Some readers may remember the old contests, In 25 words or less, complete the sentence, I like --- product because for which you might win an electric toaster or a years supply of Drek laundry detergent. Now with Twitter, its Can you send your whole text message in 140 characters or less?
At one time, jealous of all those folks with their cell phones to their ears on the street, on busses, and while driving through intersections, I bought a one dollar toy cell phone so I could pretend to be with the crowd. Then I bought a little WalMart Nokia that is real and works.
But thats still a one-to-one call; yet with text messaging and Twitter, I can tell everyone in my crowd of friends what I am having for dinner this very moment, not that they care.
In a sense, Twitter is similar to the days of party-line hard-wired telephones. If you never hung up the phone, everyone on the party line knew simultaneously what you had to say.
You can read an extensive discussion of Twitter in all its ramifications on Wikipedia or you can, of course, sign up as a Twitter user at www.Twitter.com. That is, if you really need to be connected all the time to your clique of pals. This is the wired, or more correctly, connected generation. Kids deprived of cell phones feel deprived of their liberty.
But as the available internet information on Twitter will reveal, there are important and practical uses for Twitter beyond the endless and silly twittering that goes on among the teenage twits. Crews fighting forest fires, separated by smoke, flames, and distance, can keep in constant touch by that form of instant messaging so everyone on the team is informed and alerted to sudden changes.
Its also used by the Red Cross when dealing with natural disasters. With Twitter, theres instant messaging -- no need to call an individual. The whole team is instantly informed.
Twitter is also an emergency communication option for college students in the wake of recent campus shootings.
Its reported that over three million people are signed up for Twitter. Its also widely used in Japan, that gadget-loving country, even though Twitter there started out in English.
Twitter was first developed in San Francisco by a startup company called Obvious. Like many technological advances, there have been some unanticipated consequences. With their cell phones forever on to receive Twitter messages, people become overwhelmed with information they do not need or want -- like what your network of friends are having for dinner or if theyre suffering a case of constipation. If you are so wired that you leave the cell phone on when you go to bed, you may be awakened by new messages and never get a decent nights sleep.
Then there are fake messages and even phone viruses. Like the spy-versus-spy cartoons in Mad magazine, for every mischief theres a counter-mischief or attempted remedy.
Since Im not in a fire department or on a Red Cross emergency service team, I dont need to be a Twit. Nor do I want to have my cell phone perpetually on so the GPS feature tells eavesdroppers where I am at all times. You dont have to play Twitter. You can opt out.
But if you have a compulsive need to stay connected to your pals all of the time, Twitter may be for you. If so, sign up -- its free. But be careful. You may be giving up your privacy and asking for uninterrupted interruptions. Theres a limit to multi-tasking. The emergency Twitter message, called fail whale, is the symbol of a Beluga whale twittering that the system is overloaded.