Thursday, April 2, 2009

Out of the mouths of fools

Yesterday was April Fools' Day, and as in past years the British press expended great energies in creating fake stories that were just plausible enough to deceive the more gullible reader. The Guardian's contribution to this trend was to suggest that its newspaper was abandoning its traditional print format in favour of one consisting of stories delivered entirely by Twitter. Since the function of Twitter, a minimalistic blogging service, is to reduce every statement to an expression not exceeding 140 characters, the natural result was going to be "stories" such as "1832 Reform Act gives voting rights to one in five adult males yay!!!" and "JFK assassin8d @ Dallas, def. heard second gunshot from grassy knoll WTF?"

And that's pretty funny. But it's worth asking seriously what the popularity of Twitter (and other so- called Web 2.0 applications) tells us about contemporary culture. I'm already perplexed enough by the fact that, whenever I am using one of a bank of public computers, everyone sitting around me is looking at a picture of themselves on Facebook. Granted that other people are also sometimes in the same picture (and usually with the same idiotic expression on their face), how is this an improvement on simply seeing that other person in real life or -- if they are not available -- going home and staring at oneself in the mirror? It all seems so incredibly narcissistic.

Now, I'm willing to admit that I may just be too old to understand. (I'm two years shy of forty, which in modern technological terms is the new eighty.) The principal audience for this sort of thing is teenagers, and isn't the whole point of being a teenager that you think the world revolves around you, and that every little drama in your life is worth sharing with the world? But I see disturbing signs that over-25s -- and even over-40s! -- are getting into the act with this sort of thing, and enjoying trying (for example) to "poke" each other in some sort of boring, non- sexual way.

Which brings us to Twitter. Because whereas a normal blog has the natural disadvantage of allowing you to write an extended, complex, and well- reasoned entry that no- one will ever read, Twitter allows you to publish the online equivalent of a brain fart that no- one will ever read either. The maximum number of characters ensures that every observation is impossibly trivial and reductive. Still, isn't this what we've been working towards for the past forty or fifty years of Western civilization? Most of us by now feel that our lives are nothing more than journeys of personal self- discovery and self- fulfillment. Why on earth wouldn't we take this to its natural conclusion, and assume that every one of our random daily thoughts was worth being immortalized by being broadcast to a potential worldwide audience? "I ate a delicious pie today." "OMG pie is coming back as acid reflux." "WTF? Why does this always happen to me?"

There comes a time in everyone's life when, no matter how hard they've tried to keep up with new developments, they realize that they don't care anymore and that they may in fact even prefer the way things were in the past. And that is when they finally realize that they are old. Most people strive furiously to postpone this day of reckoning, but not me. I've had years to get used to it. After all, I don't have a cellphone either! So get off my goddamn lawn, you punks.

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