I’ve been thinking a lot lately about boot-times — not the time it takes a computer to boot, but the time it takes me to boot every morning. My old friend Kirill Sheynkman used to complain that though Moore’s law predicts processor speeds will double every two years, computer boot times remain the same — Windows and its brethren take all the resources they could get.
We have the same problem with the human brain and the Internet, which keeps offering new ways to filter information by RSS, Netvibes and FriendFeed, and new distractions too.
I try to minimize my own boot time, with short hair and no-iron shirts. But because of news sites, blogs, email, Twitter and Facebook, I usually spend five or ten minutes — ok 15 or 20 — every morning just orienting myself to the world. When I’m eating a bowl of cereal — one of the only adult foods that can safely be eaten blind — this is a period of intense pleasure. I’ll usually stop eating when I’m done reading, rather than the other way around. By then the table may be littered with empty boxes.
But all the while I worry — life is so short — that I should be doing something a bit more constructive or real. It’s the same with long car rides. Driving through the boonies, after even the country-western stations gave out, I used to think about what I really wanted to do with my life, or I’d talk to friends. Now we listen to podcasts.
There are ways the Internet had led to a more thoughtful, open culture. But it has also created a cocoon around each one of us of forwarded links and opinions from like-minded friends. The radio station, the newspaper, the television network that sought to define our common ground are now disappearing, which is one reason our politics are radicalizing.
Now this morning, Farhad Manjoo in Slate worries that Twitter can become more like fritter, a way to waste away your days in narcissism and celebrity-following. Since Twitter isn’t just a better means of talking on the telephone or sending letters to friends, Manjoo suggests that it may be a fad we can safely ignore.
Which is hard advice for me to take. Normally, I feel compelled to try every new service just to stay current, in much the same way I keep listening to new music so I can avoid one day tuning in to an Oldies station.
But now I wonder if Twitter keeps me young or actually makes me old: I’ve noticed that Twitter is one phenomenon that took hold first among middle-aged men, which I guess makes sense since it was first built by middle-aged men (whereas Facebook was built by college students).
Even now, when I talk to people under 30 — sadly it is often only to say thanks for delivering my pizza — most don’t use Twitter. College students sometimes still haven’t heard of it or only vaguely know what it is. The best essay I’ve read in weeks was a Mrinal Desai post arguing that Twitter is more like the junkyard of MySpace — which let anonymity and spam run riot — than Facebook, which is still the only peer-reviewed system for saying who you really are.
The net effect is that I spend more time reading and munching and less time building and thinking. I know this and yet I can’t quite give up on Twitter or Facebook. Not only is it fun, but maybe it’s the future. And who want to be left out on either front?