Why Twitter?

twitter-logoI’ve been wanting to put into words what I love about Twitter for a while now, but have found it difficult to articulate.  Particularly when faced with friends who aren’t engaged in any social media at all and stand there scratching their heads, I’m at a loss about where to begin and generally don’t even try.  But with all the media coverage about Twitter lately, I’ve felt more compelled to say my piece about it.  It started with Maureen Dowd’s snarky op-ed piece in the NYT in which she suddenly shifted in my mind (temporarily, I hope) from a witty, on-the-mark writer to a cranky, bitter older woman who’s ready to be permanently left behind by the younger generation.  This led to some excellent rebuttals, which ranged from serious to sublimely funny. I highly recommend you read all three of these articles.

Let me start by saying that I first joined Twitter sometime in 2007 and it was incredibly lame: there was almost no one there, which led to a complete lack of interesting conversation.  When prodded by my husband and our friend to rejoin last summer, I reinstated my account on a lark and found a very different world.  All of a sudden, tons of people were on Twitter and its existence made sense.  (I did the same thing with Facebook, by the way; social media is not necessarily a realm worthy of one’s early adoption.)  So I understand why people on Twitter who aren’t connected to friends who use it often would say they just don’t get it, because I was in that boat the first time around – it seemed really dumb.

Next, I will say that I probably use Twitter differently from a lot of people. I use it for three main purposes: 1) social interaction with friends; 2) sharing info links and resources, primarily relating to special needs topics and politics; 3) tracking breaking news (i.e., I get feeds from a lot of news sources such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Windy City, NBC Chicago, NPR Politics, Slate, and Barack Obama); this is where I get headlines throughout the day that keep me in touch with the world.

I keep my account private (no one can follow my “tweets” without my consent) and am very picky about who I follow.  Most of the people I follow are relatives (my husband, sister- and brother-in-law, cousins, and father are on Twitter), old school friends, newer friends, or those whose blogs I have followed for a long time.  This keeps my Twitter stream pretty intimate. I’m not in the market to grow my follower list.

Having ongoing mini-conversations with a group of friends on Twitter reminds me of 20th century party lines on telephones.  A few of us can reply to one friend’s comment or question at once and all see each other’s answers, which leads to further information, jokes, and comments.  At times, we pick up the line and everyone is talking at once and it’s so hard to follow we put it back down quietly.  Thankfully, there are a variety of Twitter applications that will show us an entire string of tweets so that we can catch up on a conversation.  I’m sure the folks on party lines would’ve appreciated that feature.

Sure, what we are talking about may not always be fascinating to the outside world, but do you enjoy having to listen to the person next to you on the airplane talking to her best friend about last night’s work party before take-off?  No, it’s irritating and trivial as all get out, unless you are on the other end of the line and you actually care about the person and are interested in what she’s saying.  As Matt pointed out, the things people complain about being so “boring” on Twitter are the exact same things we chat with our friends about on a phone call: where we had lunch, something funny one of the kids said, a frustration with a friend or relative, losing one’s lab coat on the first day of the phlebotomy program.  It’s the small successes and challenges of life that friends talk to each other about, no matter how we choose to communicate them.

Personally, I have gained huge value in getting a sense of the flow of other women’s lives.  Thanks to cell phones and smart phones, many of us can use Twitter from absolutely anywhere, even attaching a photo of something we want to share and sending it in mere seconds, which personalizes the interaction that much more and can’t be accomplished in a phone call.  I have friends near and far with whom I’m in contact throughout the day, every day.  I can tell you whose child didn’t sleep last night, who’s planning for her child’s 1st communion tomorrow (and the fact that they’re low on gin!), who is playing music at a cafe tonight, and whose husband is late getting home – again.  We know each other very well.  For me, as someone who has been through a major transition over the past couple of years and has been working like a crazy woman, it’s useful (“regulating”, as we’d say in the business) to be in contact with people who are keeping a different pace.  Over time, it has come to seem normal to me that people might be able to go to the grocery store in the middle of the day, write a blog post after preschool drop-off, or have a chance to read a book on a rainy afternoon before the grade school pick-up.  Sure, my fellow travellers are tired and busy and often stressed, with a few working long hours outside the home like I am, but I am also able to connect consistently to a different pace of life and it has had a positive effect on me.  I even attribute some of my desire for changes to my own routine and pace next year to the contact I have with woman doing other things with their days.  I see the full range of possibilities;  I don’t think that truly happens in any other way.

So to those curmudgeons who scowl and ask, “Why wouldn’t you just pick up the phone and call your friends?” I can only say that I do that, too, and I enjoy chatting with them.  But being able to pick up my cyberphone and find myself on a party line at any time of the day with funny, smart, and supportive friends?  That’s pretty great, too.

8 responses to “Why Twitter?

  1. I resisted Twitter for a long time but once I was bullied into it (by you and Vicki, as I recall), I was hooked. I absolutely love that I can be very active and also sit back and just watch from the sidelines. My only gripe about Twitter is the same problem I have with all of the social media (including blogging), it is just so hard to manage and keep up! Twitter, for me, is a way to keep in touch with my “online” friends, mostly. It is entertaining and informative, far from boring.

  2. Yes, all the reasons why I love it too. I think my list of followers is as small as possible, but deliberately so. Twitter is my private space, my safe place, the place I go to blow off steam and share laughs and foster support among a small, core group of friends. It keeps me sane during those times when all you want to do is scream and reminds me that we are never, ever alone in this world, no matter how many miles between us.

    It is nothing like FB (which I am still often skeptical of) and nothing like blogging (which I can’t live without). It just is what it is and I love it.

  3. Oh, and, by the way, we really could use another bottle of gin over here…

  4. Again, Jordan, you knocked this one out of the park! If I were to try to write about twitter I would simply plagiarize your post. Seriously. I hadn’t even made the conscious connection about staying in touch with the other paces or nuances of life and the possibilities before us. But you are right; I can often live vicariously or even step out of my own little box when I connect with my friends through this great medium.

    I even get up the courage to walk into uncomfortable situations because I know that my friends —and all the love and support they bring— are only a “tweet” away. It feels very much like the touch of a friend’s hand on one’s shoulder when actual conversation just isn’t possible.

  5. Jordan –

    Thanks for the post on Twitter. I agree that it gives me a sense of connection to people and a feeling of immediate support and community, which shocked me when I first starting using it since I was an initial cynic like most others. Now, I have to say, I’m hooked.

    But I find I’m using it in another way that’s a little different than you describe. While I like the “checking in on life” aspects, I’ve found what I enjoy most is the sheer entertainment value of reading people who are supremely skilled at making jokes in 140 characters.

    And I’ve found that what I like most about the form is that it gives me a little writing assignment each day – like a haiku – to be creative and hopefully funny in a completely constrained environment. And as some of these “wise acres” or “cool kids” (as Chris calls them) have started following me too, I’ve begun to shift from the idea of earnest connection with friends to the pure enjoyment and challenge of wise cracking.

    My twitter feed reads much more like the conversation in a writer’s room or a bar than in a living room with women friends. And I have to admit that most of the time I like it that way.

    But I’m aware that because of this, I’m missing out on the more practical and supportive aspects of Twitter that you describe.

    I’m actually thinking of splitting my account and leaving cdahlstrom for the entertainment value and having a specific hyperlexion account for more of the authentic and useful connections with other moms.


  6. I love/hate twitter. It is all the things you’ve said here, and also a great little distraction.

    On the hate side, it siphons comments and traffic from my blog, and also I find myself following my own fave bloggers (like you) on Twitter instead of at their blogs. Because it IS more like a conversation.

    So, complicated. And wonderful! Like so much else.

  7. I like twitter, but don’t use it much, as you no doubt have noticed. 🙂

    Email, blogs, facebook and twitter make it easier to stay in touch with the distance and time difference.

  8. Jordan, just catching up on your May posts and found this really smart and illuminating – as a non Twitterite. I realized that for people who are more savvy than I with the technology, Twitter can be a break, a release, a reconnect. My guess is that alot of the disdain for Twitter is from people like me who just don’t have a tremendous knack for all the new gadgets. It’s hard to imagine something being as intimate as you describe. I believe you though (and am a little jealous).

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