Flash Friday: On Twitter

Friday posts are part of an ongoing series of short nonfiction essays inspired by ordinary events. Each piece is an original, stand-alone essay of less than 500 words. (I’m posting this week’s entry on Sunday, having spent the last few days catching my breath from Tuesday’s election results. I’ll be back on schedule this week.)

I have what you might call a Twitter problem. Every day I find myself tethered to the open tab on my laptop or glancing at the phone screen after hearing the ding of a notification. It’s a welcome distraction from writing, but my Twitter affection is more than that it, it’s a need to scratch an itch and take a digital hit of news, snark, and just maybe a status update from my college sophomore.

I’m not totally proud of this. I read somewhere that social media is as addictive as sugar and cocaine in that the reward of likes, views and retweets stimulates the pleasure center of the brain, the part that releases dopamine to reward and reinforce the stimulus. In other words, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be as addictive as chocolate, booze and drugs, which is why more than a few of us seek it out during every spare minute, like waiting on the sidewalk for a walk sign, standing in a coffee line, even driving an empty stretch of road. (I don’t do that, by the way.)

There are different types of Twitter. Political Twitter is the worst, yet it’s the one I spend the most time with. What crazy thing did Trump do today and how did Clinton respond? What’s the latest from The New York Times and Washington Post? Answers are at the fingertips. Then there’s entertainment Twitter. Say, for example, you watch “Scandal” like I do. Watching “Scandal” is fun – but watching “Scandal” and following #Scandal on Twitter? Hilarious. It’s like being at a party with the actors and thousands of people who are also tuned in, or being at a concert where the TV show is the main act instead of a band. It’s silly, but it’s fun. Is that a bad thing?

I often worry that I can’t step away from the keyboard, and sometimes I try. A couple of months ago, my 17-year-old son and I went to the Cubs game on what (unknown to us) turned out to be social media night. Fans were encouraged to post pictures to Instagram and tweet updates during the game, all under the handle #Cubs. We found our seats and sat down, and we both reached to pull out our phones. I realized quickly that I’d forgotten my glasses at home, which meant no Twitter for me because I can’t read my phone without them. I put my phone away; my son did too, in solidarity.  We watched the game – the entire game – and it was great. We talked, the Cubs won, we took the train home. When we got there, I found my glasses and caught up with the world. My first stop? Cubs twitter.