Sunday, July 15, 2018

Gear Wars – May the Shorts Be with You!

Gear Wars – May the Shorts Be with You!

As a general rule, I wear shorts from the earliest days of spring until the frost is on the pumpkin. This means I can enjoy about an eight to nine-month period of going out in comfort. There is nothing better than going out and feeling an extra spring in my step because I am wearing shorts. Shorts are the best gear for basically everything – walking, running, playing sports, traveling, attending ballgames, and going out to eat.

Unfortunately, I cannot wear shorts to work – most of us cannot – and there is nothing more unbearable than wearing pants on a hot day. There are also those special occasions where shorts will not make the cut. I am going to a beach wedding later this summer, and how I wish that I could get away with shorts and an Hawaiian shirt, but decorum does not allow for that.

If you did not know it, there are objections to people – particularly men – wearing shorts. Writer Fran Lebowitz says, “Men in shorts are disgusting.” It turns out she is not the only one. Apparently, there are a number of other women who have similar feelings.

I have experienced several negative situations about my wearing shorts – incredulously even from a complete stranger. One time I took my son into a children’s clothing store and a shopper who was an older woman looked me up and down and with a sneer asked, “Do I have to see your legs?”

Believe it or not I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Later in the day I thought about this incident and became angered at myself for apologizing. Every person should have a right to self-expression, and an important part of that is the clothing that one wears.

What my shorts say about me is that I am in summer mode as much as possible. I like wearing shorts because I connect them to free time, and shorts allow me to have comfort when I want and need it. Of course, I’m not going to wear shorts to the opera at Lincoln Center or a concert at Carnegie Hall, but I certainly wish that I could get away with it.

I do realize that there are some strong feelings about shorts and even a somewhat established etiquette about wearing them. These so-called rules are a bit of a bummer, yet I try to observe them, but feel they stem from a gear wars mentality – why is what someone else is wearing something to fight about? The problem is finely tailored suits are all about rules, while shorts are all about breaking them.

Cargo shorts are my favorites because of what most other guys will agree is their best feature – pockets, lots of pockets! I really do not wish to walk around with my things in a bag and prefer not carrying a backpack. Cargo shorts allow me to put all my stuff in the pockets and walk about with my hands free. The best part is that they have a tech pocket that’s just perfect for my phone.

I know a few people in my family who are not so crazy about my cargo shorts. While I still wear them and withstand their comments, one thing I did take into account was my pair of camouflage shorts. I did like them but they hated them with a passion, so they now languish in the bottom drawer and function as my painting – indoors only – shorts.

Of course, what would summer be without the most essential shorts of all – swim trunks. I love putting them on and heading out to the pool or beach. Absolutely nothing feels like freedom better than that.

I support anyone wearing shorts, and this summer I have seen as many women wearing shorts as men. I don’t know why every man, woman, and child is not wearing them during these scorching hot days.

Everyone should be able to wear shorts everywhere they go, and my great idea that I will send to Invent Help is the Shorts Suit – I’m aware that someone has probably already thought of this, but a guy can dream about spreading the word about shorts freedom and making a little money too. Either way, men and women could go into the office being as comfortable as if they were sitting on a beach and sipping a margarita.  

Come on, America, let’s end these gear wars now. It’s time to throw away your pants and slip on a pair of shorts. Celebrate summer and your freedom from walking around with hot legs. Who cares if people don’t like it when we wear shorts?

It’s summer and the hottest days are yet to come, so go out there in a pair of shorts and enjoy every minute of it.

Oh, and may the shorts be with you!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Americans Need to Take Their Vacation Days

When Americans celebrated the Fourth of July in the past, they used to do so by taking some well-earned vacation days. It makes sense to add the days to a week when they are off for the holiday; however, many people are no longer doing that. They work the day before and after the holiday, and many more are not taking any vacation days at all.

According to a recent report, Americans failed to use 662 million vacation days last year. That is an astronomical figure and highlights the problems in our society – we don’t know how to kick back, relax, and enjoy free time. I know many people like this who claim to be “crazy busy” like they’re wearing a badge of honor, but this is nothing to brag about because it indicates the pervasive notion that not working and taking time off that we have earned is somehow wrong.

Perhaps this attitude comes from the companies for whom people work and our own government. Paid vacations days are not legally mandated in the U.S. That leaves employers to come up with their own rules, though many of them give a standard two-week vacation per year. There are also the 10 national holidays, but employers are not required to pay employees for them.

A look at the chart may explain a good deal of the reason why Americans are not taking their days. In a work environment that does not value employees’ need to take a vacation it would make sense that many workers fear taking the days they are allotted because doing so may be viewed unfavorably by their bosses.

As someone who had been an administrator and managed people, I believed that my employees not only deserved their time off but required it. People cannot work all the time without getting an opportunity to rest and recharge. That is essential to maintain both mental and physical health.

Besides, taking vacation days affords an opportunity for travel. Whether it is near or far, getting away from home is a wonderful chance to learn about other places and people. With such a big and beautiful world out there, there are so many places to explore, cuisines to be sampled, and sights to be seen.

For the most part, my family and friends take advantage of their vacation days and travel. I do make getting away with my wife and kids a priority, and I must say that going away brings us closer as we experience amazing places together.

Years ago, I had a friend who tried taking vacation days, but his problem was that he sat at home for two weeks and never went away. Since he was single and all his friends were married, he had no one to go with him. I suggested taking a tour of some kind, but he resisted. One year he said to me that he wasn’t going to take vacation anymore because it was boring, and that was the end of his using his allotted days.

I don’t know how many people are like my friend, but not having someone to travel with you is no reason not to take vacation. There are so many travel companies for singles that there is no excuse not to research them and decide on what is the best choice.

Americans would be a good deal healthier if they embraced the concept of free time. We don’t always have to be doing something for work – it is necessary to be free and on your own time and schedule.

Use every one of your vacation days and go see the world, or if you prefer not to travel go sit on a beach and watch the sunset, and afterwards try counting the stars. Take leisurely walks in the park or a nearby forest, go to restaurants you have always wanted to try, and make a point to see movies and shows and concerts. Most important of all, spending your free time with friends and loved ones when you are not on a schedule is liberating and rewarding.

Time is precious and we are usually using up our minutes and hours on somebody else’s clock. Make the time that is your own truly yours. Take advantage of the vacation days you have earned and deserve, and go have an adventure or do nothing at all.

Doing nothing is not the pernicious evil everyone tries to make it out to be. Some of my treasured moments have been when I’m doing nothing, sitting in a park or on a beach or in my own yard, watching the world and taking deep breaths. I think people will find as have I that doing nothing is doing  something necessary and compelling for yourself.

Use those vacation days, Americans; you have nothing to lose and so much to gain.    

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Automation Takes More Than Jobs Away – We Are Losing the Human Touch

Automation Takes More Than Jobs Away – We Are Losing the Human Touch

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock; I am an island.
-       “I Am a Rock” by Paul Simon

In Paul Simon's song "I Am a Rock" the speaker tells us that he is perfectly contented living inside four walls without any human interaction. Simon creates a chilling, somber portrait of a person who believes that he needs no one and selectively chooses to be alone. We want to feel sympathy for the character, but he convincingly lets us know otherwise – "And a rock feels no pain/And an island never cries."

For human beings it is normal to want to be around other people and to want to interact with them; it's in our DNA to be social, but these days banks and retailers are making things more difficult and are hurting people in more ways than one.  

The specter of self-service checkout, online shopping, and mobile ordering looms heavily over the American worker. This push for automation means human beings are losing their jobs as stores schedule less people to take cash and perform customer service, thereby trying to force customers to use self-checkout to avoid insufferably long lines.

Besides the impact on our communities of people losing their livelihoods, the other damaging effect of automation is the feeling of isolation. We can go out and do our banking, shopping, and eating and never have to interact with another human being.

This happened to me yesterday. I went to the bank and there was only one teller; therefore, despite my strong disapproval of automation, I was forced to use the ATM because I was pressed for time to get to a dentist appointment. The line was so long it appeared as if they were giving stuff away. Obviously, the management is encouraging us to use the ATM to save money on salaries, but I enjoy speaking with the teller and thanking him or her after I am done. The savings on salaries means little if the cost is far greater because I left that bank as an extremely dissatisfied customer who was seriously thinking about switching banks.

Next, I went across the street to my local Starbucks where I have been going for years and know many of the workers, but I didn’t see anyone I knew. They had one person at the cash register, one person filling mobile orders, and one barista working. The line of coffee lovers snaked around the store with everyone looking at their phones to pass the time.

I stood on the end of the long line and made a decision – I would save time by placing a mobile order. I kept queuing as I downloaded the app, loaded my credit card information, and placed my order. The line had moved a bit but when I saw the fellow who was filling the mobile orders put the small shopping bag on the counter, I knew my order was ready. If I had not placed the mobile order, I would have been waiting on the line for at least another ten to fifteen minutes.

My next stop was Target to pick up a few items for the backyard that were needed for a party we were having that weekend. I found what I was looking for rather quickly except for one item – usually, I always pride myself on being able to go into a store, get what I want, and leave without looking at other things – but my plan to leave swiftly was thwarted by long lines at the few registers that were open. 

Again, against all my strong feelings about not using automation, I acquiesced to the evil known as the self-checkout. One person had been assigned to oversee this area, but she was helping another customer. I went up to the machine and started scanning my items. Yes, it all went smoothly and I was walking back to my car in less than five minutes.

As I started driving I felt myself shaking a bit, as if I had been through a scary experience, but it was because I had compromised my position due to the time factor and used automation when I had sworn not to do so. I took a deep breath and came to a realization – this is all part of an insidious plot to force us to use automation.

These companies and banks know that we are pressed for time, know that we need to get somewhere, so that they deliberately schedule less workers and put customers in a no choice situation. In my case I try to go to these stores when I am not rushing to go someplace else, and so I have avoided using self-checkout and mobile orders. Yesterday, that changed and I hated myself for going against my principles.

I did make it to the dentist on time, and that was the first time I had an interaction with another human being after going out that day. The receptionist and I exchanged pleasantries, and I waited to see the doctor, but before that in the bank, Starbucks, and Target not one worker spoke with me or offered to help me.

In fact, in Target, I did look for help finding something I needed, but I could not find a worker who could direct me to the right location. I did end up finding the item myself, and that took a few extra minutes, but the point was I had zero interaction with personnel and I believe that is the whole point – we are losing the human touch!.

Of course, some people do not venture out as I do but prefer to stay home and do everything online. Supplies and groceries can be delivered now – and the goal there is to not send human beings but drones – and banking and shopping can be done online. We are moving in the direction of no human interaction – when a person could spend days, weeks, and even months without speaking to another human being.

Isolation may be appealing to some people like the guy in Paul Simon's song, but I for one enjoy interaction. I like knowing my barista by name, and it gives me an opportunity to let her know that I appreciate how well she crafts a cappuccino. There is no substitute for being able to also convey in person just how I want that coffee made, but I was disappointed with my drink because the app doesn’t allow for that.

Human beings are social by nature and this rush to automation is totally unnatural because it causes us to avoid what inherently is our birthright. The loss of people’s jobs is a tough price to pay, but price of the loss of the human touch and increasing isolation will be beyond anything we as a society can afford and will damage us irreparably.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Demise of Toys R Us – Facing the Loss of a Family Favorite Place

Toys R Us is closing its doors, yet another retail store falling victim to the scourge of online shopping and discount chains like Target and Walmart. It's actually surprising that Toys R Us lasted this long. When KB Toys bit the dust back in 2009, the writing was on the playroom wall, but Toys R Us hung in there for as long as it could. 

As a parent I have had to buy toys for the last 17 years, and although shopping online is very tempting, I have resisted for the most part because I got to know some of the workers in our local Toys R Us store. I was cognizant that this is about people's jobs – just as I refuse to use the automatic checkout options in stores and the ATM in banks – and I could forego the ease of shopping online to support these people working in our community. 

The incredulous news that Toys R Us was closing all 800 of its stores in the United States came in January, and I heard the news clearly, but I was in denial. Having shopped at our local store for Christmas gifts for my children last December, I recalled the place being vibrant and in full vigor. The Christmas music was playing and the staff operated in their usual friendly manner. All seemed right with the world, and the thought of the place closing down seemed impossible – until today.

I was driving with my son in the car, and as we passed our Toys R Us store he noticed a sign that announced that is was closing in seven days. I didn’t want to go in because, truthfully, I am no good with goodbyes, but my son insisted; he needed to see if it was really true. Alas, he also was in denial.

Huge signs were pasted on the windows announcing “Going Out of Business” and “Everything Must Go!” My son looked up at me and said, “This can’t be happening.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Let’s take a look inside.”

Of course, from outside things seemed pretty grim, but once we got inside they became much worse. He ran to his favorite section – where stacked boxes of Legos used to be – and stared at the empty shelves in disbelief. He turned to me with his head down and I hugged him.

The rest of the store was not much better. One person worked at the customer service desk and another at a cash register; otherwise, we saw no other personnel. A few shoppers were sifting through a couple of piles of toys that seemed all that remained, but my son had no interest in what he labelled "that junk." 

We were greeted by rows and rows of empty shelves. The once happy place where toys shined brightly in the store’s bright fluorescent lighting now seemed like a morgue. The yellow caution tape draped between aisles made it seem reminiscent of a crime scene, and in essence that was exactly what it was – the joy of so many children had been robbed from them.

Going to Toys R Us was always greatly anticipated. I remember going for the first time with my Dad, being greeted by a life-sized Geoffrey the Giraffe at the front door, and beyond his welcoming presence lay a child’s wonderland – aisle after aisle of glistening toys. Holding Dad’s hand and walking around the store in awe, I thought that this was the greatest place in the history of greatest places.

Going to that store didn’t happen too often. We only went around my birthday and Christmas, so when we did go it was exciting. They had motorized rides in the front of the store – a motorcycle and a car in my time – and happy children’s songs playing as we walked around. It was like a kid’s paradise, but now I just wished we went there more.

I didn’t understand until many years later why my Dad didn’t take us too often when I brought my own kids. Yes, the first time was their initiation into this wonderful world of toys, but the problem was we couldn’t get out of there without buying something. When he was around three years old my son cried for five agonizing minutes because he wanted a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse play set (that now sits unused in a closet in the attic). Of course, other kids and their parents were looking at us, and I had no choice but to put the box in our shopping cart to stop the drama.

As he got older my son understood that we would go in with a set amount to spend, so that if he knew his limit was $20 he would look for toys in that range. This arrangement is why we went to the store more often than I did as a kid, but thinking about it now I don’t think my Dad would have like that idea either.

My kids enjoyed going to Toys R Us to just look at the toys as well – it became kind of like an interactive kids’ museum of toys. Especially before Christmas, we would go for them to see and touch things that they wanted to put on their lists for Santa Claus. This worked out extremely well for me because the Big Guy was footing the bill and I just got to stand there and let them make their lists.

Invariably, we would bump into people we knew in the store, and my kids would see some of their friends from school. Since it was such a happy place, everyone was in good spirits and smiling, and conversations could last a while as the adults talked and the kids went around looking at the toys together. This social aspect of the store is something I will miss as well.

All of that is gone now and it is more than a shame – it is a solemn end of a place that was an important one in my children’s lives and my life. It was as if my son and I had just attended a wake for an old friend, and there was no comfort to be taken in anything we had seen. Now the old bastion of toys had become a vacant warehouse where children's dreams were no more.  

As we left the nearly empty store my son and I walked toward the car dejectedly. Saying goodbye is always difficult to do. We passed a garbage can and I stopped and took out my wallet.

“What are you doing, Dad?” he asked.

I pulled my Toys R Us Rewards card out and it glistened in the sunshine. I used it many times and good benefits came with it, but now it was just a piece of plastic. I went to throw it away and my son stopped my hand. “Can I keep it?” he asked.

I handed it to him and whispered, “Sure, but it’s not worth anything anymore.”

He put his head down and mumbled, “I know.”

When we reached the car, my son turned around and said, “I’m going to miss this place.”

I patted him on the shoulder. “Yeah, me too.”

We got in the car and I didn’t put on the radio. My son stared out the window and we were quiet the rest of the way home.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father’s Day – The Best Holiday of the Year

No offense, Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day is the best holiday of the year for me. It is the one day when I can rest easy and not have to worry about anything.

Most other holidays require me to do something. The most salient issue is I cannot forget Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Easter, birthdays, and anniversaries. They all need to be remembered; therefore, I have to write down these dates and keep that list handy every year.

The other problem is getting cards, flowers, and presents and not waiting until the day before to go shopping. Invariably, this occurs every year despite taking the precaution of making a list and putting reminders on my phone, causing me to run out to the store like a crazy tourist trying to find souvenirs.

Besides the obvious issue of looking for the right gift and card, it is the pressure of knowing that I have to do this. That is why I cannot enjoy those other holidays, but Father’s Day is mine! I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to remember to get presents or flowers or cards. Also, I don’t have to worry about people not liking what I got them – which inevitably happens because, even after all these years, I’m not a good shopper – I get wrong sizes and colors or the whole gift is not appreciated. My Mom used to say, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” but apparently no one in my house has ever heard that one before.

A few years ago, I tried gift cards, but later on someone told me that gift cards are the worst gift ever because people throw them into a drawer and never use them. This happened to be a person to whom I gave a gift card who I suppose never heard of that gift horse either.

I’m not going to be thinking of any of those worries today. No, today is my day to get up a little later (which I didn’t because my son wanted breakfast), do nothing (which I can’t do because someone in this house is always asking me to do something), and sit back and relax (not going to happen because we are going to dinner in a crowded, noisy restaurant).

Still, I got a great card from my son that he made in school, and he used “smart” twice as an adjective to describe me, which really surprises me because I can’t count how many times his response to something I have said has been  “That's just dumb, Dad.”  

I got other cards and presents as well, and this is my day and I’m not going to ruin it by complaining about yet another necktie and bottle of cologne in the gift horse’s mouth. My Mom taught me better.

Happy Father’s Day to all! 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Celebrity Suicides – We Think We Know Them But We Don’t

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

-      Edwin Arlington Robinson

When I was in high school I read “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson for the first time. I recall being shocked as I read the last stanza (see above) because the previous stanzas of the poem painted such a vibrant portrait of a wealthy man who happened to be kind, friendly, and humble. “How can a person of such wealth with seemingly everything to live for take his own life?” I kept asking myself. My teacher quickly started a discussion that to some extent I am still having inside my head to this day.

The key thing about the poem is that the poor townspeople who admire Cory so much don’t know him. They think they know him. They want to believe they know him from seeing him every day as he walks through the town dressed up in a fancy suit and shining like a god who has graced them with his presence, but they don’t have a clue about him really. They don’t know what is going on inside him, and then they find out that their idealized conception of this fellow is all an illusion when he goes home and kills himself.

Years later Paul Simon would tackle Cory in a song that he performed with Art Garfunkel. The song’s lyrics go deeper into Cory and paint a bit of a different picture of the man who has orgies on his yacht but still is philanthropic and idealized by a person who works in his factory. It again depicts Cory as someone who is believed to be known but nothing could be farther from the truth.

This week death by suicide claimed two very famous people – fashion designer Kate Spade and TV personality and chef Anthony Bourdain. In Spade’s case, I only knew of her through my wife and daughter who like her handbags and accessories. I have heard her name mentioned over the years and know that they both have acquired some of her products as gifts.

Both my wife and daughter seemed devastated to hear the news of Kate Spade’s death by her own hand. They couldn’t understand how this wealthy woman with so much to live for – including a 13-year-old daughter – could end things like this. Of course, they only knew her through products and had no idea what was going on in her life. Even after voraciously reading articles about her – with many people painting a picture of a kind and generous personality something like Richard Cory – there are no answers and maybe there never will be.

I felt the loss of Anthony Bourdain more than other members of my family because I was a loyal fan of his CNN series Parts Unknown. It was a brilliant show due to its sheer simplicity – Bourdain would travel the world sampling cuisine in countries I had once visited or wished that I had. The concept of the series proved the old notion that breaking bread with people is the best way to get to know them and, in this case, their country.

The problem I had is familiar – I felt like I knew Bourdain. TV shows have that tricky tendency to lull viewers into this misconception. I am, after all, in some way inviting Bourdain into my home each week, and although it is not interactive – I am not actually sitting across from him at a table eating some exotic cuisine – damn if it doesn’t feel as if I am. That is the somewhat confusing paradox and yet magical spell that television has for its viewers.

I am stunned that this man whom I admired and enjoyed watching would kill himself. The world is so big and there are so many cuisines yet to taste, delicious drinks to savor, and sights to see. How could Bourdain come to this decision that none of that mattered? How could he not care about seeing his 11-year-old daughter ever again? What could bring him to this choice?

I have seen reports and stories online about suicide becoming rampant in our society – there were approximately 45,000 suicides in the U.S. last year – meaning that there are many people reaching this horrific decision that are not celebrities. The question of “why” is not always easily answered for those who remain behind, not that the answers will necessarily make anyone feel much better.

When actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life, I felt shaken. I admired and liked him for so long, going back to his early days on the sitcom Mork and Mindy and then in his stand-up comedy and roles in films. He even affected my life with his role as a teacher in the film Dead Poet’s Society. I was at a crossroads in my life and thought about not being a teacher anymore and doing something else, and then I saw that film and it reaffirmed my passion for my profession.

Once again, the problem was I thought I knew Robin Williams but I didn’t. I saw him as a shooting star, a mercurial talent to be sure, but he seemed at once not containable and yet intimate. He could whisper in your ear one minute and make you believe that he was talking just to you, and then in the next minute he could be make the rafters shake from everyone laughing so hard.

As I learned more about the months and years leading up to his suicide, it seemed that a long, quiet battle with Lewy body dementia drove Williams to kill himself. Here there was answer but it did not provide a way to make me feel better about his loss. I can realize what drove him to kill himself but understanding and accepting it still feels complicated. Perhaps that is the impetuous that I (and we all) need to do more to learn about why someone would take this last, desperate step.

People who are at such depths of despair need help, and there are options for them, but everyone needs to be aware about resources for those contemplating suicide and should learn more about this topic because last year a government survey indicated that around 9.4 million people had contemplated or “had serious thoughts” about committing suicide. That is evidence enough that should motivate people to do research and then become careful observers.

In the coming days we may learn more about what drove Spade and Bourdain to throw away their greatest gift – their own lives – but even if we learn more that does nothing to take away the loss of these people. Perhaps the public should not get so invested in celebrities and the seemingly glamorous lifestyles they live, but the availability of information online and the faux intimacy that TV and films provide only facilitate the connection.

The most important thing to remember is that Spade and Bourdain have family members who are suffering now, and they have real intimate friends who are also grieving. The public should show these people respect and give them the dignity that they deserve, but the media makes that almost impossible by keeping these stories in the news. Even in death Spade and Bourdain cannot escape scrutiny of their lives, and that is probably the cruelest ending of all. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Forget the Pen – Twitter is Now Mightier Than the Sword

Let’s make it official – Twitter is now the most important social media site in the world. With over 500 million users worldwide, it outshines the competition with its immediacy and relevance, and its reach seems nearly unlimited (approximately 135,000 new users sign up each day). Forget the pen – Twitter is now mightier than the sword, and it may be a hell of a lot more lethal than any other weapon out there as well and, make no mistake, in the wrong hands it is that dangerous.

Whoever would have thought that what amounts to a glorified text message – usually sent out via a handheld device (most often a cellular phone) – would subsume all media as the premier source for news and information? Twitter is not only the place to go to find out what is happening in the world, but it is also the number one place to tap into the public’s reaction to that news.

The President of the United States utilizes Twitter as a way to make news before it gets to the media. You can argue that this is either an extremely clever tactic or one that is fraught with peril, but Donald Trump’s millions of followers are waiting for his next message or what they hope will be another frenzied tweetstorm. His detractors are equally eager for him to text, hoping that he will stumble – as has often been the case – and say something upon which they can pounce with glee.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s use of Twitter. According to a recent poll, 62% pf U.S. voters see the president’s use of the service as a “bad thing,” with 72% indicating he uses Twitter too often. Only 20% of the voters polled think Trump’s Twitter habit is positive. While these numbers seem rather telling, Trump isn’t going to stop tweeting anytime soon because he feels that it is his way to circumvent the media and go directly to the people.

This past week saw Twitter bring down another tweeting addict – Roseanne Barr. Roseanne’s recent reboot of her ABC comedy series Roseanne was a huge ratings winner, but a racist tweet about Valerie Jarret, a former aide to President Obama, showed the power of Twitter and the dangerous side of using it, especially early in the morning while impaired by some intoxicating substance – in Barr’s case she claims it was Ambien.

Within hours of the vulgar tweet Roseanne lost her sitcom because ABC canceled it, destroyed her reputation – some will argue that she has done this before – and ruined the lives of all the people employed on her show who are now out of work. Roseanne tried to apologize saying, “I’m not racist, just an idiot,” but nothing could stop the deluge once Roseanne opened the floodgates on Twitter. 

This story is a vivid example of Twitter’s overwhelming power, but it is one that is predicated upon the user’s input – a case of the little Twitter Bird that doth mock the hand that feeds it. Twitter’s power is then within the tweeter’s control until it no longer isn’t. Once the person hits that blue Tweet button, all control is lost and the power is now in the hands of others – in the case of Barr, the president, and other celebrities, many others.

The truth is that sites like Twitter make career suicide – which is exactly what Barr has committed – all too easy. There are groups like AA who help people addicted to substances, but where is the help for those addicted to tweeting or using other social media sites? Friends can try to stage an intervention – apparently there were people in Barr’s inner circle who attempted to take her phone away with no success – but there is little recourse for those who cannot help themselves on social media.

This is not to say Twitter is a bad thing; in fact, I use Twitter to promote my writing and follow people including some celebrities, and that seems a healthy way to use it. Many other people use Twitter in positive ways, so it is not the service itself that is dangerous but rather how people intend to use (or abuse) it.

Still, I think we need to start thinking about ways to help those who cannot help themselves on Twitter and other sites. It is one thing to take a cellular phone away from a minor – as a parent I can say “been there and done that” – but it is another thing to try to do so with an adult. He or she has freedom to use the phone and has a right to free speech, so the waters get a little murky here.

The problem is that something that is so good can be bad when used in the wrong way. An automobile is a wonderful thing when used properly, but when an inebriated person gets behind the wheel and drives, that person can potentially kill others or him or herself. This changes the equation and then that person’s right to drive a car can be taken away or may even end up in jail.

Roseanne’s despicable tweet didn’t put anyone in danger, but that is not to say that she didn’t harm anyone. Her hurtful words about Ms. Jarret upset many of her followers on Twitter, became news beyond the service, and caused people on her show to lose their jobs, including nine-year old Jayden Rey who plays Mary Conner, Roseanne’s biracial granddaughter. How does one explain this to a child in any way? There is no apology or explanation that makes it understandable.

We live in a time where the virtual is subsuming the actual, and people are becoming more involved in staring at a little device than looking someone in the eyes. There is an isolating factor to it, making us retreat from our fellow humans rather than embrace them. It also makes saying things that we would never say in person all too easy to write and send.

Everyone from the rich and famous to the anonymous among us finds comfort in being able to speak their minds, but totally frank or honest dialogue can descend pretty quickly into an ugly quagmire. The ramifications of hitting “Tweet” do not usually become clear until after the fact, and by then it is too late. Twitter has cornered the market on this sad facet of modern life, and in doing so it has become the great equalizer, an opportunity for us all to either soar or crash and burn.    

So, Twitter, you now rule the world or close to it. The president uses you to announce everything from foreign policy to his opinions about opponents. Celebrities tweet messages of support to one another or snarky ones meant to cut deep, and the reach of Twitter seems limitless, or as Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear says, “To infinity and beyond.”

The key to Twitter’s success and its importance is not the celebrities or politicians who use it. The power lies in its users – the hundreds of millions of everyday people who follow the big names and let their fingers do the talking in response to the tweets. The public is what makes Twitter a powerhouse because so many people are watching the tweeters and reacting, changing the course of people’s lives in the process.

Perhaps one day Twitter will go the way of My Space, though it seems doubtful. Right now, it is the most powerful social media site around and either makes or breaks the people who use or abuse it. So, go ahead and tweet, but you better think twice before you hit that little blue button because that Twitter Bird has a sharp beak.