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Sara Pauff: Before you could tweet

What did people do before they tweeted?

Twitter, a social networking site in which people can share links and thoughts in fewer than 140 characters, celebrated a birthday last week. It’s a whopping 5 years old.

Other social media and blogging sites aren’t much older. Facebook was founded in 2004. LinkedIn’s been around since 2003. One of the oldest of the bunch, Blogger, is about 12 years old, almost a teenager.

Yet despite the relative youth of these sites, it still baffles me that there was a time when sharing news articles, funny YouTube videos and the mundane details of your life with your “friends” and followers wasn’t second nature. I do it several times a day, from my computer and my phone, with little thought or planning.

Sharing on social media is easy and useful, but this method of communication also has its faults. Twitter’s 140 character-system is a great way to express intense emotion, but it’s terrible for articulating why you feel that way.

And for many, there are forms of communication and expression that the Internet and electronic media will never replace. I work for a newspaper, which still prints every day because we have die-hard readers who don’t want to get their news on a smartphone or i-Pad. They want the paper in their hands. I sympathize -- I love to read and to me, a world where every book is electronic seems cold and lifeless.

But I also can’t imagine a world without the Internet and social media.

So I’m asking anyone who remembers a time before thoughts had to be expressed in fewer than 140 characters. How did you share news articles, music, pictures, video and your general thoughts about life? I have a few theories:

1) People went to their jobs and actually did work, instead of checking Facebook, “liking” friends posts and playing trivia.

2) People emailed articles, pictures and videos to their friends. Many of these were forwarded multiple times and had subject lines in all caps with unnecessary punctuation, like: WATCH THIS VIDEO!!!!!! U WILL LUV IT!!!!!.

3) People called each other on the phone. They left a lot of voicemail messages. When they finally got a human being on the line, they realized what they had to say wasn’t really important anyway.

4) People kept their thoughts to themselves. In some ways, this sounds incredibly peaceful. I don’t really need to know what you had for dinner last night or that your “hubby is the best ever! XOXO!”

But what if you had a really brilliant thought and didn’t express it?

Twitter and Facebook are about information sharing, but they are also about personal validation. I post an item, you like it and suddenly we’re connected by a common opinion. We both like Harry Potter, or we both wonder why working out increasing our cravings for frozen yogurt. These are important thoughts that must be expressed, shared, liked and retweeted -- just keep it to 140 characters.

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