Saturday, December 5, 2009

Twitter vs. The Real World

Months and months ago, anticipating the publication of my new book, I asked a friend in PR what I should be doing to get the word out. His word? Twitter. Establishing a presence on twitter would help tremendously in forming an advance fan base and a means to share information and updates about FLOW (as in FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation). His synopsis: facebook without pages. 140 characters a post (or tweet) from millions of people all over the world posting literally every second on a constantly updating cyber wall. I didn't completely understand how it worked, how you'd find people, why you'd follow anyone or how on earth someone might follow you, but, I signed up. And stared at the quickly moving wall, too overwhelmed and freaked out, to be honest, to do anything. It took a couple of days to screw up the courage to answer anyone. And another day after that to understand if you didn't include their name, and the "@" symbol, they weren't getting your message. And retweet, as in forwarding along someone else's tweet? A concept I didn't get for a month or so.

After a few days I made my first twitter friend. Or twitter BFF by day three. A fellow writer, who was engaging, funny, always answered. He wanted an agent/book deal and was impressed to find I had both. We tweeted, emailed, friended each other on facebook. And then, day five. He wrote that he'd be drinking, that he'd never say this otherwise, but he had a crush on me and needed to let me know. Hours later, when I didn't reply, his missives got increasingly angry, accusatory, bordering on rage. By the next morning, I got the "I get this way when I'm drinking," "this is how I ruin all relationships," "please forgive me" email. I quickly blocked and unfollowed everywhere, and moved on.

I found endless social media experts, publishing gurus, inspirational life coaches—and those weren't the spammers, just intrepid souls who were hawking their expertise and points of view, for free or for a specially reduced rate for webinars or workshops. Spammers are more about making easy money at home, or porn. Honestly, sometimes it's hard to differentiate. So, slowly, I learned to pick and chose who I followed. And I wasn't always right. Let's be honest, sometimes I found people, sometimes robo-generated accounts that were trying to sell me a fabulous vacation or an amazing phone deals. But, after endless hours staring at my computer (or laptop or iphone), I began to find interesting, thought-provoking, funny souls.

And then, they're gone. Which is what inspired this post in the first place. The transient-ness of twitter. For a month, a day, an hour, 5 minutes you can have the most intriguing dialog with someone. There are moments of connection, of kindred souls, of flirting, exchanging ideas, empathy, support, anger. Admiration, jealousy, twisted humor, appreciation, emotion. And then, it's over. They disappear. Sometimes for awhile, sometimes forever.

Here's my question: how real is any of it? Can you establish a relationship with a tiny square photo and names that range from real life (@elissastein for example) to combos of numbers and letters that make no sense? I've had run-ins with people I think might be bordering on the edge of a breakdown. And have established relationships that mean the world to me. There are times lately, when it feels like people on twitter are more involved in my life than people actually in my life.

Is that preposterous or the wave of the future?


Alice Langholt said...

Hi Elissa,

I like your post. I have to say that I've made some amazing friends on Twitter, weed out spammers and pornos daily, and am grateful for the connections I've cultivated here. Yes, people come and go, but some dedicated people remain and honestly work to grow honest friendships so in a nutshell, I think it's worth it. Plus, I met you there and hope we can become better acquainted too. :)

Luna said...

I came to Twitter looking for someone, and when he didn't come to the party very often I had to entertain myself. I have nothing to sell but I am looking for somehing. Connection to the world. Most people spend hours zoned out in front of TV's not even absorbing an ounce of information, so the time I spend on Twitter actually increases my knowledge, does nothing for my spelling LOL
As for the relationships, I think that in today's world connecting on any level counts, the more we can actually see how small the world is the closer we get to know how much we affect it and can change it.
Lots of the people in my life don't understand twitter, but then again those people have husband and wives and children and not much time for themselves never mind connecting to the world at large on thier own time.
I don't judge any connection I make, because some people come into your life for a dance, some just stroll by and some energies we realize have been with us all along.
I realized that once you make the connection, even with just a smile our energies recognize eachother as friend, which means "I mean you no harm". I walk through life this way, because as we recycle to help save this planet we must learn to treat everyone as friend to save our species, to learn to give a shit about eachother so that tolerance of difference is celebrated instead of feared.

Jeremy said...

With Twitter (and FB), as with real life, sometimes friendships are real, sometimes they're not. Sometimes we get fooled, sometimes we fool ourselves. And on a rare occasion, we can find a real friendship. And again, as with real life, friendships need to be nurtured. Each friendship is different, and friendships online differ from friendships "in real life". Sometimes one world spills over into the other, and when it's a real friendship, the spillover can be a wonderful thing.

Let's hope for wonderful things.

Keri Stevens said...

As active as I am on twitter (I swear, I do other things once in awhile besides tweeting) I stay both skeptical and "in the moment" in these relationships. More than once now, I've met one of "my tweeple" in real life and realized how uncomfortable that made them: Introverts who like the distancing of computer screen squirm when we see each other's real face. I quickly shake a hand, get my book (because I tend to live in a writer-heavy twitterverse) and back away.

And yet, there are others--those I know will want to sit down for coffee and a laugh at the next conference, and who will @reply back and forth with me afterwards about what fun we had.

I think of twitter as the pre-friendship stage. What we are willing to share through keyboards must be reassessed when we're breathing the same air. After all, the faces we present online tend to be a mixture of personal wish fulfillment and things we'd never confess to our closest friend or spiritual guru. That's a heavy load to lay on someone you have, in fact, never met.

I have a clearly-defined idea of what I want from social networking with narrow parameters and expectations. It helps me laugh when I realize that the famous author I've been tweeting with is, in all probability, actually a teenaged boy.

(Though between you and me, Elissa, I think you'd be good for a cup of coffee and a laugh.)