FILE - In this June 28, 2011 file photo, Pope Benedict XVI touches a touchpad to send a tweet for the launch of the Vatican news information portal "www.news.va", at the Vatican. The Vatican said Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, that Pope Benedict XVI will start tweeting in six languages from his own personal handle (at)Pontifex, on Dec. 12. The pontiff will be using a question and answer format in his first Tweet, focusing on answering questions about faith in 140 characters. (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano, File) EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Updated: January 6, 2013 9:56AM
Some people are early adopters. They must be first with the latest technology, so they can show off how cutting edge and plugged-in they are. Me, I am of the “use it until it breaks” school. If my Kaypro 2X hadn’t started scattering random exclamation points over the tiny green cathode ray tube screen, a problem I addressed by slamming my open palm on its metal case, I might still be using it today, printing columns on my way-cool Juki printer, with its futuristic daisywheel printer and tractor feed.
Technology today is not only devices, of course, but social media on the Web, though the whole idea of trendy websites seems itself a bit old-fashioned, very 2007, the concept of hot sites giving way, for the moment, to a handful of titans — Google, Facebook, Twitter — solidifying dominance day by day. I would no sooner search for something on a browser other than Google than I’d use whatever overnight services there might still be besides FedEx. Or maybe I’m so out of touch I don’t even hear echoes of the latest sites anymore.
Twitter is the most recent addition to my obligatory daily communication stations-of-the-cross circuit — check Gmail, check Facebook, check Twitter, rinse, repeat. I joined Twitter a year ago September, having been shamed into doing so by a former colleague, the techno-savvy Robert Feder. After 15 months, I have 1,135 followers, or what any mildly popular high school junior has. I tweet every column, an activity with as much practical value, in my mind, as printing them out, rolling the papers into scrolls and tying them to helium balloons for release into the breeze.
After a year, the whole thing seems a pointless burden, like flossing, a necessary chore done because I’m supposed to and it might matter someday. Until now, that is, when I heard that Pope Benedict XVI has acquired a Twitter account — @pontifax — and will begin tweeting next week. Now I’m glad that I’m on Twitter, relieved, because, really, who wants to trail technologically behind the pope? The Roman Catholic Church embodies many things, but embracing trends is not one of them. I would have expected the pope to announce he was using an electric typewriter before he’d enter the free-fire zone of Twitter.
So leap to Twitter to check out the papal action. Naturally, people are immediately firing tweets back at the pope, the genial idiocy that is common currency on the Web. “I like your hat!” Rainn Wilson chirps. “Will u come to my christmas party pleasse rsvp,” Andreea Hiuscu implores. “There will be cheetos.”
The Tweeterverse is filled with faux identifies, as Chicago learned when it chuckled over the obscene sputterings of Dan Sinker’s faux Rahm Emanuel. “Come on Ratzinger,” a writer who is (not) German chancellor Angela Merkel tweeted. “Just tweet a kitten picture or something. It gets easier from there.”
I called up the pope’s Twitter page — an attractive papal yellow, with his signature, and an aerial photo of Vatican City. No kittens yet. I was about to click “Follow” when I paused.
Should a good Jewish boy follow the pope? It isn’t a declarative act, akin to being baptized. Is it? Do you have to be Catholic? Once, when I was a young man, I went to church with a woman I knew, and, when everybody got up to take communion, I briefly contemplated getting in line too, just to do it, as a lark. But that seemed insulting to those who were doing it sincerely, so I stayed in my seat.
This is not communion, this is Twitter. I already follow Lady Gaga and Rick Santorum without necessarily endorsing either, just to keep up with what they’ve got to say. I gave it a click, becoming the 396,784th follower of the pope, who has yet to tweet anything, and is following seven other feeds — his own tweets in other languages. The pope of course, while following only God, in theory, does not on Twitter follow @God — probably a good thing.
“Hell yeah, it’s me!” @God says, in his greeting. “You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Twitter Lord has 95,000 followers, fervently plumped for President Barack Obama during the election, and makes remarks of such stunningly obscure inanity I had trouble finding a good example of the oeuvre: “Cool photo of 1000x magnification of a record groove.”
Which shows what a topsy-turvy world the online remains. “@God” attracted nearly 100,000 followers despite its bland ramblings, having been seized by whoever had the foresight to grab the word first. The Vatican had to go with “@pontifex” because the variants of “pope” were snagged long ago (“@pope” by a Web developer in Santa Clara, Calif.).
Will the pope tweet well? Quickness, brevity and snark seem to be the primary Twitter values, and we can’t expect the 85-year-old pontiff to excel there. Though the unfiltered quality — Tweeting is an open invitation to blow up your career at a stroke — probably won’t be an issue for him either, as layers of papal bureaucracy will do the actual tweeting.
The papal bull was a type of letter, named for the lead seal, a bulla, affixed to it. Now we have the papal tweet. Tempus fugit.