It’s the thought that counts

I reached out to someone on Twitter a while ago. That person appeared to be going through turmoil and it was heartbreaking to read their misery on their Twitter page.

If I knew this person in real life I’d probably call for a few minutes of awkward conversation, maybe take them out for a beer and more awkward conversation. The awkward conversation wouldn’t matter. Just being there with them is like being there for them. Silence is OK.

Not on Twitter.

Twitter is an arid patch of land where only the creative flourish. Evocative writing affects me deeply. There are no frills on Twitter to cloud my judgment or enhance the message, just words. It takes talent to cut through an impersonal computer screen, the choice of closing the browser or switching off the laptop and make you nod appreciatively at a poetic thought or make your guts twist with words of pain. This task of cutting through the clutter is even more daunting because of the ephemeral nature of tweets. A timeline that follows 150 people or more moves fast. A message within 140 characters sticky enough to stay on in your head is noteworthy.

It doesn’t end there. Soon you’re waiting for those lines of text to roll across your screen as you try to piece together the poignant moments of someone else’s life. Then, the helplessness as you articulate responses that sound feeble either because you don’t write well or you really don’t understand what’s happening.

Worse, the realization that the messages may stop and the window into their world may close forever. As I said, silence isn’t OK. This is the hypnotic power of Twitter. Connected by thoughts.

Sometimes I try to put those thoughts together into a coherent picture of the individual and I fail. It reminds me of a Salman Rushdie novel I’d read where a man isn’t allowed to see his prospective wife, but only parts of her through a veil. He sees the eyes, nose, hands, chin, feet and is smitten. When he sees her after the wedding, the whole is decidedly less than the sum of the parts. This is what worries me about online friendships.

Over the past year that I’ve spent on this medium I’ve been fascinated by some of the people I follow. I think I know them, I think I relate but I don’t know if they’ve really let me into the most private realms of their world. A privilege few extend and fewer deserve.

Until I meet them I can only continue to build my edifice of thoughts, letting a chosen few enter in the hope they extend the same faith.

It’s the thought that counts, but not if you can’t say it well on Twitter.

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63 responses to “It’s the thought that counts”

  1. pulkit says :

    Well i may not be articulate enough to put my thoughts into words like the other readers here.
    So simply saying, I felt a grin on my face after reading this post.

    Also somehow its interpretation extends beyond twitter in my view.

    Two lines i liked most:

    ‘Twitter is an arid patch of land where only the creative flourish.’
    (I think ‘twitter’ here can be interpreted as a metaphor. Story is same in non virtual areas too )

    And:

    ‘It’s the thought that counts,but not if you can’t say it well on Twitter.’

    ( If I ignore the last two words ie. ‘on twitter’ the meaning is still apt )

    Overall this post is a beauty.

    Thanks to twitter for letting us interact with genuine talents like u.

    Keep posting sir we love your work.

  2. agreciantale says :

    I used to think that only arrogant people would think that everyone’s interested in everything that pops into their head, which was why I never understood twitter, not until now.

    This is a very beautiful and well-written entry.

    • daddysan says :

      Thank you agreciantale. I have to agree with you; Twitter is a lot of narcissism and attention-seeking (including me). However you start getting involved with people over time and that’s when it becomes addictive.

      Also, thanks for linking back to the post.

  3. Bally Sethi says :

    Interesting post (and well written)!

    For a novice, the social media landscape can be quite tricky to navigate. As I only recently began to use twitter, I have been reluctant to delve into territory that is personal, preferring instead to contribute my tu’pence worth to the Trending Topics of the day – at least until I find my feet.

    I suppose it takes time to take in the rules of interaction and play more freely within those boundaries. It’s like being new to anything; better to observe, learn, then participate…

    We are after all, responsible for anything that we put out there into the public domain for any number of people to see.

    Your post raises some interesting ancillary questions. For instance, to what extent does self censorship come into play? There are things that one might joke about amongst friends, but would hesitate to publish online. Is there a responsibility to edit so as not to cause offence when you cannot gauge your audience? Is there a duty towards others? What are the rules for interacting with those to whom you are not acquainted…? Is there an obligation to follow someone back?

    But on the other hand, perhaps this over thinking it a tad?

    Although, I admit that I might be a bit bolder in how i articulate my 140 characters if I were not using my real name and picture..!

    Bally

  4. Cauldroncity says :

    Thanks for the brilliant read.

    Being relatively new on the social media its difficult to relate to yet. But prodding the fine lines of personal space is not restricted to the virtual world. Its a daily struggle on how much is too much.

    People often use the internet as medium to shed their real skin, and even though the identity may be an ambiguity the thoughts are more unrestricted and uncensored.

    #Justsaying ;)

    P.S – Wow, twitter can get really intense huh??

    • daddysan says :

      “even though the identity may be an ambiguity the thoughts are more unrestricted and uncensored.”

      Exactly because :)

      Yep it gets pretty intense when you build impressions of people based on what they choose to reveal online.

  5. Sajeevs blog says :

    I believe that twitter is quite fun as it encourages creativity in articulating our thoughts in a small space of 140 chars. However, social media can be very addictive. Nice post. !

  6. Michelle says :

    What happened to that person? Am i the only one curious? Did that person respond?

  7. sivahs says :

    well clearly said sir… i just put in on my bio

  8. sivahs says :

    clearly said sir… i just put in on my bio

  9. maya says :

    The ability to reveal selectively is the lure of a medium like twitter. It is liberating to be able to share some of yourself and withhold the rest. But then again, here, as in real life the perceiver is always trying to fill in the blanks , make a full picture of you. Our minds are wired, it seems, to do that. So we put out parts that we want to share, but don’t know what we reveal accidentally, or how they will be composed into a whole by someone else.

    As listeners, if something that calls out to us and makes us want to reach out – is that appropriate. Well, lets assume it is , then what to say and how? You know what I have found very useful in such a context? weirdly enough – the facebook poke. With our a word, a few “pokes” convey a soothing. It sounds absurd, but it has on many occasions been a wordless standing for that awkward conversation that is simply meant to convey “I am here”. Thank you for thinking, and writing and posting :)

    • daddysan says :

      Maya that is really a novel use of the Facebook “Poke” which I mostly considered a nuisance. Thanks for that perspective. I’ll be using it more thoughtfully, if ever.

      On your point about our tendency to fill in the blanks – Gestalt?

  10. Kd says :

    Brilliant post.

    You have described the dilemma felt by someone who reads some disturbing lines and feels like responding, without understanding the depth of the sentiment. Feels like crossing over that ‘invisible distance’ mentioned by Gradwolf.

    Sometimes we do feel like reaching out and lending an ear. Just that silence you spoke of. Sometimes we are wary of the responses we might get. Most of the times we muddle up realistic feelings with the virtually chaotic thoughts. Even when we post, we sometimes exaggerate, sometimes are articulate and sometimes very brief.

    I feel that our minds are still evolving to accommodate this intense yet a globally personal phenomenon of social networking. Specially Twitter.

    PS – I just realized that I have more or less summarized your post. Could be because what you have said is really true and the way you have written it, describes the situation in the best possible way.

    Keep Writing.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks KD, yes that is a nice summary, as I was telling Purnima we really need to consider image management and interaction online as it assumes greater importance in our lives.

  11. Siddarth says :

    Truly said. Twitter is and will remain only a substitute for offline and real conversations All most of us do is perception management rather than letting the real self out. It differs from person to person and there are far too many variables at play here.
    Very well articulated. Sometimes, actions count much more than thoughts. Will a RT help :)

  12. Gradwolf says :

    Extremely well articulated. And I think it’s true of most online friendships/relationships. I also feel it can only survive that way, with that invisible distance in between. It will crumble otherwise and I’ve seen some curious cases!

  13. md610 says :

    And offcourse I meant others before some smart a** labels this as #gg.

    Its the thought that counts after all. Not the typo. :)

  14. md610 says :

    What I write in my tweets and what image other’s create of me is in my hands. Their perception is creation of what I want them to see.

    Some sad tweets make me want to reach out and ask what’s wrong. Thats the max I can do. Sharing or not sharing is an individual choice. And I just leave it till there.

    Very nice post.

  15. Mihir Modi says :

    You hit the nail on the head with that Midnight’s Children reference. Love it!

  16. Naveen Bachwani says :

    Interesting perspective… What I found most intriguing was:

    “I think I know them, I think I relate but I don’t know if they’ve really let me into the most private realms of their world. A privilege few extend and fewer deserve.”

    My take is that it differs from person to person. If you’re the sort who doesn’t care much for “what people may think” and are true to your identity, you’ll behave online how you really are. But others could just as easily create an elaborate exercise of projecting the kind of impression they want to project.

    To make matters worse, both types may post about only a limited range of topics, and almost certainly not include the thoughts they consider personal to them.

    So, I guess, I’d agree with you for the most part – you can’t really tell how someone truly is unless you’ve met them. And, then too, you can only build up a picture from what they allow themselves to reveal…

    That said, every once in a while, you come across someone who you immediately connect with. Your wavelengths match, your ideas resonate and your discussions make sense… And, you’re pretty sure that if they lived in your neighborhood, you’d be good friends, and hang out as much as possible. And, somewhere deep down, you believe that it’s not just a “persona” – it’s all true!

  17. Bandragirl says :

    Ooh! Look! Cool shit! :)

  18. Ankit says :

    As always a very well written piece. Its probably the same reason, most of the lovely people i interact with on twitter remain no more than ‘Acquaintances’ in the offline realm of life.

  19. The Wanderer says :

    “I think I know them, I think I relate but I don’t know if they’ve really let me into the most private realms of their world. A privilege few extend and fewer deserve.”

    Isn’t this true for people we meet offline as well? What makes us think meeting people offline gives us a better understanding of who they are?

    To some, all people are other people.

    • daddysan says :

      Of course, we can never really know a person even if we interact in real life but the gap in our understanding is greater online because the information is carefully curated to reflect only certain aspects. In real life they may be the most reticent, quiet people but they’ll bloom online.

  20. ethanchellan says :

    Well written post. Its all true and the sad thing is that you dont know the 980 followers or the 185 friends on FB extremely well to be there as a FRIEND.

  21. Vibhuti says :

    Apratim saaheb. Chhan lekhan. :) The dilemma of today’s times nicely woven in words. I read almost every post of yours but thought this one deserved a response since it connected so well. Thanks for articulating this on our behalf. :)

  22. Jejunekid says :

    Well written thought. My conclusions are:
    1. Twiiter is not for the weak-hearted.Twitter-suicide is not uncommon among them.
    3. Responses from personally unknown tweeps are very rare.
    4. Coteries of mutually-known tweeps exist and generally respond to each other.
    5. New friendship seldom develops.[ I don’t mean followers]

    Thanks for the intersting post.

    • daddysan says :

      Interesting response!

      – Twitter-suicide? Has this happened in the past or do you mean deleting their account?

      – Over time one will form a coterie which will account for the most interaction but people do respond outside the circle if the reachout is compelling, interesting or begs a point of view. Trollish attempts are usually ignored.

      – I disagree with your last assertion that new friendships seldom develop. If you’re used to reaching out of your circle regularly chances are you’ll find more like-minded people to bring into that circle.

  23. ± says :

    Beautiful :)

  24. saranya says :

    wonderfully written! :)

  25. g says :

    Wonderful! And I don’t mean just the post :-)

  26. nikhil says :

    Very well written Sir!

    I’ve just started using twitter for over a month now (had an account for two years but never came along, also twitter on phone seemed better and thus happened my entry with my smartphone and a brain which ceases to stop thinking :)

    I’ve connected to this article pretty well, infact I’m in my; what I like to call it as ‘addiction stage’. But, since I’ve been an internet user and in and out of social rooms since the mIRC, yahoo chat room days, I do realize the dilemma one may face while trying to put a character together just on the basis of the texts.

    I speak from personal experience, I’ve made some wonderful friends through the internet, not so many through twitter yet, but I’m quiet sure soon I will.

    My motto on the internet is: Dont expect things and one may be happily surprised.

    Usually what fails an expectation is the existence of an expectation.

    • daddysan says :

      “I’ve made some wonderful friends through the internet, not so many through twitter yet, but I’m quiet sure soon I will.”

      Amen buddy. I hope you do.

  27. Giribala says :

    Well-written! Twitter and FB as new tools of communications require new sophistry…. :-)

  28. Aquatic Static says :

    Kudos, Neeraj, for putting it out there. This is all such new territory for most of us: how much of us to put up online, how much to hold back, how far to go in expressing support, when to back off…and can you really get a sense of the person on the other side of that DP? You’ve expressed this dilemma so, so well.

    • daddysan says :

      Thanks Purnima. The reality is we need to start establishing overt boundaries because I think we’re spending a larger proportion of our day interacting online.

      This post is about the gray, unclarified area of response.

      There is nothing wrong in telling people to back off as long as it is done without hurting the other person’s feelings. Unlike non-verbal communication cues, more effort is needed to clarify the sentiment behind a tweet and unfortunately not many of us have the time or patience to do that.

  29. Rahul says :

    Ha ha.. brilliant macha … :D

    You stole my thoughts, and countless others’. :)

  30. Amrith says :

    Wow!
    Quite brilliant.
    Take a bow, sir!

  31. brinda says :

    very well put.. thanks for the good read!

  32. Aashish says :

    Very nicely articulated. There are times when I want to reach out to those “I know” on Twitter w/ help or sympathy, but I can never be sure how they will react and whether “they know me” well enough for such an action. Maybe it needs a few more years for Twitter relationships to evolve.

    • daddysan says :

      True, sentiment is so difficult to express with ample scope for misinterpretation. Recently I found myself on the backfoot attempting to explain what I thought was a little harmless joshing.

      Teaches one to be precise in their communication!

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