Last week, John and I met a couple of friends for dinner at the West End Lounge in Cambridge. Of all our old friends, Phil has arguably been the most successful. He has built from scratch an advertising agency that now has offices on two coasts, and currently writes a blog for Advertising Age about using social media for marketing. When Phil gives me advice about promoting my business, I listen.  Here’s what Phil told me, with all the intensity of Mr. Robinson telling Dustin Hoffman, “plastics!” Phil said, “You must go home and immediately sign up for Twitter!!”

Consequently, a day or two later I set up a twitter account. I signed on to “follow” a few celebrities, friends, and friends-o-friends. And then, suddenly, I had a few people following me. Eeek!! I was on stage in the spotlight (albeit with only four people in the audience.) Hadn’t I better start tap dancing?

But I still didn’t “get” Twitter. What were these “tweets” supposed to be about? Surely not “What are you doing now?” the official topic of twitter. (Cue Roland Hendley of Doonsbury: “Bad morning breath. Better use extra-strength mouthwash.”) I could understand why close friends might desire such a minute-by-minute update, or why we might want to follow Martha Stewart around as she went about her day (Lunch yesterday with rap star Ludacris. 40,000 followers.) But what about the other six million of us? More investigation was needed. I poked around and found the twitter posts of a soap business competitor of mine. Holy Cow! She had 1480 followers! I’d better get going!

The trouble is, the feeling of “I’d better get going!” is already an affliction in my life. I live with a chronic, anxious sense of falling behind on some vast, cosmic things-to-do list. Now I was racing to catch up with a moving train that I barely knew existed two weeks ago.

The internet has made possible a level of connection I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. This has brought many riches to my life, but also much stress as I struggle to keep up with the evolving technology and the rising tide of messages from an ever-larger network of contacts. Social media like Facebook have added new demands.(Friends: please don’t send me any more “plants” for my Facebook “garden.”) And now, with Twitter, speed and frequency have made another leap. Can I keep up? Why even try?

Why indeed? Even as I ask the question, some answers appear. We are wired for human connection. We all want to be part of the Great Conversation. It can be creative. It plays to our sense of self-importance. We all think we have something to say and now there’s someone to say it to. Not keeping up is no longer really an option in our society unless we plan to die soon. And finally, the most American of motives, because it’s a way of promoting ourselves, our businesses, and ultimately, making money. Reasons enough to give it a try I guess.