6:40am on a Sunday

December 23, 2007

When I started this post it was still mostly dark out. The heat had just kicked on and the bed still wanted to snuggle. But I couldn’t sleep. You see, last night I got a letter.

A letter? Sure. In this day of email dominance as a way to communicate I’ve taken to calling emails letters. So last night around midnight I got a letter (or an email) from a reader.

Not a reader of this column, but a reader of one of my newspaper columns. Aside from brightening your day with random thoughts, I have another facet to my keyboard banging—that of a journalist and writing professional.

Focusing….but it wasn’t the mailing of the letter that prompted me to get out of bed, it was the content. The woman who wrote the letter was angry about what I wrote and wanted to scold me and take me to task for my words. I can see that happening because my columns are similar in approach to this blog. No holds barred, genuine opinion and biting wit.

Here’s the column as it ran in JULY!!!

WRITER’S BLOCK: Buzz-phrases, Twitter and ADD
By Jeff Cutler
GateHouse News Service
Thu Jul 12, 2007, 03:25 PM EDT
Hingham –
The current random buzz-phrase at my office is “Mmmm, shiny.” It’s meant to poke fun at the short attention span people have and how individuals can easily be distracted by new cars,
celebrity-of-the-day gossip or new uses for Pomegranates.
“Mmmm, shiny” can be uttered when a pretty bird flies by, if you see a coin on the ground, or even if you’re just watching TV and a cool commercial is played.
Ours is an era — or a moment — in which the next best thing is always around the corner and the
new gadget or avocation is already old news by the time mainstream media and even a handful of
blogs are talking about it.
Take Twitter for instance. This form of online communication is familiar to a huge community of geeks, 20-somethings and savvy marketers. Punch the word “twitter” into google and you won’t end up with a short burst of laughter, you’ll pull up Twitter.com, the Website.
It’s here that you’ll view people ‘tweeting’ at each other in spurts of 140 characters. You can send
your tweets via cell phone, instant messenger or through the Twitter site. But as foreign and strange a concept as this is, it’s already becoming old news. And that’s frightening to me.
I’m the last person you’d ever want to corner at a cocktail party if your subject is Attention Deficit
Disorder. I think ADD is as real as a short passport line at the post office or good customer service
practically anywhere.
A psychologist I spoke with years ago said ADD is a catchall diagnosis for any problem a child is
having at home or school. It’s the best way a doctor can get a child into the “system” and then look
for what’s really wrong. Most of the time it’s parents, teachers and caregivers refusing to take
responsibility for rotten stewardship of today’s youth.
Regardless, phenomena like Twitter only serve to reinforce society’s belief that conditions like ADD exist. And while people dash from one event to another and from one community to another, they leave chaos in their wake.
Just the other day I spoke with a friend who was incensed about shopping carts at the local market.
She couldn’t understand how some shoppers could in good conscience decide that it was smart to
leave shopping carts all over the parking lot.
I agreed and thought that Sylvan Goldman would be very disappointed by how his majestic invention was being treated. You see, Goldman patented the shopping cart in 1940 as a timesaver for customers. He must not have realized how badly people would want to save time 67 years later.
It probably takes less than 30 seconds to herd a cart back into the corral and once there it remains
poised to assist with the next customer’s shopping. Instead, the mentality seems again to be one of
instant gratification and “disposalism.”
If we all were to take this approach, everything we have would be worthless. Books would be thrown out once they were read. A new diet or self-help routine would be introduced every week. And our collection of toys and tools and clothes would be regularly replaced.
It occurs to me that we might already be headed in that direction.
Thousands of people stood in line a week ago to get a $600 iPhone. According to an informal poll
taken by a gadget reviewer in California, 37 percent of the people in line already had a phone with a different carrier. They simply bought a new phone and switched service providers to get the next best thing. The remaining 63 percent were already AT&T customers who just wanted the newest phone.
Taking a step back from all of this, I wish people around here would nurture their ability to pay
attention for more than 140 characters. I’d like to see less cart carnage in shopping center parking
lots. And the next time a self-important, SUV-driving soccer mom cuts me off, at the very least I hope she’s got all her ADD-afflicted children buckled in.
By the way, last weekend I spent seven glorious minutes playing with an iPhone at the Hingham
Apple store at the Derby Shoppes. Mmmm, shiny.

And yes, if you were wondering, there were exactly 140 characters in today’s column’s final paragraph.

Jeff Cutler is the owner of Novel Ideas, a writing services firm based in Hingham, MA. Jeff is a
frequent contributor to the Hingham Journal and other Mariner papers; he’s the author of “Mountain Bike America: Boston” and you can read his writing regularly here in Writer’s Block and at www.bowlofcheese.com. He can be reached at jeff@jeffcutler.com.

Well, what do you think? Was I too harsh on the people who don’t put shopping carts back? Did I miss the point on the glory of the iPhone or was my informed opinion on ADD to insensitive?

As a writer, I expect to get feedback when I touch someone—in either a good or a bad way. I guess the reason I popped out of bed this morning wasn’t to jet off a note to this person who criticized my writing. It was to work on my writing and see what it was that was so poignant in my writing that July day that motivated this person to send me a letter five months after she read something I wrote. That’s powerful writing.

More to come…