Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Chicago needs more tweets!

     A Canadian motivational speaker listed the "September Top 100 Twitter Users in Chicago, Illinois" and tweeted congratulations to me for making the list,. I'm No. 78.
     Which surprises me. I don't feel like I tweet all that much: the column on the days it runs, the blog on the other days, a few times in the morning, plus posts from exactly one and two years ago, to pump the numbers up, not to forget the occasional bon mot. 

     In the roughly 1575 days since I joined Twitter in April, 2011, I have issued some 9,300 tweets, or about six a day. That doesn't seem like it should get me on the Top 100 list. It makes me wonder if their count is flawed—this wasn't produced by the Bureau of Standards, but some guy in Toronto. Or perhaps it is correct, suggesting that Chicago might really be the small time backwater we all passionately hope it is not. 
    Anyway, it reminded me of this 2011 column I wrote welcoming myself to Twitter, and given that it will be new to many, I thought it worthy of revisiting. And to the rest of you, get tweeting. I should not be on that list.

     Friday after work, instead of bolting for the train, as is my custom, I strolled to Tribune Tower, pausing to pop my head in the Billy Goat Tavern, where I was rewarded with a hearty hello from Bouch Khribech, a wiry busboy when I met him 20 years ago and now a burly bartender, and from his brother Marco, who called over Rick Kogan.
     If you don't know Kogan—and if you don't, you might be the only Chicagoan who doesn't—he's a veteran, shoe-leather reporter, with a gruff, nicotine-and-bourbon voice, the only man I've ever met who not only calls other men "honey," but makes it seem a macho trait, like carrying a Buck knife clipped to your belt.
     It was the last day of Social Media Week, a global conclave welcoming our shiny communications future. Normally I avoid these somber wakes for journalism, since after the mourners depart the profession always gets out of the coffin and goes back to work.
     But this one had an intriguing title — "Reinventing a Media Career on Alternative Platforms" — plus an all-pro lineup: the Sun-Times' own Richard Roeper, a columnist and radio star; Robert Feder, fearsome online media critic; Steve Dahl, the radio legend, and a TV news reporter named Nancy Loo.
     Kogan was going, too, so we headed off together into the Tower, through its Gothic horror show of an entrance, with the enormous map of North America, mute testimony to the terrified isolationism that once gripped the place. In the seventh floor meeting room I found friends I hadn't seen in years, so more hugs and handshakes, smiles and updates.
     The 90 minutes of discussion can be boiled down to this: Twitter is important. The service, which allows you to shoot 140-character messages to others and in turn read the haikus they write, is the barge that will carry our society wherever it is drifting to, and if you are laboring away at some outdated mode of communication—say, slowly writing stuff that will be printed on paper and flung at people's front steps—you are a brontosaurus in a tar bit, bellowing your indignation, unheard, as you slowly sink into the bubbling mire.
     Still, the session was a lot of fun—primarily because Kogan and I, like two seventh-grade boys in the back of health class, kept up a running banter of highly uncharitable thoughts regarding the proceedings.
     Leaving, I felt reassured that I could safely skip Twitter, just as I never owned a CB radio or watched "The Sopranos."
     But the next day uncertainty set in. I should see what Twitter's about. So I dropped onto Roger Ebert's website—somehow I knew this is a topic the tech-savvy Ebert would comment on, and sure enough, there it was, upper right corner, an essay on "some observations about successful tweeting."
     Ebert has 532,782 Twitter followers, and while he mercifully offered me an out—"You may well have better ways to spend your time"—he also clearly explains Twitter's appeal: "The stream, the flow, the chatter, the sudden bursts of news, the snark, the gossip, time itself tweet-tweet-tweeting away."
     That last part makes it sound like opium. But I signed on, figuring, "Why not? I can always quit," went to create @NeilSteinberg, but found I had already done it, apparently, long ago. A whopping 16 people were following me, even though I hadn't tweeted a thing. Well, mustn't keep my public waiting . . .
     Hmmm, for my first tweet . . . something pithy, Oscar Wilde-like—that's what Twitter seems to be: millions of would-be Wildes, Shaws and Whistlers, furiously flinging bon mots into the ether, hoping for a good ripple.
     The first thing that came to mind was "What hath God wrought," the message Samuel F. B. Morse sent to inaugurate the Washington-Baltimore telegraph line on May 24, 1844. Not Wildean, but certainly very me. So I sent it and signed up for various feeds—the Sun-Times, of course, the Associated Press, Rich Roeper, Sarah Silverman, who shares thoughts like "Don't forget to play catch with your kid" and "Quiet moment with my dog." She's supposed to be funny, right?
     The ironic thing is, while social media might indeed be the future, someone still felt obligated to gather people in a room on a Friday to tell them the good news. Which means, in my mind, the future ain't quite here yet. To be honest, after Kogan, I liked the gathering-in-a-room part best. It didn't matter what for—we could have been swapping meatloaf recipes. I would have preferred that, frankly, because I like meatloaf, and while a new recipe might come in handy someday, I wouldn't also feel obligated to bake a meatloaf every three hours for the rest of my life, which is what Twitter seems like right now.

                —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Sept. 26, 2011


  1. Not a big Roeper fan.

  2. Off topic: is there really a library that still has a card file cabinet? That brings forth fond memories of being a library helper in elementary school decades ago.

    1. I took that at Northbrook Public Library last week. Though I didn't actually pull a drawer open to see what it contained -- failure of initiative on my part. I assumed it was empty. I'll go back and check ASAP.

    2. Or all the cards are yellowed. I can't see a library throwing index cards out, but it's unlikely they keep the system up to date.


    3. So miss the adventure of thumbing the cards before & after the info I was seeking. The joy of discovering unconnected-except-by-happenstance-of-alphabet different worlds! Lovely way to waste research time, rather than pre-selected narrow robot search engines.

  3. That card file is beautiful - I want it!

  4. I don't tweet and probably won't, as I have no occasion to. And I do find the abbreviations an annoying addition to the common vocabulary. That said, the technological imposition of brevity can't be all bad, and brings to mind a famous historical precedent. Lord Horatio Nelson, in the run-up to that do at Trafalgar, sought to follow his battle instructions with a motivational message and dictated a short one to his signalman, Pasco, about what England confides (i.e. is confident about). Pasco pointed out that every letter of "confides" would have to be spelled out and recommended a commoner, and stronger, word that was already in the Flag Bag. Fortunately, Nelson agreed. It is unlikely that the original version would have rung down through the ages, but every English schoolboy since has learned "England expects that every man will do his duty."

    Tom Evans

    1. And in a better world, Nelson would have gone home and written a 9 volume treatise defining "duty."


    2. I don't think Nelson was much of a scholar. And his main squeeze, Emma Hamilton, was a bit of a party girl who probably would not have afforded him the necessary leisure.

      And he would have had to evade the musket ball that led to his untimely demise 'tween decks' on the Victory.


    3. Poor Lady Nelson.

  5. Here's a Meat Loaf recipe, and, from my perspective, it applies to joining Twitter, too. "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That.)"

  6. Loved card catalogs. Coould cross reference any book from here to Sunday. My kinda thing. Back on topic. You could well be #78. Your tweets invite a reply. Many don't.


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