Tweet, Tweet, Twitter

Cathryn Donaldson is now following your tweets on Twitter,” said an e-mail recently. I racked my brains, but while the first name did ring a bell, the second did not. Cathryn is not an uncommon name in the US, and during my years there I had known a Cathryn or two … maybe the Donaldson was acquired after marriage….

For the uninitiated, tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters. They are displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to the author’s subscribers who are known as followers.

Even as the brain was abuzz, the eyes were sending sensory data that broke through my reverie: “A little information about Cathryn Donaldson: 0 followers, 1 tweet, following four people. Ah! This was not a blind follower, just another newbie who had clicked blindly.

My exposure to tweets started long before came on the scene. I was a fan of Tweety Bird, a Yellow Canary cartoon character. Like many others, I thought that “tweet” was a typical onomatopoeia for the sounds of birds, but that was before the Internet began changing words and their context.

I must confess that I do not twit. My first and only tweet was on April 17 this year, an embarrassingly inane one-liner, and till date I have just discovered that it netted me 18 followers! Now, I thought that political and religious figures had followers, so it was a pretty heady experience, till I realised that these were my friends who were far from being followers, mine or anyone else’s.

I have steadfastly refused to include people I don’t know into my online orbit, and this works well on Facebook, where people mutually agree to let one another into their electronic lives. Twitter, on the other hand, by default, lets people share updates and links with anyone who wants to read them. Thankfully, it has an option: “You may follow Cathryn Donaldson as well by clicking on the “follow” button on their profile. You may also block Cathryn Donaldson if you don’t want them to follow you.” Since I don’t know her, I would rather not have Cathryn will follow my tweet, or two (another has been added now).

Twitter is ranked as one of the 50 most popular websites worldwide and is used by all — right from the White House to Shashi Tharoor, formerly of the UN and recently of the bovine fame. While some, like Veer Sanghvi, have thousands of followers and interesting tweets like the following: “We like hosting the Games because it gives us a national high for two weeks. Investing in sportsmen would give us a high for decades.” Most of the tweets are, well, just that, chirping notes, exactly what the word has meant since 1768.

Most of the tweets are not even cheerful or lively. Do they even have a meaning? Sometimes, I really wonder, ‘Will I tweet?’ Not unless I have something to say, something of some import. Meaningless words, even those well strung together, are just that — meaningless.

This middle was publiished in The Tribune on September 22, 2009

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