I guess the most fascinating thing about the internet for me is the opportunity to instantly just drop into different cultures with a single click. It’s the ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience. It is something that completely did not exist prior to the series of those electronical tubes being constructed along the Alaskan Pipeline, running all the way to the North Pole, where Santa’s Elves act as online customer service agents for Comcast on the off-season. The internet has made the world truly visible, and more people are more known to more other people than in any other time in history. The Yanomamö probably have a blog, the President of the United States has a Facebook page, and frustrated 35-year-old men pretend they are all-powerful super killers on Xbox Live. You can drop into a message board or a chat room or one of a zillion blogs or any social network and watch the interplay between people’s strong needs for connection and validation and the cold steel wall of digital anonymity. The internet has not only changed how we receive information, but is rapidly changing us as human beings. That’s what this little four-eyed-fly thinks.

I got to thinking about this today as I was writing something else and keeping an eye on Twitter. It’s only relatively recently that I have paid much attention to Twitter because the name “Twitter” is painfully fey to me, and I am not much interested in hearing that anyone is at Starbucks eating a muffin or expressing that I myself am at Starbucks eating a muffin. But something has happened over at Twitter, other than stupid celebrities misspelling their every move. Twitter, yes Twitter, is where you are going to get information FIRST, and I mean real information that is actually important. No television news or even online news can move as quickly as the real-time, on-the-spot posts from people all over the world. There is no filter – it’s raw and sometimes inelegant and always brief and sometimes scammy – but if you want to be on the front lines, Twitter is your place. Depending on whose “tweets” you follow (god, I hate saying “tweet,” that’s even worse than “Twitter,” shudder), you are gonna get some useful stuff.

You are also going to probably be entertained, angered, bored, and learn more about some people through their 140 character Twitter limit than you would ever imagine one could, and not necessarily from the info they mean to give. What lies underneath the online persona is often not at all what you would expect. It all plays out over time, the phenomenon of the micro-burst-celebrity. Everything moves so fast as millions of people are submitting information, everyone vying for the attention of the world in some way, and the ticker keeps rolling and rolling and rolling, 24 hours a day, every single day. The last people you would imagine would even be there are there, and some of them are there a LOT and care a WHOLE LOT about how many times they get “retweeted” (there we go again, ewww), how many trends they generated, how many followers they have, and their general importance in the Twitterverse. They self-promote constantly, argue with internet idiots, and try to build an empire from hits and clicks and comments, all those 0’s and 1’s stacking high into the imaginary sky.

No one, I am learning quickly, is immune to being sucked in and consumed by the internet. It promises so much, fills assorted mental and emotional holes with distraction and flash, and unless your power goes out, it will never leave you or come to an end. You can be anyone you want to be: a digi-star, an internet warrior, a silent lurker. How many people now have a best friend that is a computer screen? Is one of them you? Is one of them me? Is one of them that last person you think should care or would care about any of it? Why is it important to have the attention of people that, in real life, you probably wouldn’t even be friends with and might actually cross the street to avoid? Why did you end up there, Twit-heads?

Watching so many personality fractures online is oddly compelling, and sometimes scary. Someone is one type of person here, another there, yet another somewhere else, and all of them may be absolutely nothing like that person is at home or at work. Is it all harmless play, or some kind of metaphor for painful social impotence? I have more questions than I will ever be able to answer, and the more I observe over the years, all I really know is that we are asking for more knowledge and less real humanity, in real-time, 24 hours a day, never-ending.

In the most head-shaking modern mash-up of the banal and the profound, even DALAI LAMA tweets! Yes, I’m a follower.