The other day my professional collaborator, personal friend and communication-technology frenemy Shel Holtz blogged about a presenter at a communication conference who felt dizzy and sat down.
Instead of leaping up and calling 911 or dialing the hotel house phone, one attendee Tweeted the emergency, apparently hoping Seth Godin would know what the fuck to do.
A similarly Twitter-obsessed conference staffer saw the Tweet and ran down the hall and cleared the room. As it turned out, the presenter was suffering from travel exhaustion.
"Another unintended positive consequence of Twitter, wouldn’t you say?" Shel concluded.
No, another life endangered by some modern-day Walter Mitty's obsession with Twitter, I'd say.
The other reluctance we should all have about Twitter, even as we grudgingly accept its occasional social utility, is the Kurt Vonnegut Rule of Farting Around. "Electronic communities build nothing," my favorite humanist wrote near the end of his life. "You wind up with nothing. We are dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go out and do something. We are here on earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you different." *
Now, Shel will argue till he's blue in the Facebook about all the world's wonders online communities have built. They build connections, of course. They unleash social potential. They help existing communities connect with other existing communities. They helped get Obama elected!
But communities themselves are built by common, shared myths, which are just symbolic and meaningful stories. And good stories require tactile human experience, things we can all relate to physically—hard falls, soggy shoes, dry mouths and tired arms. We'll recieve no Moby Dicks from Second Life, and in the six years since the popular advent of blogs, how many good books have been made from collections of blog posts?
Here's a test: Spend one day surfing the Internet and spend another roaming your neighborhood. See how many good dinner table stories you have after each. There won't be a contest.
"I’ve heard of people using Twitter to get help from people nearby," is a yarn Shel tells in his post about the Twittering numb nuts who saved the conference speaker who was fine to begin with. "Guy Kawasaki needed a power cable for his laptop while staying (if memory serves) at the Hotel del Coronado. A nearby resident read the tweet and offered to drop by with a spare on his way to work."
As Hugh Grant would say, "Not exactly a classic anecdote, is it?"
* Vonnegut also said: "Do you know what a twerp is? When I was in Shortridge High School in Indianapolis 65 years ago, a twerp was a guy who stuck a set of false teeth up his butt and bit the buttons off the back seats of taxicabs." And what do you have to say to that, Shel Holtz?