In a recent instalment of the syndicated comic strip Pearls Before Swine, a character called 1980s man is being given a lesson in social media. “This is called Twitter,” explains the piglet that’s the star of the comic as he taps away at a computer, “and if you look there you’ll see I just got a follower.”
“Oh, God!” 1980s man reacts with alarm. “So, like a creepy stalker?”
The piglet calms him and assures, “We want followers now.”
“What is happening?” asks 1980s man in bewilderment.
Some of us know exactly how he feels. Especially those of us who, like 1980s man, did not grow up as digital natives. A quarter century ago – just as being online was becoming more common – there were chat rooms where strangers would congregate in a virtual environment and – one supposes – chat away to their heart’s content.
A friend of that time in my life was curious to try it out and I remember ridiculing the very idea. “Talking to strangers over a computer?” I said with incredulity. “How is that any different than randomly dialing a telephone number somewhere in the world and trying to engage the person who answers in conversation? They’d hang up because they’d think you were nuts!”
What I lacked in subtlety I made up for in earnestness.
Clearly, I had it wrong. The world did not believe such behaviour was nuts and we now live in an age where many of us do, in effect, dial up that telephone number I imagined and talk to strangers – along with, occasionally, people we may have actually met in real life.
A young man I was speaking to the other day caused me to rethink my entire attitude towards Twitter and its place as one of the mediums of communication that have become more prevalent as we transition from humans to cyborgs.
The youth in question – or “ute,” for fans of My Cousin Vinny – sought my advice on how best to interact with “the big boss” in the workplace. This is the person in every large corporation or office who has ultimate authority but with whom actual face time is rare – particularly for younger employees. I told him that the man in question disliked long-winded explanations or briefings and he should be as direct as possible, brevity being a very real virtue – and survival skill in this instance.
To my surprise, he brightened at this advice and responded by telling me that this was “great news” as he was excellent at making his point in brief bursts of prose, thanks to his long-standing Twitter and texting background. He was relieved, he said, because he had assumed that the opposite would be true – that he would be expected to actually engage in a long conversation and dialogue – especially since the boss was, like me, you know, “old.”
“No offence,” he quickly added.
Clearly, the millennial hordes who have taken over Earth are comfortable with saying little and embrace the less-is-more orientation to communicating. Had I told him that words weren’t necessary and he need only make a sad or happy face in place of a report or response – to, in effect, become a walking emoji – would he have dissolved in a puddle of glee before my very eyes?
That ended our chin-wag and as I watched him walk away into the sunlight – well, towards the vending machines actually – I couldn’t help but think of two things: 1) how lacking in judgment was this ute for thinking me a good source of advice; and 2) oh my, how times have changed.
When I got home, I saw that the young man had sent me a private tweet. “TY!” he wrote, which I knew, due to my social media prowess, meant “thank you.”
I sent him a smiley face in return.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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