A Twitter Appraisal
Occasionally I have questioned the wisdom of spending time on Twitter. I haven’t helped matters by turning on notifications on my phone so even when I decide to stay off, there’s always a silent reminder of the delightful, turbulent, rapid river of information, opinion and humor awaiting me.
I started on Twitter in Dec 2009 because I was curious. Not long after that, I discovered humor on Twitter. It blew my mind. The ability of the human mind to impose a shackle of 140 characters and break free of it with words sparse in quantity but loaded with innuendo, topical references, portmanteaus and puns was a sign of brilliance.
I loved that it had no baggage. Facebook is so intense in terms of getting to know someone. Well, first you have to *know* them to even be a friend (though they’ve started the “Subscribe” business now but it adds no value to me). Then all those pictures, videos, wall conversations, likes…aargh. Can’t I just get a peek into a person’s psyche without having to sift through artificial visuals, the equivalent of movie dream sequences?
There was a way.
“This is a tweet”
Stark. Text. Unapologetic. Unsullied. The person’s mind took center-stage, everything else fading into the background. Even if the twitter handle was a front, a put-on, it still said something about the person. That is what got me hooked to Twitter.
As I swallowed the humor hook, I realized it’s impossible to make a point on Twitter without crossing some boundaries. There’s so much going on, your mind has to shout to be heard. But unlike a crowded room full of people shouting to be heard, you could filter the best very easily. There’s something about reading a well-written tweet. The cadence of the words, the way one follows the other or leads you through a labyrinth of esoterica before hitting you with a punchline that brings it all together.
Beautiful and satisfying.
It was through humor I chanced upon some brilliant exponents and they were kind enough to humor my ramblings in return. As I delved deeper into this new form of social engagement, so instantly gratifying and yet so difficult to execute consistently, I got to know some of its new stars and stalwarts. I guess it is the goal of any social medium to encourage such fraternity but it was only Twitter that allowed a person to open the door to their lives just a tiny bit and allow them to reach out without prejudice or fear. I think such interaction fosters a stronger bond. I know because I have been lucky to build some over two years.
I’ve used Twitter to build great bonds of interaction. It’s too presumptuous to call them “friendships” but I now know a small group of people quite well in terms of who they are and what they stand for. They know me for the person I am and what I stand for. I’ve also used it to reach out to people I barely knew, at a very personal, emotional level. Some bonds have disintegrated because of misunderstandings or a growing incompatibility between our values. That’s what bestows such an air of finality to Twitter relationships. It wasn’t because I posted a picture of myself wearing something ridiculous or a video they didn’t like. It was what I stood for that didn’t appeal to them anymore. Once the string is cut, it stays cut. Like most normal people, I crave resolution. But I know it’s difficult because the rift is at a deeper, more fundamental level. That’s the risk and reward of Twitter. It leaves no room for error.
On the other hand, I am lucky to have taken a few of these interactions to real life where I’ve spoken to or approached folks personally. Here are two notable examples.
I frequently interact with a small group of the most irreverent, knowledgeable, honest, brilliant people I’ve ever known. We incubate ideas, discuss current events, share recommendations for books, music, movies or simply indulge in some good old-fashioned joshing. I use them to escape work stress, I use them as a sounding board, I use them as sparring partners, I use them to share nuggets of trivia they needn’t give a fuck about but they do, patiently hearing me out
and even offering an opinion. We migrated from Twitter to Gtalk and subsequently to Facebook. I hope to meet them all in person soon.
Or, consider the case of Harjee Kapur. We first started interacting on Twitter over a year ago, graduating from jokes to more practical discussions like work, family or sharing the odd profundity. We eventually connected on LinkedIn, then Facebook. A few months ago, he broke through the fourth wall by calling me. The direct approach. I was so surprised to hear a stranger’s voice on the phone but with whom you always had something to talk about!
A few days ago we were chatting about life, the universe and everything. He asked me about Tyke so I told him my latest endeavor is to get him to read. I want to do it with books and comics but I’m still not enough of a grown-up to share my Asterix and Tintin collection with him, so I was looking for options. Today, on Diwali, a package arrived at home, addressed to Tyke. The missus thought it was probably one of his indulgent grandparents so she made a mental note to call and thank them. She opened the pack and out fell fifty glorious Amar Chitra Katha comics, bound together in Uncle Pai’s unmistakable countenance. She called me up immediately to share her delight. We’ve been raised on ACKs and it was with heartbreak that we allowed our old copies to leave home and grace the dusty shelves of a newspaper seller. These were pristine, crisp books, each bearing the story of a famous historical or mythological character.
I knew it had to be Harjee. I was overwhelmed at his thoughtfulness and called up to thank him. He rebuked me by saying that the package wasn’t meant for me anyway so I had no business thanking him.
I know close friends and relatives who haven’t even gifted Tyke the odd piece of candy when they’ve met him. He’s either been a part of the periphery or an unknown quantity they’d rather not deal with.
A stranger on Twitter understood what a child means to the word “family”.
Harjee’s a gem.
Later tonight, after sweets and firecrackers, we thought of explaining the significance of Diwali to Tyke. I started to formulate a set of lame, explanatory sentences but then I realized I had much better teachers. I took him to his room, opened the ACK pack and took out two comics – Lord Krishna and Rama. I told him of the return of Lord Ram from his vanvas and he earnestly inquired
“So they lit lamps when he came back?”
“And they burst firecwackers?”
“So it was like a party for him?”
“Yep, a party”
“So we can have this party for him every year?”
So blink away, o Twitter notification. I won’t be long. I’m not going anywhere.
What are your Twitter stories? How has Twitter added to your life?