(Fail Whale illustration by David Pache)
A strange thing happened to me the other day. I was on Twitter and I realized I haven’t logged on for quite some time. So there I was, going through the different tweets, someone was crying, a friend ate a burrito, an acquaintance retweeted a stranger who was stuck in traffic, a celeb was shooting a scene, and before I knew what was happening, I was deluged with tweets from friends and colleagues and celebrities and news agencies and complete strangers and retweets and before I knew it I was just whizzing past all the tweets, almost in a panic, not caring what everyone was saying, just to get to the end of the seemingly endless barrage of information and emotion that made my head want to explode! I just wanted to turn everything off, I just wanted everyone to shut the hell up! I realized I reached my own Twitter equilibrium and my little brain short-circuited and shut off to protect itself, like a mental fusebox. If you’re familiar with the X-Men characters, it’s similar I guess to what happens to Professor X when he opens his mind to everyone. Usually he gets to regulate and choose whose thoughts he lets in. But there was this one time when the floodgates of his telepathic mind opened and the torrent of all the thoughts and emotions came surging in, almost frying his brain beyond repair.
Then I remembered a New York Times article I read, about the ill effects of the current flurry of social networking sites like Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc. An Oxford professor opined that the brain, being fed such a quick succession of many short messages like say, the tweets on Twitter or the status updates on Facebook, infantilizes the brain, or in plainer terms, makes our brains like babies’ minds, “attracted to buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”
Another article I read theorized that this deluge of online thoughts and emotions on a regular basis “kills” our empathy. Back in the olden days, before a person could tell you he was depressed, it took so many personal interactions, and assurances of confidence in your friendship. And people confiding such personal demons came along few and far between. But now, with everyone pouring their hearts out on Twitter and Facebook, it isn’t uncommon to find multiple emotional cries for help (or for some mere attention-whoring) in one pass. I’ve even heard of a friend of friends who was tweeting his final words before committing suicide. It seems easier now to wear your heart on your online sleeve because it’s anonymous. You no longer need to say these possibly humiliating personal issues face-to-face, you can type in whatever primal scream you need to let out, log out, then get drunk. You don’t need to face reprisals from a person-to-person encounter, you can unleash, then retreat. And as a reader, absorbing a steady stream of a spectrum of emotions, from reports of what they ate to exclamations of deep sorrow, on a daily basis, does tend to inure you after a while to what other people are going through. It’s the simple law of supply and demand. If you get a glut of people’s emotions, you shut off demand for it.
Another article stated that the constant over-stimulation of the brain in short bursts are collectively shortening our attention spans. That’s why it’s harder to turn us on to books and movies that don’t simulate the fast 140-or-less pace of Twitter. This conditioning to consume ideas in quick jerks leaves little room for exposition and rumination. We want our ideas served like fast food, no frills, easy to prepare, quick to digest.
So after all that blah blah, am I quitting Twitter? Hell no! I’ll miss all the juicy goings-on. But I am starting to unfollow chatty celebs and other people who tend to flood me with their thoughts. Nothing wrong if you’re a tweet-y person, I just need to de-clutter my mind, I guess. Following too many people on Twitter is like inviting too many people into your home. They bring all their nice stuff, but they saddle you with all their sh*t as well.
Okay, time to wrap up this post. I need to log out of WordPress and log on to Twitter to see who’s happily tweeting about how unhappy they are…