I’ve never been so aware of the lightening speed at which the internet moves until my Orwellian overlords at my job blocked me from All Things Relevant to My Online Life (ie: Facebook, Gawker Media, GMail, WordPress, Blogger, Blogspot, etc.). Had these last three weeks not gone by in the solitude of my cube with nothing but a copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to keep my mind occupied during lulls in the work flow, perhaps I would have done like I always do, and allowed my inherent bovinity to herd me over to Tumblr and Twitter.

However, and I’m aware my 3-week ‘net hiatus has rendered me painfully, woefully out-of-touch- I don’t really understand these new microblogging tools. I’ve tried to read people’s Tumblrs from time to time, but I really don’t get it. Most Tumblr entries are, like, a rather intriguing title and a link, or a title and a photo. Nothing really to it. While Twitter is just a whole site of what appear to be constantly rotating FaceBook-status-message-like one-liners. While some are funny, “Am I in my office without pants on? All I’ll admit to is having a door that will lock.” Others are scarily overshare-y, “Found out today my favorite cute barista has a boyfriend. Also found out silently sobbing into your frappuccino really creeps people out.” And, while this is sinfully entertaining in that voyeuristic way most humans are hard-wired to appreciate, I still don’t really get what the point is.

Everybody occasionally has genius jokes and witty observations to share, but I guess because I’ve always been a bit of a writer, so instead of feeling like I have to share my witticisms OMGimmediatelyrightnow, I tend to file these mini-revelations away for later use. To me, twittering just kind of seems like a really ADD way of putting your little golden brain nuggets to use. Like, if you don’t tweet it right now, will you really lose the thought? Will your flash of pithy genius evaporate if you don’t get it out of your head and into the world right now? Ever thought of getting a notebook? I hear those Moleskein things are nice… But I’m really just stalling here. Whether or not someone can file away and remember a thought in this Adderall-choked world is not really even the question. The question is the audience and why we feel we need one for our every mundane musing. Is keeping a zinger to yourself or maybe txting it to one or two friends considered a waste in this privacy-obliterating brave new world of internet quasi-stardom? Does the world really need to know everything that occurs to you in a given afternoon? What function is all this really serving? It’s really hard to answer these questions, I think, because it means confronting the bigger, deeper, ickier issue of- does anybody even care? Should anybody care? Inasmuch as Twittering seems to allow users to keep the world abreast of their every coming and going, for me, it really just serves to remind me of how much information is surging through the internet and how the individual, small and insignificant in the face of all this bustling and cloying for attention, can easily get lost in the shuffle without anyone hearing a peep. Do we comment, blog, and tweet just so people know we’re here? Will we forget we’re here if we don’t electronically communicate our Selves to someone?

My best friend lives in a small town in Alaska. On her last visit to the main 50, she told me a story about one of her neighbors: An acquaintance of hers in a town where everybody knows everybody, living just 3 cabins down from her, was found dead in his place not long after Christmas. He had been dead for two weeks and no one thought to look for him. My friend explained that in Alaska, people tend to just do their own thing- go on a week long camping trip in the bush, take a chartered rafting trip in another part of the state for an undetermined amount of time- so it’s just not that unusual to not hear from someone for an extended period. But really, when you think about it, how different is your city from small-town Alaska? How well do you know your neighbors? If you didn’t see ulgy fedora-wearing guy from 4A for in the hall for 2 weeks, would you think to call someone? Back in my college days, I read a lot of essays in Communications courses about the dissolution of the community in America, and how we all tend to be isolated and insulated by our subdivided, suburban, deadbolted, cable-fortified lives. At the time they seemed rather hysterical, but now I’m starting to really believe that we are all likely pretty cut off.

My own life speaks to this- I live in a rather unsocial, commuter-culture town where all my old friends moved away (the only one that’s left is my live-in fiance’, so I never leave the house for company), and the only thing in my life that even simulates friendship activity is keeping up with my online pals on Jezebel, Facebook, and here on WordPress. I often wonder what drives me to communicate so much of myself on the internet, and, for me at least, the answer is simple: I’m stuck in a town I hate, with no friends, my work hours don’t allow me to participate in local socializing activities necessary to garner friends in this town (going out no earlier than 11pm, paying a hellacious cover to see shitty bands, and drinking as if the liver were invincible), and if I hadn’t found a social outlet on the internet I’d probably have gone insane long ago. The scariest part is that without my fiance’ or my internet pals checking in on me, weeks could go by without anyone hearing from me, and I, too, could fall victim of the kind of undignified end feared by old folks and Bridget Jones alike: dying alone, with wild dogs feasting upon my undiscovered corpse.

Until yesterday, I seemed to think that posting blogs and blog comments was a little bit more structured and useful than twittering, but that was until I stumbled across this week’s Newsweek . Brian Braiker points out one highly useful aspect of the tweet, “In April an American journalism student was arrested in Egypt for photographing a demonstration, his tweets alerted friends to what had happened—and ultimately got him sprung.” That’s pretty fucking amazing, actually, and it makes me wonder whether the man in Alaska’s life could have been saved had he put up a tweet to his friends saying that he wasn’t feeling well, and asking someone to check on him.

So who knows, really, if these new microblogging platforms are just an exercise in vainglorious inanity, or if they’re helping us reach out to one another despite the isolating infrastructure of American life. Maybe it’s time we bloggers, facebookers, commenters, and twitterers alike ask ourselves- are we building a real community or just bolstering ourselves with vanity? Are we darning the holes in the fabric of human connectedness or just tweeting into the abyss?