Friday, January 25, 2013

Feelingsdumps, Twitter, and the value of online friends

Lots of people in my life don't get Twitter. They don't understand what the attraction is, or why I both enjoy and value my interactions there. Some of them find it silly, or trivial, or annoying. (One, indeed, has pointblank asked me to give it up altogether, a move I am still considering, but with a great deal of reluctance).

I seem to be past the point where people who know me well question why I blog. My immediate family, including the kids, likes my blog - its existence, the enjoyment they can see it gives me, and the longditudinal family record it provides. But Twitter, ah, that's a different beast. The exchange / mutuality aspect of it, the transactional nature, the staccato prose required by the 140 char limit, the warp speed at which it moves, the king tide of garbage in which the stream of gold floats - it not only doesn't appeal to everyone, it's bewildering and repugnant to some. For others, it's the way that I use Twitter that they find objectionable - the fact that I talk to people I haven't met IRL, the fact that I join conversations and debates, and the fact that, according to one person at least, Twitter has a ubiquity in my life that none of my other online activities do.

It's hard for me to really explain to the sceptics what it is that being on Twitter gives me. I suppose I can best express it by telling you what Twitter feels like to me. It feels like a great, fast-flowing river of minds, into which I can dive and find myself part of something bigger than myself and my local concerns, and yet, paradoxically, where my individuality and my particular problems can find support and encouragement, no matter what time of the day or night. I feel like I can participate in the zeitgeist of my times on Twitter; that the veil between "important stuff" and me is thin and tattered there, that *I* can speak and debate and be heard.

Perhaps even more importantly, I can turn to Twitter for reality checks and emotional support. Last night I had a real dilemma, involving a situation that had occurred in my offline world. I was angry and confused and didn't know what to do. Absent Twitter, and the friendships I have made there - real friendships, whether or not I've ever met the people in the flesh - I would've stewed and stressed, my anger turning sour in my belly and poisoning my night and the days ahead. I would've been quite likely to explode disproportionately, causing srious harm to relationships that, temporary rage aside, I have no real desire to jettison.

Instead, two DM conversations with longstanding Twitter friends helped me to work through my feelings and the events that have inspired them, and to come up with ideas for how to move forward constructively. One of those women has also become an IRL friend, while the other is someone I feel I know very well, after many years of online interaction, but have never met face to face. Both were there, last night, to give me their wisdom, suport and validation, and it's hard for me to overstate how important that was to me.

So as I look down the barrel of maybe having to give Twitter up, it's not a happy picture for me. I will lose something that matters to me across more than one vector of my social, emotional and intellectual life. If Twitter's not your cup of tea, that's absolutely cool - but it definitely is mine, and I'll miss it chronically if I do sacrifice it.


  1. I feel much the same way about Twitter. I’ve made some lovely, lovely friends via Twitter (yourself included), met quite a few of the local ones (some even from overseas who came to visit and stay with me), one who is now my beloved partner and the father of my baby!

    To give up Twitter, especially as the mother of said young baby, would be giving up the bulk of my social life. I’d feel isolated and have no effective way of maintaining those casual relationships that have developed. I’m sure I’d still be able to keep up some of the deeper relationships that have formed, but for the rest of my online acquaintances, it’d be the equivalent of moving interstate and not being able to see them and stop for a chat on the street anymore.

    If someone important to me in ‘IRL’ (and I use quotes, because my online friendships are just as real life as those away from the keyboard) asked me to give up Twitter, I’d have to examine their reasons why they asked me to do so. I’d want them to fully understand what Twitter means to me and how it affects my life. To put it in terms they can relate to and make sure they understood the enormity of their request.

    If my being on Twitter meant I was neglecting those physically around me, and falling down on my duties in my ‘real life’, then yes, I’d consider quitting if I wasn’t able to balance my time between it and real life. But if it was healthy for me and provided much-needed social balance, then I’d simply try my hardest to make the person request I leave it understand that it wouldn’t be good.

    Failing that, I’d have to find some new balance that would make the requester and I happy, while still including Twitter as a part of my life.

    1. Wise words as always from you :-)

      The person and I are in negotiation at the moment, and have already come a long way back from the "Give It Up Completely" demand position. We're working on a mutually acceptable compromise around usage.

      I think holidays have complicated it, both because I have probably been on Twitter more while not working, and because the people are all with me all the time, so it's more visible to them.

  2. Personally I think you have a right to value and consider your own needs as much as anyone else's - particularly when and if it does not impact your parenting or personal life negatively. Just because the rewards may be less visible to your family, doesn't mean they don't exist - and you have seen they do!

    Anyway, self imposed limits I think should suffice. I'd be weary of letting others set this boundary for me, although I could certainly take on board their concerns and determine my own suitable limits (and I should!)

    1. Yes, true. At the moment it seems to be that the real flashpoint is going to be the period from school pick up at 3:15 until we eat dinner at 6:30ish. That is a zone in which the person has expressed a real desire to be able to have undivided attention and me not on a "device" of any kind. I think I am going to have a "no non-work screen time for anyone" rule in that zone (I can't promise not to respond to work email and she understands that, just as, if they have homework that needs the computer, they will be able to do it then).