I personally have mixed feelings about the Pope’s new Twitter account. I’m not Catholic, so my opinion obviously doesn’t matter much, but I am a Christian, so I’m always interested in new ways to spread the faith.
My concern is borne out of what I’ve seen Twitter do to many friends and family members. Obviously, the Pope isn’t your average person, so I expect he’ll be able to overcome the pitfalls of tweeting, but I think it’s worth at least keeping some of these things in mind.
Technology is an amazing thing. I barely remember what life was like before people could track me down nearly every waking (and sleeping for that matter) moment of my life. Recent technological advancements mean that if someone wants to find me badly enough they can email me, text me, or if they’re really desperate try to actually call me on my cell phone. The funny thing is this latter method of communication is quickly becoming the least in vogue because calling someone means you actually must speak to them and with all the hundreds of people out there trying to email and text you all day, who has time to actually talk to another person?
In fact, over the last decade, I find that we’re actually speaking to people much less even when they’re sitting right in front of us.
I first noticed this trend back when texting became popular. Occasionally, I would go shopping with my sister and her daughters and notice that one of my nieces travelled around all day with us in body only. Her mind and spirit were clearly elsewhere—texting friends. It worked out great for her because it allowed her to be with people she liked even when she was stuck hanging out with us. We could actually go a full five or six hours without hearing her utter a word. She hardly noticed when we’d place a mirror under her nose to check for respiration. The good news was there was no complaining from her about anything, so it worked great–like a teenage pacifier. She was totally content.
Both my sons are now following the same path. This is something of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it keeps them happy when they’re forced to dine with me or go clothes shopping, but it also means that other people have yet another way to track me down. If I don’t answer the phone or text myself, a message is sent to one of my children to convey to me. I really hate this because I can’t claim some technological snafu for failing to respond. The messenger is now a witness.
The other interesting thing about all this new form of communication is that it allows you to give the aura to friends and family that you’re doing something incredibly exciting when you’re really doing nothing.
For example, a friend of mine loves to tweet. She has a slew of Twitter followers hanging on her every word. I’ve actually been featured in a few of her Twitter adventures. Everything always sounds really exciting on her Twitter account.
Here’s what usually happens. We go to a really cool trendy place for lunch. No sooner are we seated than my lunch companion hauls out her phone and starts tweeting. What am I doing? We’ll I may have been in mid-sentence when I notice that she’s really not listening to me, so I just sit there. Two minutes of conversation, and she notices that a celebrity just walked in. More tweeting for her. More silent sitting for me. The main course comes and it turns out this is the chef’s signature dish. She makes sure to photograph it and send it out for the world to see while I sit there and eat.
She’s not the only one that does this. I’ve sat through meals, sporting events, and rock concerts with any number of friends who hardly say a word to me, but to the great big world out there, it looks like my friend and I had a terrific time together.
Miss Manners really needs to consider writing a book about this subject. There are two parts to it. The first part is what polite behavior is when you’re in the physical presence of another human being but in every other sense of the word you’re really somewhere else. The other part is what is considered polite when you are essentially the one being ignored. Do you starting texting and tweeting yourself? Break out a crossword puzzle? Read the paper? Or do you do what I usually do which is just sit there and look like someone in a drug induced coma?
The really sad part about all this is that someday we’re going to get to a point where we won’t really be able to speak effectively to anyone we happen to actually be with. This will lead inevitably to many awkward moments, particularly eulogies at funerals. What will people say about us?
“Monica and I spent many wonderful moments texting each other. She really had a way with words” or “Travelling around with Monica while I tweeted was always a pleasure because she didn’t take up a lot of space or say too much and she photographed well.”
I hope it doesn’t ultimately come to this, but I’m not particularly optimistic. Maybe the Pope can somehow put the spirit of humanity into our newest form of communication.
We can only hope.