Too Much Information

I’ve been thinking a lot about TweetDeck lately. It’s a Twitter feature that keeps your Tweets, your followers’ Tweets, your direct messages and anything else Twitter-related in one place. It also gives you real-time updates. Every time a follower makes a new Tweet, it shows up on my computer screen in the right-hand corner. I use it at work.

I was reluctant to even use TweetDeck at first because I was always checking our Twitter and Facebook pages anyway. Eventually, though, I grew to love it because I became amazingly on top of golf-related news. (My job is for a golf retail company.) During the Ryder Cup, I knew everything that was going on from Tiger Woods making his third chip shot to Michael Jordan patting Keegan Bradley on the butt. In another instance, when Fox News’s five-second delay malfunctioned while filming a car chase and the driver shot himself on camera before it could cut away, I knew about it before the news media even reported it because of  the Twitter followers who saw it. It was almost like I’d seen it too. And in a horrible way, that made it kind of exciting.

Then Hurricane Sandy hit. I don’t live in the New York area, but that’s where I lived until a couple of years ago and most of my friends and family live around there. So I was already concerned for them, but then there was the barrage of Tweets from news outlets and followers as well as retweets from our followers’ followers. I became fixated. The thing about Twitter is that you get more than the news media can offer; you get personal stories. I knew who lost power, who was having wine and Funyuns for dinner and whose phone’s auto-spell feature turned a text message to his daughter from “I’m fine” to “I’m gone”. Individual followers all seemed to be doing okay, but the reports of flooding, fires, death and general destruction were overwhelming. One of our followers said that her Twitter feed “read like a disaster movie”.

I didn’t need 99% of this news. I heard my coworkers having a conversation about the show “Revolution”, which involves a widespread power outage. One them said, “Isn’t that what’s going on in New York?” I didn’t say anything, but I felt disgusted that he had no idea of the scope of what was going on. Then again, he has no personal connection to the Northeast and he has his day-to-day life to be concerned about. I may have been up to date on the hurricane photo hoaxes and anonymous Twitter user @ComfortablySmug’s deliberate spread of false information, but I could barely get any work done. Eventually I just turned off TweetDeck and tried not to wonder what I was missing.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with someone about social media and he asked if always being updated on the news and on my friends’ lives felt intrusive. Generally, it doesn’t because I only use Twitter for work and with the exception of the past two days, I don’t go on my personal Facebook account more than a couple of times a week. Besides, I said, I can always log off. That was before I discovered it was possible to get so much information about a certain thing that it becomes necessary to consume every last bit of it. Stopping it means withdrawal. I don’t know why information is addictive or why it lends itself to a certain kind of greed. It could be a power issue. Anyone who’s been in situation where everyone in the room gets a joke or knows a secret that he doesn’t has felt the insecurity that comes with it. Everyone hates being taunted with that sing-songy “I know something you don’t know…” But in reality, if you know everything about something without being able to do anything about it, that’s just as crippling as not knowing about it at all. Maybe more.

Regardless, it took just three hours before I turned TweetDeck back on. And of course, by then, everything had changed. At roughly 4pm EST, Hurricane Sandy’s reign over the Twitterverse was over. It was replaced by reactions to Disney buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion and announcing that Star Wars: Episode 7 was in the works. Back to the frivolous things Twitter’s known for.

That’s definitely not to say that the aftermath of Sandy doesn’t matter. My heart goes out to everyone affected by it. The storm’s technically over, but there’s still a lot of healing to be done.

Twitter ComfortablySmug apology
Eventually ComfortablySmug did the right thing.

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