A few years ago a friend in North Carolina said to me in an email, Email is for old people. I was shocked. I thought, and still do, that email is about the greatest thing since sliced bread. What Brett meant was that for a whole couple of generations of young people, Facebook and Twitter have replaced email. Slowly I came to realize the truth of what Brett was saying. For people under about 40, whether we old folks like it or not, Facebook and Twitter are where it’s at. It’s what they do. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but by and large it’s true.


I turned 70 this year. I’m a writer of books, a poet and a playwright. It occurred to me that there were at least two generations of young people out there I was not reaching because I was not a part of the “social media” they rely on. I came to understand that if I were going to be in touch with that younger set, I’d have to communicate with them the way they communicate, which is why I am now on Facebook and Twitter.


I am also now on both those social media sites because I’m curious, curious to see how they might expand my reach, broaden my appeal, help to get more productions of my plays and sell more books of poems. Accuse me of slathering advertisements for my writing all over Facebook and Twitter if you want. I’m guilty.


Resistance to new technologies is an old response. Luddites–a word coined and a movement begun in the early 19th century–didn’t appear with people who refused to use computers or email. In the late 1950s I was the minister to two tiny rural churches in a farming and strip-mining area of southeastern Ohio. In one of my churches there was a bachelor farmer who did not have electricity because he thought it was a passing fad. The Rural Electrification Administration had come through southeastern Ohio in the middle 1930s.


Recently I sent out an announcement to the more than 2000 people on my emailing list saying I was now on both Facebook and Twitter. The responses I got back ranged from hearty welcomes, and Well it’s about time. to incredulity and outrage. Here’s a few of the latter.


Twitter? why oh why?

Will I be the last literate man standing outside the Twitter/Facebook  zone?

I’m planning an intervention.

My condolences. Best for a speedy recovery.

I draw the line at Twitter. For the love of God man!

What ‘turned’ you to the darkside?

I’m still resisting and I continue to refuse to get sucked in.

Twitter is just too weird for me.


As you can see from the responses, a lot of people accept the presence of Facebook but draw the line at Twitter. Why? Twitter with its 140-character limit is ideal for people who write haiku or tanka, for example. I write a lot of very short poems. I plan to use them on Twitter. It’s a great challenge to say something useful and meaningful in less than 140 characters.


Finally, one young friend wrote, I’m sorry that you are having to deal with some negative backlash about your adoption of new tools. I’m a little surprised, and can’t help but feel like a more careful reading of your work would make it clear to those folks that there has always been a tension in your poems between loving solitude and needing the noise of the crowd. This, by the way, is why I’m both a poet and a playwright. One is the most solitary of literary forms, the other the most communal.


Onward. I don’t know how long I’ll last on either Facebook or Twitter, but I’m going to give them both a try.