Simplicity and brevity are two hallmark traits of nearly every beautiful thing in the world. Unfortunately, the world is much more complex than we’d like it to be.
I recently tried an experiment, giving up Facebook for Lent, and found it to be a relatively easy exercise that rarely tested my willpower. That said, I’m not sure I could ever do without Twitter. You’d have to pry it out of my hands at this point.
I’ll spare you all the comparisons between the two dominant social platforms; you’ve heard them already and they’re mostly self-evident. But what’s rapidly growing more apparent is that Twitter is the perfect development for a modern world where news happens quickly and no one reads beyond the headlines. We’ve all convinced ourselves that we’re too busy for the whole story.
Case in point: I just tried to read a blog posting that I found through a Twitter link, started skimming the article until I ran into a sub-headline that said, “The Age of Skimming.” So wait, someone wrote a blog post about the fact that no one reads anymore? Wondering if he was in on the joke, I laughed, and stopped reading that article. And then I immediately broke out my laptop started writing my own post on the same topic. (I think that means there’s hope for me yet, but I’m not really sure.)
Sometimes you never recognize your worst habits until you observe them in others. You know, like that friend who can’t go three seconds without looking at her iPhone or texting someone 3,000 miles away when she’s in the same room with you. It drives you crazy — until your brother calls you out on the very same behavior a day later. Then you don’t know whether to sympathize with her or hate yourself.
Similarly, I always find myself wondering why every airline doesn’t offer WiFi, and yet, it dawned on me that the last few great conversations I’ve had with anyone have happened on airplanes. Why? Because neither one of us could look at a phone for a few hours.
Are we all turning into robots? And is Twitter partly responsible?
In this case, it took a headline I almost missed to call me out on a nasty habit I’ve developed since the dawn of Twitter. I rarely read anything start-to-finish, and as someone who’s always considered himself at least a competent writer, that’s disturbing. Why am I wasting time writing, re-writing and editing anything I’ve written if it’s just going to get boiled down to one headline, 140 characters (or typically far less) and one bit.ly link that only about three out of 100 people will even read anyway?
Newspapers have been going out of business for several reasons, but I’d argue that chief among them is that we want everything to be short and sweet, and we’re easily distracted by stuff we don’t even really care about. When I was a kid, I remember trying to get my Dad’s attention at the breakfast table on a Sunday morning as he poured over the Manchester Union Leader, seemingly lost in a world of newsprint littered with 18-hour old news that he couldn’t have possibly gotten anywhere else.
“Hey dad…can we go to Toys-R-Us today…there’s a new Nintendo game…”
I finally had to bark “Dad! Dad!” to grab his attention. He was usually annoyed for a few seconds, but would answer my question (unless I’d saved enough money, I wasn’t getting Super Mario Bros. 3) and then he’d go back to the paper.
These days, while I’m reading through Twitter, I’ll get startled by a text message that rudely vibrates my phone. When you think about it, it’s basically the same thing. But sadly, most of our interruptions these days are self-imposed, checking our smartphone for the latest fix of sports scores, mindless status updates or a few headlines we already read three minutes ago.
For better or worse, I ingest almost all of my news through Twitter; I rarely surf websites anymore. I almost never find myself looking for news at this point, because someone in my timeline has already enlightened me. Do I click on the links? Rarely. And when I do, I run into headlines like “The Age of Skimming”, laugh, and move on to something else. My middle-school creative writing teacher always told me that an essay should be like a skirt: Long enough to cover the topic, short enough to keep it interesting. Even in 1990, when ATM’s were still a novelty (you can get money on a Sunday?), teachers understood that our attention spans were already getting shorter.
It’s sad but true: In the Age of Skimming and Twitter, who needs a skirt when a thong will do?