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Voices

All a-Twitter? Not.

There's far more noise than news behind all those tweets

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / March 2, 2010

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The pope doesn’t. The Dalai Lama does.

Jon Stewart doesn’t. Conan does.

I don’t.

Eat meat? Go to church on Sunday? Work for a living? No, the operative verb is tweet.

Twitter, the inane “news’’ feed favored by slackers too lazy to read any message that doesn’t fit on the back of their hand, made big news last week in Los Angeles, Moscow, and beyond. In LA, the visiting Dalai Lama joined the nominally social network and quickly attracted more than 100,000 followers. Deposed talk show host Conan O’Brien, with time hanging heavy on his hands, likewise fired up a Twitter feed. In the same week First Twitterer Ashton Kutcher (4.5 million followers and counting) showed up in Moscow trying to sell twitternet snake oil to the Rooskies.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll take to it. They bought in to McDonald’s, and into a corrupt, capitalist-style stock market. I’d pay a few kopecks to read Vladimir Putin’s tweets: “Killed another journalist today. Talk about punkin’!’’

Yes, slings and arrows people, I have a Twitter account, which I activated when I was covering last fall’s Senate primaries. Each candidate tweeted, and every 140-character transmission was stone-dead moronic and useless. If there were a prize for wasting bandwidth, gajillionare Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca won it in a slam dunk. “Amazing day on the road . . . lot of momentum going into election day . . . join us tomorrow!’’ he tweeted, shortly before placing fourth in a four-person race. “I plan to be active with Twitter & other social media this year,’’ Pagliuca told his followers on Jan. 12, but happily for us, he has remained mostly silent.

I have never knowingly tweeted, and to my 18 loyal followers I say: Don’t wait up. The Globe maintains a Twitter feed for my columns which recently attracted this e-mail: “Fungie the Dolphin would like to follow your tweets.’’ Well, it’s a free country.

Who are the Twissidents? We are a motley crew: Maureen Dowd, Hugo Chavez, and Keira Knightley have all dumped on Twitter, and the Westboro Baptist Church has gone so far as to picket Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. The WBC, alas, is a famous hate group that despises everything and everybody. As Winston Churchill famously remarked about opposing Communism, sometimes your allies are more embarrassing than your enemies.

What is my beef? One complaint is the utter fakeness of it all. Barack Obama has a Twitter feed with several million followers, but of course it’s just PR rubbish flacked by Organizing for America, the phony “grass roots’’ pressure group/spam-masters extraordinaire who helped propel Scott Brown to his Senate victory. I was interested to note that Stephen Hawking has a Twitter account. Ooops! He doesn’t. “I have just spoken to Prof. Hawking,’’ his personal assistant e-mailed me from Cambridge, England, “who has confirmed that he has never used Twitter, so, you have some fraudulent ‘Stephen Hawkings’ (several I believe) tweeting away.’’

Twitter is part of the Big Noise, the impressive arsenal of mass distraction that reduces citizens to “followers’’ of pre-packaged political, commercial, and “spiritual’’ messages. The Big Noise is what distorts the tiny signal, the kernel of truth, or relevance. The Olympics have become the Big Noise, with promotion and advertising drowning out genuine moments of sportsmanship and competition. Where the Visa commercials end and the Games begin is beyond me.

I admire Internet dissident Jaron Lanier’s take on the “free’’ service of Facebook, and I think his remarks apply to Twitter as well: “The real customer is the advertiser of the future, but this creature has yet to appear. . . . [The whole artifice] is just bait laid by the lords of the clouds to lure hypothetical advertisers - we might call them messianic advertisers - who might someday show up.’’

Apple Computer; the pope; Jon Stewart; me. None of us tweets. We’re doing fine. Turn down the noise.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com. Don’t follow him on Twitter @GlobeAlexBeam.