Shaqsomania Has Struck

Aditi Banga ’09 visits planet ‘twitteronia’ and makes a ‘Shaqntifficaly impossible’ friendship.

As a general rule, I do not like Twitter. I have never been a fan of virtual persona platforms such as Twitter, LiveJournal, blogs, and even esoteric Gchat statuses. Call me old-fashioned, but I cannot understand why anyone would care to know ordinary details of a person’s life as captured in 140-character messages on Twitter.

Of course, to every rule there is an exception. Mine is Shaquille O’Neal, or “THE_REAL_SHAQ” as he is known on Twitter.

My obsession with Shaq’s Twitter started slowly. It was February, and I was in the throes of thesis-writing. While many of my friends were taking full advantage of senior spring, I would go to Lamont every day after class and stay until I got a few hours’ respite in bed. One day I got an e-mail containing a link to Shaq’s Twitter. I deleted it. Much as I detest Twitter, I have almost as little interest in basketball.

But when I received the link again, I reluctantly clicked on it. The description in his bio said, “Very quotatious, I perform random acts of Shaqness” and his most recent Tweet assured readers, “u guys aren’t lil people, we r all from da same planet, twitteronia.” Huh? This couldn’t be the real Shaq. But I was intrigued.

On February 22, Shaq shared one of his deep personal fears: “I hate leprekons lol.” Later that day, another update: “I had a nokia e90 but it fell n da toilet, now I have a shaqberry lol, I’m a toilet twitterer.” Well. It seemed a bit early in our acquaintance to know such private details, Shaq, but as long as we’re sharing secrets, I slept in my sister’s bed for three weeks after I watched The Omen. I wanted to tell him this, but of course, I couldn’t without a Twitter account.

A few days later, Shaq posted this note at 3:03 a.m.: “IF u r reading this, u shud b ashamed ov yourself, u shud b sleep,go 2 bed I say.” At the height of our thesis slumps, my friends and I read this as it was posted. Shaq, I thought, my mother would thank you for caring about my sleep deprivation. I would typically follow your advice, but my bibliography is only half done!

For the next few days, I willfully checked THE_REAL_SHAQ each time I took a thesis break. Shaq wrote about everything from his travels with the Phoenix Suns (“I’m n cal a forn eye. A.”) to Shaq-ifying everyday words (in addition to the aforementioned shaqberry and shaqness, Shaq has also expanded my vocabulary to include “Shaqsomnia” and my personal favorite, “Shaqntifficaly impossible”). He shares the joys of victory (“u all were my good luck charms today, I appreciate u guys”) and the pains of defeat (“A loss on my birthday, hong kong fuey, aghhh, agggh, agggh”). I can understand where you’re coming from, Shaq. My last attempt at basketball may have been in eighth grade, but I have taken midterms on my birthday every year at Harvard.

It’s hard to say why I got hooked on THE_REAL_SHAQ. It might have been the random, personal confessions, or the innovative language, or the direct conversations with many of his more than 500,000 followers. When Shaq was at the Alamo a few weeks ago, he said he was going to buy a squirrel tail hat; after one desperate follower begged him not to, Shaq listened, writing, “ok for u I wnt buy it.” (PETA would be proud, Shaq!) For whatever reason, I started counting myself as Shaq’s unofficial 544,644th follower, although given my Twitter-less status, I suppose I was engaging in furtive eavesdropping rather than a conversation with him.

Sometimes, I wish that my online friendship with Shaq were not so unbalanced. When Shaq wrote that he was “watchin the maury povich show, I’m not the father, schwwwwww,” my self-imposed silence was frustrating. Shaq, I wanted to ask, have you seen the Maury clip about the three pacifiers? That’s a question to which I’ll never know the answer, but he’d probably get a kick out of that video.

Reading Shaq’s Twitter sometimes feels a lot like playing a game of Mad Gab. A friend and I once discussed the various options of what Shaq could possibly mean when he wrote, “Went to a horse style cirk us dolay show called cavalia, very impressive.” Hmm. Cirque du Soleil?! I may not have gotten farther on my thesis conclusion that day, but I felt accomplished knowing that I had figured out that one.

Of course, we don’t always get the satisfaction of deciphering Shaq’s tweets, like when he asked for help identifying the song “weee weee wha weee weee wha weee wee weeee.” Shaq, I spent a good portion of my afternoon Googling multiple versions of those lyrics, singing them at different pitches and speeds, and even contemplating the significance behind the number of “e’s” in the last 3 “wee”s. Not that I would have been able to post an answer in my still Twitter-less state, but I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help, anyway.

I realized the full extent of my addiction when Shaq didn’t update his Twitter for a while (did you drop your Shaqberry in the toilet again?) and then wrote mainly run-of-the-mill tweets (why are you pulling away like this?). I realized at this point that his Twitter had become relatively indispensable to my daily schedule.

Why? I wondered. Why would the combination of Twitter and basketball (neither of them appealing on its own) interest me? I don’t think these things are supposed to work like double negatives.

Perhaps it’s because I wouldn’t expect many of these updates to come from an otherwise imposing seven-foot-tall, 325-pound world-famous center. Perhaps it’s because his Tweets are genuinely funny; Shaq isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself for his unconventional writing style (he once wrote “Stay tuned—prepare for SHAQ to ‘enlyten’ you!!!”).

Or maybe, since I’ve relegated Twitter as a tool for overly introspective musings, it’s refreshing to see someone use it in a lighthearted way and play with people’s passion for him. Shaq often offers tickets to the first person who can find him in a particular location—“tag me and say yur twit u hv 20 min.” Both punny and generous? You are too kind, Shaq.

Then again, maybe I am fascinated with Shaq’s Twitter because it offers a glimpse into the daily affairs of a “celebrity.” But I’m not sure this is it either. I don’t read John Mayer’s or Ashton Kutcher’s Twitters, and I can say with certainty that I own more John Mayer songs and have watched more Punk’d episodes than minutes of basketball (Shaq playing or not).

I haven’t yet figured out why I’ve bookmarked THE_REAL_SHAQ, and I don’t really care to. Unlike just about everything else in my life that I analyze—thesis arguments, post-graduation plans, the Yankees’ chances of winning lucky number 27—I’m happy simply to accept Shaq’s Twitter for what it is. Thesis or not, it’s just nice to have this outlet for laughs.

And if Shaq ever informs his Twitter following that he is in Cambridge and gives us 10 minutes to find him, you can be sure my friends and I will do our best. Not because we have a particular hankering to see a basketball game, but simply to say thanks for the “random acts of Shaqness.”

—Aditi Banga ’09 is a Senior in Lowell House and former Crimson Design Chair. She plans to spend next year performing random acts of Shaqness.