Dylan Love: editorial gun for hire.

How Twitter is like ham radio

It wasn’t all that long ago that I wrote a personally informed BI post about ham radio — what it is, how it works. Ham radio is “my new favorite social network“, proclaims my brassy headline.

Ham radio operators chat it up regardless of if they know each other or not, are overwhelmingly positive/helpful to each other, and (I would argue) still feel a degree of reverence for the sacred act of personal communication at a distance. I’ve only ever had excellent conversations with hams.

The temptation to romanticize a largely forgotten, outdated means of recreationally interacting with people is strong. I am guilty of this. Oh, for the days when people would gather around “the wireless” to hear what they could hear. What a nostalgia-laced bum I am for a time I can’t rightly claim as my own. Cue a cigarette-smoking college sophomore to elaborate on how past and future are illusion and all there is is now, man.

If only there were a contemporary “response” to ham radio. You know, something that can be used for talking to friends as easily as strangers. It’d probably have to be internet-connected, no?

Twitter undoubtedly fills this niche. I will go so faux-scholarly as to say that a tweet is a unit of complex thought — it tops off at 140 characters, so you’re generally good for a maximum of two sentences per tweet. This allows enough room for conveying everything from sarcasm to sincerity to confusion (to a picture of your cat). What is an automatically scrolling Tweetdeck column if not a 21st century radio station where people take turns playing thought deejay? Tweets, just like certain ham wavelengths, can travel around the world!

This analogy between Twitter and ham radio fails to address the disparity in attitude between the two mediums. Ham radio is probably one of the last bastions of polite, public sincerity. People default to niceness without motive. While Twitter can claim *some* of this for itself, the signal is lost to the noise way too readily. You don’t have to look too long before coming to the conclusion that Twitter is alternately riddled with misspelled hate and snap judgments (plenty of it from me) and political-career-ending photos of people’s sex organs.

Meanwhile, I made a ham-quaintance last night who told me all about how to make ice cream.

The difference must be that ham radio requires you to pass a test and earn a license, while any yahoo with an email address can register a Twitter account in less time than it takes to defecate. But it doesn’t need to be this way, Twitter. You’ve begun to present yourself to me in a manner as appealing as “internet ham radio.”1 Surely there’s a common sense way to boil down ham radio’s relatively extensive rules of conduct so that they fit inside your concise paradigm. In fact, I have a suggestion. Ready? Here it is.

Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t say to your mom’s face. This is a pretty awesome guideline that allows you to feel and express the full range of human emotion while only asking that you be mindful of how you convey it. The sole potential flaw here is that I’m assuming you have a healthy relationship with your mother. If you don’t understand what I’m getting at here, maybe that’s because I just love and respect my mom more than you do yours.

Now that I’ve paid tribute to a major social network that was founded eight years ago and has been a publicly traded company for the last eight months, does this mean I’ll be using it ceaselessly, refreshing my endless tweet stream like a rat pushing the button for his cocaine pellet? Certainly not.

Just like the folks in that timeless yesteryear that I seem to long for — I’m estimate it’s 1967 — I’m going to do other stuff too.

1. Angry ham nerds: yes, I know about EchoLink.