Monday, January 23, 2012

Gimme Gimme Shlock Tweet-ment

I realized that Twitter had jumped the shark when I went to get my driver’s license changed over after moving to Washington, D.C.

After you go and register at the front door of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, you are handed a small ticket with a number on it, much like what you get while waiting for meat at a supermarket deli counter. It had a printed number and an arrow to help you to know to pull out (as opposed to push back in?) the ticket, as well as a small message written at the bottom. It read: “Follow us on Twitter @dcdmv.”

Such an idea seemed preposterous. I had a Twitter account where I followed several close friends, a few admired celebrities, and Britney Spears, for no apparent reason. All of which made sense, except for Britney Spears. But the DC DMV? Why would anyone want to follow that? But soon my feigned perplexity gave way to detached bemusement, as I stared down the invitation like an arrogant challenge. I thought to myself, “You know what? I will follow DC DMV on Twitter!” I got out my phone, signed up for their feed, and resolved to keep the ticket as a trinket of the absurdity of postwar American culture.

Only I wasn’t allowed to keep the ticket. It turns out that after they call you up to the registry counter, they take the ticket from you, presumably to prevent you hawking it in the parking lot for something more valuable than knockoff designer purses or bootleg movies: Jumping ahead in the DMV line. Thus, my already absurd assessment of the situation was rendered even more so: The Twitter message was not for you to crumple up in your pocket and carry around all day, but rather for the 7-to-75-minute wait between putting your name in at the door and going about your DMV business at the counter. This made little to no sense. Who would think to heed this message, assuming they had even happened to catch it in the first place, what while sorting out their one-to-three forms of state-issued identification, signed lease contract or further proof of residence, and letter from their second-grade teacher certifying their blood-type?

Well, me, apparently.

And, I’d like to add, exactly 700 others.

There are currently 701 people (I like to think of myself as the “and one”) following the DC DMV on Twitter – well over twice as many as it deems worthy to follow itself (253) – as lured in by the message at the bottom of a precious number ticket and choosing to stay at the prospect of a glamorous mission statement: “DC DMV is here to promote public safety. Tweet questions and follow us for service and program updates. We normally respond to tweets Mon-Fri from 8am – 5pm.”

As Twitter feeds go, the DC DMV is far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It tweets far more regularly than the official accounts of Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe Biden, and Thomas Jefferson (“from the good people at Monticello”) combined, and is often more informative than the countless obscure-to-quasi-famous musicians who post a never-ending stream of setlists and generic messages about being “in the studio.”

The DC DMV Twitter feed can perhaps best be described as competent – and about as exciting as a glass of milk. It tweets some sort of usually-obvious safety tip or not-so-fun fact every few hours (“If you don’t respond to a ticket by adjudicating it or playing the fine, it will be referred to a collections agency”) or gives you the second half of some question asked by somebody cool enough to think to message them publicly (“You’re welcome. Follow us and tell your friends to follow us too!”). As modern culture goes, posting a question to the DC DMV is only one step above writing a letter to one of those complimentary airline travel magazines that are located in the seat pocket in front of you.

But then again, what was I expecting? The whole thing makes me think of the New Yorker cartoon of the two hipper-than-thou hipster men speaking to each other as they walk through Brooklyn with their small babies. The caption reads: “What’s the right age to tell a child that she’s ironic?”

I think I was doing something similar in following the DC DMV Twitter feed: Holding on to something for the cheap thrill of basking in its irony.

All of which sounds well and good, but it turns out that waiting around for irony can get pretty boring.

But at least in the meantime, I won’t have to wonder how the District of Columbia’s traffic ticket amnesty program works.

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