Thursday, May 5, 2011

In Twitter era, brain has hard time keeping up with technology

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Picture virtually any professional sports event. Kisscam is optional.

The game is over, a gaggle of reporters wait outside the locker room for the doors to swing open. This is universally called the 10-minute cooling off period, to allow emotions inside to moderate, so nobody says anything really stupid into a notebook or microphone.

Not that it always works, but it's there for good reason. Too bad we don't have such a thing for Twitter.

Which brings us to Rashard Mendenhall, and the newest apology for the made-for-Twitter pile.

"We've only heard one side," the Pittsburgh Steelers running back posted the other day about Osama bin Laden, along with a few other now-infamous sentiments designed to throw cold water on the general good feelings of the moment. There was also something in there about doubting the story of 9/11.

If he wanted to go down that bumpy road, so be it. If this country's freedom is worth shooting a man in the head, then Mendenhall has every right to tweet his way into a fuss. And boy, there was one.

The inevitable happened Wednesday. He said his words didn't come out the way he meant them. And the world moves on.

More pertinent is that we have yet another case of the social media disease. In a culture starving for common sense and restraint in the way it communicates with one another, the drive-by texts keep on coming.

Began with the misguided idea that celebrity grants wisdom. Just because a guy can score touchdowns — or act in movies — doesn't mean he's any wiser about world events than your postal carrier.

But there are people out there who eagerly await the next gem from the rich and famous, and routinely make more of it than deserved.

Now, throw in the dizzying speed of this slice of modern living. In a way, Twitter posts should be like guns, requiring a waiting period. But they are immediate and unfiltered and allow no time for reflection, and so the words sometimes clang instead of sing.

The folks in sports have been particularly conspicuous at texting out 140 characters of infamy. Running back Larry Johnson once tweeted himself off the Kansas City Chiefs roster, ripping his coaches. And just the other day Ozzie Guillen got in the soup for dumping on the umpire moments after he was thrown out of a game.

Did he think no one would notice? In saner times, a ticked-off manager just kicked dirt and threw bats on the field as he left.

Mendenhall has been in shaky PR territory before, once joining the side that likened the life of NFL players to the cotton fields of antebellum plantations. "Anyone with the knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that those two parallel each other," said the man who could get rich carrying a football.

I'm not sure who should have felt more insulted, Roger Goodell or Abraham Lincoln or descendents of slaves.

Now this, which left the Steelers so aghast, they hustled out a quick communiqué to distance themselves. By Wednesday Mendenhall had apparently seen the light.

He can tap out whatever he wants, though the suggestion would be that he watch a few of the documentaries from 9/11. View the anguish of the surviving wives and husbands and fathers and mothers, recounting last phone calls from loved ones. Study the horrendous views of stranded and desperate World Trade Center victims, jumping to certain death. And the boasts of bin Laden.

Then, with a little better understanding of why many might feel as they do, he can tweet away.

Better if opinions on serious issues — especially those with thousands of graves — not be delivered in the same instant-emotion tone as one would use to a referee after an iffy call.

But that's the Twitter age, and risky business it is, when the brain has a hard time keeping up with the technology. There's no turning back. Teams could attempt to stop it, but why even try? Still, everyone better understand what you text is who you are.

If you can't stand the heat, stay away from the send button.

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