The Twitter Generation

Our generation has never really lived without the internet. Online fads come and go (remember MySpace?), but in recent years the Internet has seen an explosion of dynamic services. In fact, there seems to be so many means of connecting to people virtually that it has become overwhelming. The other day, I wanted to send a blog post to a friend. Below the entry were a slew of colorful icons, each representing a different means of communication: Facebook. Tumblr. Gmail. Delicious (I will not even ask about this one). Digg. Twitter. Wait — Twitter?

What exactly sets Twitter apart from the dozens of other social networking systems out there? Aside from the obvious catchphrase name, I’m puzzled by Twitter’s hype and popularity. Twitter’s homepage proudly advertises itself as a “social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time.” Facebook users also know it as the site where one only posts status updates, endearingly called “tweets.” These tweets are all text-based posts with a limit of 140 characters. They appear on the individual’s page and the pages of those who subscribe to them (“followers”). Given the nature of the site, it is no surprise that Twitter is very popular among smartphone users. There is a slew of Twitter-based applications available for BlackBerries, the iPhone, and Android smartphones.

Twitter has received a great deal of media attention (and usage) due to its use as a publicity mechanism for both celebrities and politicians alike. President Obama used Twitter frequently during his 2008 presidential campaign, and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey boast over two million followers. But as far as I can see, the only reason I would get it is to follow the tweets of the “Twilight” cast.

“But you can see what all your real friends are doing, too,” Twitter users might protest. Well, there’s no shortage of instant messaging, text messaging, and e-mail services out there. Oh, and have I mentioned the cellphone? Or is that derelict thing only used for text messaging and Twitter?

While it is impossible for me to deride all forms of social networking websites, I admit that Twitter does reflect a lot about our generation’s lifestyle. It’s not that we’re becoming any less of social beings — it’s merely that our socializing methods have transcended actual reality. And with these new methods come all forms of online etiquette that must be observed. Indeed, Twitter has been no stranger to controversy.

Twitters’ popularity also underscores our decreasing attention span. Think about it. We went from blog entries to Facebook posts and now to two line messages? While it may not be a fair comparison because each of these types of websites have different functions, it is clear that Twitter would not have been successful without the aid of Blackberries and other mobile devices. And while reading through the tweets of celebrities may give fangirls GPS-esque memos on where X and Y ate sushi and how much cash was spent on a shopping spree in midtown Manhattan, one can also follow the failed attempts of a friend trying to bake a cake or read tweets about their boredom during a summer class.

Twitter also taps into our innate lust for gossip and perpetual nosiness. While we may not be “friends” with the Twitterers we follow, we are still allowed glimpses into their world through tiny morsels of information — where they are, what they are doing, and who they are with. All these facts are things that some may find interesting. Instead of having the guts to ask them in person, you can cyber-stalk and follow others’ lives through 140-character tweets. Classy.

The heart of the matter is that Twitter exposes every moment of one’s life to others. Although users can set Tweets private, the concept of Twitter is what irks me the most. Isn’t it better to be living the moment, instead of twittering about it? Who are you living for? Yourself or your followers? (Of course, this does not apply to the likes of college students with less than 100 followers). To avoid these issues, I think my fall semester resolution will be to abstain from these “social networking” sites and revert to that primitive communication system we call “e-mail.”