COLUMN: The real tweet

This is my column for the Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010 edition of Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The real tweet
By Aaron J. Brown

The internet is for narcissists. Narcissistic internet people told me this on their blogs, so I know it’s true. I’m smart like that. And I have a blog. But even as the internet goes, studies show that social media sites are the most narcissistic of all. It’s all about me (you). If I (you) are popular on the internet, I (you) will feel happy and loved (alone on the inside). These thoughts came to mind as I considered some tweets last week. You might know tweets as a message on Twitter, but those aren’t the only “tweets” I’m talking about (birds).

I must admit, sheepishly, that I only really figured out the Twitter earlier this year for the purpose of writing an essay about Twitter. That’s inexcusable in a hipster city, but I have the unique advantage of being one of few on the Range who acknowledges that there is a Twitter. I’ve been on the Facebook and the blogs for some time, but Twitter was something foreign to me, like Canadian football where the rules are almost the same, but not quite. The field is just a little bit bigger and everything is covered in gravy. Same thing for Twitter, where you have to know what “RT” and “#” mean just to understand what people are saying.

For the uninitiated Twitter is, loosely speaking, a social networking site but you aren’t expected to personally know the people you follow. Every tweet runs less than 140 characters, usually no more than a sentence or two. Its best function is sharing breaking news and having quick debates over politics, religion or insipid television shows. Rhetorical strategy for all three topics is remarkably similar, indeed alarmingly so.

My increased involvement in these sorts of online activities has taught me, however, that as this virtual world grows in size and influence it becomes more like real life, not a magical escape from it. Indeed, the flow of electrons like water over the smooth stones of a creek bed just reminds how poor a substitute for the natural universe the internet can sometimes be. Sometimes tweets are best left to the birds.

Case in point, the other day my oldest son and I rode to the lake down a long hill from our house. As I cracked the top of the mount, a flock of Canadian geese that had been resting on the shoreline launched with the singular sound of a mighty avian engine. The geese poured across the top of the water to the center of the lake, resting again as Henry and I watched from the grass.

The honking formation floated farther out and must have drawn too close to the lake’s resident pair of loons, who began trilling and flapping at the large interlopers. The tiny loons managed to scare most of the geese even farther across the lake until, without warning, a bald eagle soared above and began swooping at the entire collection of fowl, almost indiscriminately as if to see if anything was dead or dying and available for consumption. Afterward, one goose let out a mournful call for several minutes. I don’t know why. A chickadee had landed on the seat of my bike, calling out a chorus for the tragedy and/or comedy that had just occurred.

Unlike the internet, observing a bird drama like this is not all about me, the observer. In fact, the more an observer gets involved in an occurrence like this the more he taints it, twists it, alters the natural outcome. We stood silently, except for the sound of Henry casting rocks into the cold, autumn water. Later I tweeted the following: “Just saw geese tussle w/ loons, then EAGLE strikes. Honk! Chickadee offers Greek chorus. If birds could write plays, this is it. #birds”

I probably don’t have to tell you that this was a wholly inadequate way to describe these events. Even the thousands of characters I’ve used to write this column fail to describe a world that is much bigger than me, you or even all of us together. #life

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer and community college instructor. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.” You can follow him on Twitter, @minnesotabrown.

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