Self-intervention

19Oct12

I admit that I am powerless over the Internet.

There, I’ve said it. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.

Nouvelle version de l'application TCS pour smartphones / Neue Version der TCS-AppI wish it were that easy. I thank my higher power that I don’t have a smartphone. I’d be one of those people at social events with my eyes and fingers fixated on my little hand-held screen rather than on the people in the room. I’d be tempted to document road trips by taking pictures of signs, uploading them to Flickr and then tweeting them – while driving.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartIt’s probably a good thing that my cell phone is a rotary dial model. It doesn’t even have a camera, which makes infinite sense to me. To paraphrase Jon Stewart, I love my phone and I love my camera, but it would never have occurred to me that they should be one and the same.

Unfortunately, Internet addiction has a million enablers. We call them “interests.” Whether you like sports, gardening, travel, politics or cooking, the Internet offers countless ways to avoid actually doing those things by spending all of your time in front of a screen tweeting and chatting about them instead.

Beer ChestDespite my lack of a smartphone, Twitter has become my latest addiction, succeeding a list of substances and activities too long to list here. The Twitter addict without a smartphone is like the alcoholic who “only drinks beer” or the heroin addict who snorts but doesn’t shoot. I’m forced to limit my tweeting to my personal computer.

I recently took an online Internet Addiction Test at netaddiction.com. To my surprise, my score indicated “You are an average on-line user. You may surf the Web a bit too long at times, but you have control over your usage.”

Trust me. I’m a smartphone away from virtual skid row.

Twitter was launched in 2006, but it’s only been on most people’s radar for a few years and I maintain that it really exploded only about two years ago. Only since then has it become ubiquitous, with every media personality, athlete, pundit and politician touting their presence on Twitter.

The real winner in the current political season is the Internet in general and Twitter in particular. I remember the news photo from the first Brown-Warren senate debate showing three or four UMass Dartmouth officials in the front row busily tapping away on their smartphones.

Everyone is “live tweeting.” An hour into Tuesday night’s presidential debate, more than 5 million tweets had been sent on the subject. Services like Twitter enable our instant reactions to whatever we are experiencing at any given moment to be shared with countless people in real time.

US Senator Scott BrownAt the second senate debate in Springfield, for example, when Scott Brown made a reference to when he served in Afghanistan, his opponent’s supporters instantly tweeted that Brown had served there only for his two-week annual National Guard duty. Most people already knew that. What those on Twitter should have known better than anyone is that in debates, just as on Twitter, you have to make your points in as few words as possible.

Politics and natural disasters are Twitter’s natural habitat. When the 4.0 magnitude earthquake shook the New England region October 16, it set off an avalanche of tweets starting the second that the ground stopped shaking.

Twitter’s 140 character limit has taught me new ways say it in fewer words, which has always been one of my goals. In keeping with that goal, I’ll close by saying that you can follow me on Twitter.

{This column originally appeared in the October 18, 2012 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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