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Tweeting, trending and TweetDeck: the death of email?

I gotta say, there are days when I wish a server somewhere would die and take my email with it.

Last Sunday I logged on and moaned aloud when I saw the avalanche of email waiting there — a personal best of 429, and that was only one of my two accounts.

“I’ll never get through it all,” I wailed, whereupon my sweet basenji, Kihei, gave me one of her understanding frowns and immediately ran to the closet to fetch her leash. And she was right — faced with such overwhelming online odds, taking the dog for a long walk by the ocean was the only answer.

But it wasn’t a solution.

Happily, I’ve found something else. My friend, Tracy Sena, the journalism adviser at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School and a tech goddess if there ever was one, introduced me to TweetDeck.

For lack of a better term, TweetDeck is a digital in-basket – organized along the lines of a huge grid that shows you, at a glance, what all of the various people you are following are saying.

On TweetDeck, you can instantly see what’s happening in all of the categories that we call life: personal friends, colleagues at work, news sites and more. If that’s too tedious, or if metacognitive aperçus are your thing, you can check out the right hand menu, where a word cloud keeps track of the most-used words on the web, a phenomenon called “trending.” According to Tracy, “bombing” and “Mumbai” appeared within minutes of the terrorist attack in November, a good half hour before headlines appeared on CNN.

Now, I need another form of electronic communication like a hole in the head. And the obsessive compulsivity of tweeting leaves me cold — people who tweet about the weather, for instance, or the doctor who recently tweeted while performing surgery (you can only be grateful that it wasn’t the anesthesiologist).

But Tweetdeck is sweet — it took me no more than a minute to scan, assess and triage maybe 30 emails — and suddenly I realized that tweeting might actually help me with my email avalanche.

Here’s what I mean. Recently my friend Ellen suggested that we have dinner — and over the next few days, a flood of emails ensued, which, given the fact that we actually like each other, should have concluded in dinner, or at least a beer.

But no. What really happened was that we just dithered back and forth, firing missives into each others’ queues and waiting 10 or 12 hours for each other to find them. The other problem was that we periodically forgot what we were supposed to be talking about: As you can probably tell, brevity isn’t my strong suit, and Ellen and I have a tendency to chat online just as we do in real life – about various subjects, with lots of literary puns and jokes, and not necessarily about the matter at hand (what was this paragraph supposed to be about, anyway?).

Now, imagine the same conversation, only on Twitter. The rigor of Twitter – you get only 140 characters, no more – instantly prevents either of us from going off topic. The immediacy of Twitter – I’m in your face, and I’m not leaving till I get my answer – means that most likely we’ll get to some kind of decision point pretty fast: yes, no, or I give up. I could definitely see twittering when it comes to the kind of communication that is simply transactional — you have something I need, or I want you to do something, or let’s decide when to meet. It’s not as time-consuming as email, and TweetDeck makes it better than texting,

Anyway, Ellen’s delighted that I’m going to tweet, and Tracy says I won’t be sorry. We’ll see. I won’t do it from the OR, and I’m sure that Ellen and I will continue to talk about Shakespeare.

Only maybe we’ll do it over a glass of red wine … and not a keyboard.

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