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02.27.09

Twitter Jumped the Shark This Week

It's not a business—and now that Rep. Joe Barton is doing it, it's not even hip anymore.

It’s time to Twitter the f%$k up.

It’s just madness. First email. Then instant message. Then MySpace. Then Facebook. Then LinkedIn. Then Twitter. It’s not enough anymore to “Just do it.” Now we have to tell everyone we are doing it, when we are doing it, where we are doing it and why we are doing it.

Every day I am being told to sign up for Tumblr, Yammer, Friendfeed, Plaxo, Last.fm, ping.fm or the hot social-media tool du jour that happened to get mentioned on Mashable.com. It is like a social-media arms race. Each one of these “new” tools is like a cool new night club. Hot today, gone tomorrow, replaced with something else.

I've decided to spend that time on the handful of people I really care about. I write them real letters.

Twitter is not a business. I know its founders would like to think it is. It is, for the most part, a diversion. It’s part of the web 2.0 nonsense that believes if you build anything, venture capitalists will throw money at it and then some old-media dinosaur will buy you for a gazillion dollars. But, I suspect those days are over.

Now, I get why people might be interested in what Lance Armstrong is doing. And I get why Lance Armstrong Twitters. He’s building an army of cancer-cure advocates and has legions of bicycle fans and it is, therefore, a great way to inform and mobilize the troops.

But this week in Washington D.C., Twitter jumped the shark when, to great fanfare, members of the mainstream-media elite announced they had been baptized and would from now on be holding forth from Twitterdom, and then members of Congress Twittered President Obama’s speech. This from Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): “Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren't going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.” Now, I’m totally down with Ana Marie Cox, the original Wonkette, being the reigning journalism media queen of Twitter. She’s young and hip and all-things-new-media. But, Joe Barton is, well, not. If Joe Barton is Twittering, I’m thinking maybe Ana Marie may be on the next idea. And if members of Congress are Twittering, we can be fairly certain it won’t be hip much longer.

I admit, I tried to be Twitter hip. I even wrote a blog about how Twitter could be a useful political tool under the notion that hearing voters Twitter a debate could provide unique, real-time insights into their behavior and thinking.

But I’m giving it up. I know I’ll get roasted for being anti-tech. But, what I really am is pro-meaningful communication. And somewhere along the Internet highway, we fell under the spell that more communication is better communication. Sometimes more communication is just noise.

Which links up to the idea that more friends means better and more meaningful relationships. I’ve come to believe the opposite is true. I hear of people bragging about breaking the 1,000-friend mark in Facebook. I challenge them to name 100 of those friends.

Because of a good deal of luck, I have a job and live a life that creates opportunities for intersections with a lot of people. But, I realized the more I tried to maintain links to the ever-expanding universe of acquaintances in my orbit through the ever-increasing number of tools to connect with them, the less I was spending real quality time on the people who really matter to me.

My old friend and political nemesis Paul Begala is one of the smartest people I know. He’s also figured out a lot about life as well. And he said something once that has really stuck with me: “I’m not filling out any applications for new friends,” he said, “until I do a better job with the ones I’ve got.”

So, I’ve taken that lesson to heart. Instead of spending hours trying to add to the number of friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter, I’ve decided to spend that time on the handful of people I really care about. I write them real letters. I try to remember their kids’ names and their birthdays. I want to know about their lives. I want to know if they are happy in their marriages; in their careers. If they’re not, or if they are sick, I want to know if there is something I can do to help. Meaningful friendships require constant attention, nourishment, feeding and watering. It requires quality time. Not just a Tweet.

Let me be clear. Social media provides new ways to connect and interact with people; and it is a powerful and important tool. There are hundreds of dynamic applications that are improving the way we communicate, work and live. But, it is just as important that we stand back from time to time and focus as much on what we are saying as how we are saying it. In the end, whether it's snail mail, email or Facebook, my point is that it’s ultimately most important to communicate in a meaningful way. Don't just fall in love with the tool. Fall back in love with having real conversations.

If you disagree, and I know many will, Tweet away.

RELATED: Let's Stop the Twitter Madness by Lee Woodruff

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chairman of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.