To Tweet, or not to Tweet, THAT is the question

Posted on January 17, 2012 by Blake Leath

Ten months ago, our team was asked to lead a weeklong Leadership conference for nearly 200 participants.

Simple enough.

"But it's a paperless event, so no handouts.  Please provide softcopies."

Easily done.

"Oh, just one more thingwe also need you to utilize social media throughout."

A what?

Now call me old-fashioned, antiquated, a troglodyte, a Luddite, whatever—each is, I suppose, apropos to some degree.

After all, I'm 42 years old and, to my way of thinking, a website, a periodic blog entry, an email account, a LinkedIn profile, a gauzy Facebook profile, a 1-lb laptop and an iPhone should more than suffice.  Each one was hard enough to come by, must there be more?

Apparently, there must.

A writerly friend of mine, with whom I visited over a nice meal not that long ago, was absolutely aghast when I described my blog.

"Good gosh, Blake.  No one blogs anymore," she proclaimed, drawing out the word as if having seen me tie my horse to the hitching post before entering the restaurant.  "People don't have time to read blogs.  You've got to tweet!"

And earlier today, a colleague commented, "Have you ever noticed how 'young people' (under 30 or so) don't answer their phone?  All they do is text."  He went on to share a story about a dear family friend, 22 years old, with whom he has communicated literally hundreds of times in a decade, "But perhaps only five times by phone.  I'm serious.  In several near-emergencies, I've had to send her a text saying, 'Hey, I'm going to call you.  Please ANSWER YOUR PHONE when I call.'"

We went on to laugh about 'landlines.'  "The majority of people who call are telemarketers," we concluded.

And so, with great trepidation, I have begun to populate my Twitter account (first created for me by a colleague at the aforementioned conference).  Thus far, it is merely quotes.  They are meaningful quotes, not robotically generated, and each is important to me for one reason or another.

I suppose, in time, I might use Twitter for ostensibly "important announcements" about upcoming public seminars or strategy sessions.  Or to remind folks that our daughter is selling Girl Scout cookies, and please buy a dozen boxes.  (Seriously, please do.)  Or to launch a new 360 or app or video series, each of which we have in the mix for 2012-2013.

And, if you choose to follow me (I am currently following 126 thought leaders, universities, colleagues, researchers, writers, TV shows and celebrities—in an attempt to learn the ropes), I promise that I will not tweet about my trips to 7-11 for Dr. Pepper slurpees.  Or my trip to see Snow Patrol in concert.  Or about how I mistakenly packed new shoes for a weeklong trip, "And man, do my feet hurt!"

Well, at least, I don't think I will.

After all, guns don't kill people.  People kill people.

In the hands of the masses, with a noble, shared agenda, Twitter has partially animated the topplings of militaristic, despotic regimes that might otherwise have continued governing tyrannically for several more decades.

Who am I to defile such a powerful tool with my inane comings and goings?

I will do my best to continue blogging, which itself is so far from longform writing as to (channeling something Ricky Gervais might say here), "Make the former look as classless as Kim Kardashian and the latter as classy as Kate Middleton."  (I'm not sure where this leaves tweeting.  Probably Tonya Harding territory, I would concede.)

Along the way, I'll have to learn more about HootSuite, bitly, hashtags (#) and @ symbols as I tweet Tweeple from Twiland, the Twittersphere and beyond.  And it appears I'll have to do some regular gardening and pruning, because for every 'real follower' there is one automatically generated spambot, sexbot or weed that crops up, making my wife dubious about Twitter in general and the notion of followers specifically! 

Best case, I'll be able to keep up with folks a little better, and they with me.  Worst case, well, I suppose there are three potential worst-case scenarios: (1) I'll offend someone by tweeting, and they'd rather I simply crawl in a hole and die already.  (2) I'll trip over my tail, being the ancient dinosaur that I am, and uncouthly SHOUT because I know neither the Twitter dialect, norms or taboos.  Or, and this one is most likely, (3) I'll find some modicum of value via the medium and yet, either because of my own ineptitude or time/energy/resource constraints, I'll neither consistently leverage Twitter in the months/years to come nor keep up with it (or its potential surrogates or inevitable scions, finding myself, once again, "behind the times" and dogpaddling).

We shall see.

Time reliably remains the greatest truthteller, nearly always revealing what was once hidden, unknown or altogether 'un-see-able.'  (Which, no, is not quite the same as invisible, or hidden, for that matter.)

Meanwhile, I do hope a dozen of you will tweet me your comings and goings, even if we are, now and then, reduced to sharing news about airport delays and the simple diorama the child next to us has crafted from the glops and blobs of gum beneath his seat.

Who knows, maybe now I'll be able to read about topplings and presidential campaigns first-hand, from dead-center in the stream itself, rather than waiting for my ABC News app to refresh or, even worse, until Diane Sawyer tells me in person on that large piece of glass we used to call a television set.  You know the one.  It's that thing in the room you rarely enter, was once a piece of 'furniture,' and families—so we're told, 'gathered' around it at static, appointed times, like a radio.  Or a fire.

Here's to tomorrow, the future, and the dawn of a new era.  Or, as your teenager might say, "So yesterday."

p.s. I can't help but wonder, so surely you do too, "What would Gutenberg think?"  Considering it took roughly 10 hours for a typesetter to create a typical, one-page document as recently as the turn of the 18th Century, or a monk several days to do the same prior, I cannot help but be, and I'm quite serious now, in awe of today's media.  What was virtually impossible two decades ago has become pedestrian today.  We live in AMAZING, breathtaking, awe-inspiring times.  May we relish them, treasure our personal liberties and endeavor to more fully exploit and capitalize on our technologies virtuously, that they might improve the quality of life for, literally, billions who rise each day and surely wonder, "Will tomorrow be any better than today?"  Communication holds this potential and this promise.  It always has and always will.  From the most enlightened to the most evil, all influential leaders know this in their bones.  Contribute to the message, and you may influence more.  Lose the message, and all the rest is in vain.  

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"Ideas are more powerful than guns.  We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?"  (Joseph Stalin)