com/vp"

Or: "Hit the surf with my BFF Michael Phelps. Dude swims like a seal! Said he could hook me up with one of those full-body Speedos. I'm lovin' it!"

Suppose McCain twittered? "What the [insert vivid, ex-military epithets here]! Why should I [more epithets] twitter?! Just because Paris Hussein Hilton Obama does it? [Epithet] no!"

I think Twitter belongs to the category of Paradigm-Changing Technologies That Can Safely Be Ignored, like MySpace. It's so 2002, no one goes there.

So, big thinker, what would be an example of a Paradigm-Changing Technology That Can't Safely Be Ignored? The printing press? That's feeling a little 1440, truth be told.

The perfect twitter is a lapidary techno-haiku: I send these pointless little messages, gobbling up Internet bandwidth for no reason. Because I am a twit . . . er.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist who does not twitter. His e-dress is beam@globe.com

UPDATE in 2013: Alex Beam is now a Globe columnist on Twitter at @ImAlexBeamYrNot. His e-dress is still beam@globe.com

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