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Confessions of a Twitter Illiterate

Published in ChicagoNow, November 29, 2013 (Cartoon by Marcia Liss)

I must confess I have hit my limit with technology. The first week of November, while finishing The Circle by Dave Eggers on my Nook, I tried to set up a Facebook fan page linked to important stuff. Then I sent out a Constant Contact newsletter asking people to “like,” forward, subscribe to, and read my blog. Then I tried to fix my blog to make it more likable. The final straw was trying to use Twitter and struggling to make all of this technology work together. Like the protagonist of The Circle, Mae Holland, I was becoming more connected, more transparent, and more unglued!

Ironically, I watch a TIVOed episode (another piece of technology I have failed to master) of Elementary and was struck by a monologue delivered at its beginning in which the contemporary Sherlock Holmes character states (roughly — could not find script despite a frustrating and time-wasting Google search),

“I often wonder if I should have been born in another time…My senses are unusual, one could even say unnaturally keen, and ours is an era of distraction, a punishing drumbeat of constant input…this cacophony which follows us into our homes and into our beds and seeps into our souls…I’m given to wonder if I had just been born when it was a little quieter out there…might I have been more focused and a fully realized person? ...I’d want some of the wonders of modernity, just before everything got amplified.”

Because I’m a bit older than the modern Sherlock character, I remember life and its wonders just before everything got amplified. I remember when…

  • There was no TV and phones had “party lines.”

  • Households had one phone and people were tethered to it by a cord.

  • TV arrived with a small black & white screen and 3 channels.

  • Papers had to be typed and retyped (remember “white out”?).

  • People read newspapers, morning and evening editions, to know what was happening.

  • If you wanted to be a writer, you just wrote on paper.

  • If you wanted to know what your friends were doing, you had to call them.

  • Twitter was a sound made by a bunch of birds!

Before you write me off as a grumpy old baby boomer, aren’t you impressed that I figured out how to use a computer? Our first one, my son’s clunky Apple II-C complete with huge floppy disks that ate my master’s thesis, sat proudly in the family room. As a preschool director, I mastered (sort of) an increasingly smaller and more complex series of computers, learned a bit of Excel and some desktop publishing. Here I am in retirement blogging and creating online newsletters. I can even handle Facebook, but Twitter totally escapes me. I have hit my technology wall.

Coming full circle (ouch, bad pun), in The Circle, Mae is excited to have a job in “customer experience” at an internet company that links all aspects of online experience (TruYou), installs tiny cameras all over the world to monitor everything (SeeChange), and implants chips in children so they can be tracked at all times (ChildTrack). As Mae moves up the ladder, she manages multiple computer screens at once; wears a wrist band that monitors every aspect of her health; becomes “transparent” by wearing a camera and microphone that broadcast everything she sees, says, and thinks; and worries that only 97% of her co-workers think she is “awesome.”

Mae is warned by a non-tech loving friend that, “…your tools have elevated gossip, hearsay, and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication.” But she is also enamored with The Circle’s slogans:

  • All That Happens Must Be Known

  • Secrets are Lies

  • Sharing is Caring

  • Privacy is Theft

What a perfect book to read as I struggled to master my encore career as a blogger. Do I really need to connect to all of these things? Is it enough to experience the joy of writing, or do I crave “likes” as much as Mae did? Does it matter how many “subscribers” I have or how many “opens” I get for a newsletter? Will the “punishing drumbeat of constant input” seep into my soul too? Is it okay to remain a Twitter illiterate?


by Laurie Levy
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