Obama and the “Jackass”: The Twitterverse Takes Over


Published: September 24, 2009

We live in a world of instantaneousness. Over the last couple of decades, specifically post-September 11, we have become constantly aware of the news. We follow events around the world, every second of the day, by way of 24-hour cable news networks and, of course, the Internet in its endless stream of happenings. At the same time, on a personal level, we’ve been perpetually accessible by beeping, buzzing cell phones, BlackBerries, iPhones and other contraptions.

The ability to get in touch with anyone or learn about anything at any time certainly has its pros and cons, peace of mind being one and insanity being another—you can decide which falls where. However, when the two separate media essentially join forces, to constantly feed news and information through mobile devices literally attached at the hip, it’s almost frightening.

I, for one, heard of Michael Jackson’s death before most news networks were reporting on it. Why? Because TMZ (@TMZonline) sent the breaking news out on Twitter, which was then picked up and retweeted by other online gossip junkies, eventually sending a “R.I.P. Michael Jackson :(“ tweet directly to my BlackBerry. How close is too close?

Frankly, erasing what little bit of distance we once had from the goings-on of the world around us is terrifying. Not because personal sanity is at stake with almost no time to actually process information before it’s being hurled into our faces—though that, too, is terrifying—but because of the sheer speed of the news cycle.

Think about it. When everyone knows all the latest news within literal nanoseconds, even big things are old news within 48 hours. It’s the instantaneousness of the spread of information that is killing the print media. By the time the print edition is ready to be delivered, everybody knows what it’s going to say. People got along just fine when they had to wait six hours for the news; why should we be any different?

Not only that, but now, instead of seeking out what might be interesting to you, you are bombarded with things you don’t actually care about. After the now-infamous VMA incident between Taylor Swift and Kanye West, @JacobWakeUp tweeted something that rang true: “downside to twitter, it’s keeping me from totally ignoring certain pop culture events that normally wouldn’t even be on my radar.” That was worthy of a retweet.

Personally, I’ve gone from knowing next to nothing about Kanye West to being able to crack the, “Imma let you finish, but…” jokes with the best of them. By choice? No. I don’t even own a television. Suddenly, we don’t have to. Between Twitter updates, headlines in Google News and posted YouTube videos on Facebook, we are continuously spoonfed everything we never needed to know.

It’s not just the average college student or young professional, tied to technology, who’s facing this bombardment, either. What does it say about our society that the president of the United States, who presumably has plenty of things to handle in the world, is so well-versed in a pop culture event—less than 24 hours after it happened—that he is able to say, definitively, to a news outlet, that Kanye West is a “jackass?”

Don’t get me wrong—I love this Buddy Obama. I think it’s awesome that our president used the word jackass. And I’m not about to say that he should have been spending his time pouring over foreign policy instead of checking out a few clips of Kanye and Beyonce at the VMAs. But seriously, no matter who or where we are, we are never unattached. Not one of us. In our society, it takes actual physical effort to consciously avoid pop culture and the goriest details of the latest news story. One degree of separation might not be too much to ask.