Tweeting Our Brains Out

The blog of a friend kept showing up in my inbox. I felt guilty not reading it each week, and couldn’t get it to go into my junk mail. Then I saw the unsubscribe button.
Click. No more weekly navel-gazing posts.

How was I to know that my friend would be notified?

“I don’t get it,” someone we both know told me she said. “Why did Bob do that?

Because I’ve reached my quota of e-nnoyances for the moment, that’s why.

I mean, even if you still like Facebook and think The Social Network is a great movie, do you really have any more space in your brain for Mark Zuckerberg? He likes to thinks his quest is “to make the world a more open place,” rather than a more lucrative one for himself. I won’t quibble. But can he please stop my sister-in-law’s septuagenarian father, who rarely speaks at family gatherings, from trying to friend me?

The paid volunteer coordinator who forwards countless emails about education to me as if it’s my job to read them all. Delete. The friends who ask me to vote on their short films so they can win online competitions that are too cheap to pay real judges. Ignore.

The other night I was at a Broadway play. The man next to me started checking his messages after the curtain went up. The light from his screen was so distracting I asked him to stop. He glared at me for so long that I had to change seats. Maybe he thought that since using his device is O.K. at the dinner table and urinal, why not in the theater? To me it seems like one of the last sacred places to keep it off.

You certainly can’t attend a pop concert without being surrounded by people making videos and texting pictures and comments. “Are you writing nice things about us as you tweet the show?” the lead singer of Vampire Weekend recently asked an audience at Radio City lit up by iPhone screens. “We appreciate that, we really do.”

Did I detect, beneath his boyish cheer, the unthinkable question: Are you people ever able to turn those stupid things off and live your lives instead of documenting them?

Are any of these messages so important? Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that we can text money into flood-ruined Pakistan or promote civil rights rallies. And I appreciate being able to kill time while alone with my device in a restaurant, too, even if I’m only deleting old photographs. Without cigarettes, we need to be able to do something else with our hands, even if they’re on the verge of paralysis from all the typing and tapping. But is every little thing worth tweeting about? Must we post every tiny opinion, regardless of whether it’s based on fact, thought or anything resembling sentence structure?

In You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier laments the mindless chains of insults, gossip, video pranks and silly mashups that now dominate our online lives. Aaron Sorkin, who wrote The Social Network, is no Internet fan, either. “While everyone deserves a voice,” he tells New York magazine, “not everyone deserves a microphone.”

Nor do they deserve a cell phone on the job. But that didn’t stop 178 M.T.A. bus drivers from texting at the wheel between last January and now. There have been drownings in recent years at pools and beaches where lifeguards were texting, too. 

Table manners, meanwhile, continue to sink to new lows.

“Don’t you dare leave until I finish this email,” a friend tells me while writing messages on one of his two devices long after we’ve finished lunch. “That’s so rude!”

Maybe I should have been that direct with my overzealous blogger friend.

Then again, everything I had to say to her was done with one click of an unsubscribe button. Sometimes the best messages don’t have any words at all.

Tweeting Our Brains Out