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?”

“Yep”

“And they burst firecwackers?”

“Yes”

“So it was like a party for him?”

“Yep, a party”

“So we can have this party for him every year?”

“Yes.”

Mission accomplished.

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?

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46 responses to “A Twitter Appraisal”

  1. Andrew says :

    Interesting. While Zuckerburg is harping about identity on the internet, you’re going Copernicus and saying that it should be all about ideas, not about individuals. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been schooled, as long as your 140 characters clicks.

    Crumpled letters in a digital bottle indeed.

    • daddysan says :

      Andrew, IMO the two are different. The Internet is too vast and diverse to exist as one contiguous segment. I think we need to understand what it can *do* for us and then decide how our presence contributes. Ideas play no role when the objective is personal connections, cementing relationships (not build them, please note) and doing that with your identity on Facebook is an excellent way. Twitter works very differently as I have outlined.

      • Andrew says :

        That’s the same point, no? Facebook is reinforcement mechanism while Twitter is more about discovery. If we’re really going to “live on the internet”, then we need a way to find things, people, ideas that interest us. Granted that Facebook will always be around, but Twitter’s more about the new and the now. Facebook is just that: an album of old memories. Great for keeping in touch and what not, but not really for finding people you haven’t already met IRL – and you wouldn’t meet them due to the boundaries of geography, social circles etc. On Twitter you can just follow someone who’s thoughts seem interesting. And then follow up with adding them on Facebook.

  2. Rapster says :

    Reblogged this on Loony Goons and commented:
    I’ve never reblogged a post but this one is quite close to the heart and it’s brilliantly written. Thought I’d do the world a favour and share it.

  3. Priya Sreeram says :

    wow – u r blessed to have a someone like harjeet in your life ! am glad to be following your slice of life via twitter/FB/Blog musings

  4. bzib says :

    I came to Twitter for work. I still marvel that in the few months I’ve been here, I’ve found more like minded people than I ever did my whole life. Some are now friends. Someday, when I’m brave enough, I’m going to share my Twitter story. Until then, when someone asks me why I’m here, I plan to point to this post and say, here’s why.

    Your writing shines bright in a world drowning in clutter and muddled thinking. When I grow up, I’d like very much to be able to write like you.

    Karina

    • daddysan says :

      Wow, that’s praise I can really bask in. Thank you so much. These are all from the heart and that’s the only way I strive to write.

      Do share your Twitter story.

      • BziB says :

        I discovered you with this post, so it’s only fitting I leave my wish for you here. Thank you for making this girl laugh out loud and tear up and shake her head in disagreement. Thank you for writing from the heart. Happy Birthday Daddy San.

  5. Khizra says :

    I hope you don’t mind but I shared this post on Facebook. I had to.
    Because everyone who I’ve ever tried to explain my Twitter ‘addiction’ to is on it. Even my own sibling.
    Ive ‘drafted’ this comment so many times but cant seem to gush about it enough or get across what I want to say.
    All I can manage is…”Boss, Aap ne keh diya!”

    This post is exactly what Twitter means to me :)

  6. bhel says :

    Just saw this link to a website that explains all the Latin jokes in Asterix (h/t @pkedrosky):
    http://www.andrewgirardin.com/asterix-latin-jokes-explained.html

    @bhel

  7. Shagun says :

    Your clarity of thought and ability of putting a finger at the right sentiment is inspiring. So much that when I write, you are my benchmark for being unclouded and well-defined. You have a fan, sir :)

    I complete two years of being on twitter, this month. The journey has been.. well.. tumultuous. I love twitter for reasons as elementary as #hashtags, links, the best humour finepicked from the whole of internet. I love it for introducing me to TV Shows and movies I hadn’t heard of (the first time I read someone talking of Dexter on twitter, I thought they were talking of the cartoon.) For introducing me to concepts and events I wouldn’t have found out about if I wasn’t a ‘tweep’ (stand up comedy, beer ups..) For introducing me to people whose credibility I can vouch for more than I can for people in real life.

    So much awesomeness. Yet, twitter is the most sinister ‘network’ one (I) can (have) ever be a part of. Between the #hashtags, links and the fine humour run the most vicious undercurrents. Ekta Kapoor would have multiple orgasms. And then some. To quote someone I know from twitter whose life has been deeply affected, “Twitter may let you make great relationships but it ruins your existing ones.” I am not even coming to what exactly these vicious activities are because anyone who has emotionally invested in twitter will know what I am talking about.

    On a personal level, while I have tried to not get caught up in the nefariousness, I’ll be lying if I say I am completely clean until recently whence I resolved against any kind of involvement. (Real life takes care of that for me, thank you very much. I come online to escape the complots and connivances of daily life. Not to see a vilified version of it.) I wish I had taken this stand right when I joined. But that’s my fallibility as a person.

    Which leads me to say, I do believe that one can choose not to be a part of it. You just shared a wonderful example of how it is possible to use twitter to form such positively wielding relationships. I am aware of many other such friendships that have gestated over 140 characters. My sentiments however, for people on twitter are restricted to admiration (everyone I follow) and gratitude (for everyone who follows me). Friendship.. not so much.

    Summing up.. I have gained a lot from twitter in terms of the content. Emotionally, very little. But that’s how I choose to keep it. Twitter really is what one can make of it.

    :)

    • daddysan says :

      That’s very honest, Shagun. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts. Loved the line “Twitter may let you make great relationships but it ruins your existing ones.” So true, especially if you overdo the staying on Twitter bit.

  8. At Sita_Iti says :

    Nice!
    That we can get to really know a person from a few tweets because of the nature of it is both amazing and adventurous. A pithy tweet by someone in my TL can bring not just a smile but a lift in spirits that can last a while.
    I started to Blog and Twitter at about the same time. One of my first posts was about Twitter, explaining to myself why I like it. It is in 2 parts. Somehow it does not seem kosher to mention this here..so I’ll stop.
    In other news I love the idea of Amar Chitra Katha, I am going to buy them for my son.

  9. Dhaval Rawal says :

    Well said sir. Twitter to me is the virtual equivalent of nudging your elbow and going “Aye, sun naa”.
    Always a patient ear and ready to engage. On multiple occasions i’ve said something to people, they did not get it and i was, “Jaane de tu twitter pe nahi hai naa, nahi samjhega”.

    This may be a bit far fetched but looking at @RealTimeWWII I wonder if my grandson would ever get to know me by reading my tweets.

    • daddysan says :

      Haha yes, it is quite the open ear :) Our tweets are being archived so yes, it is quite possible your grandson will have a better idea of who you are through your tweets.

  10. Alok Moghe (@SaintcumSinner) says :

    Brilliant post !! That story would relate many of us here.

    Humor is the best dish twitter serves along with a desert of laughter ! Formed some amazing bonds here out of the mutual interests we shared !
    I say, the best place to be for a broad outlook in every field.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  11. Prinks says :

    Sigh! Finally don’t feel bad about my twitter ‘addiction’. :D

    What I love about twitter is 99% of junta in my TL are just ‘handles’ to me. It makes it so much more easier to talk, debate or confess. Relatively new to twitter, I hope I have some stories to tell someday..

  12. mystiquepai says :

    Brilliant, this. Been trying to get my 10 year old cousin to read. Gave him Asterix comics before I realised my error.

    Twitter, well.

    Twitter made me friends in a large scary city where I had none.
    Like-minded friends, actually. People I now love.

  13. Purnima Rao says :

    Beautiful. You make me feel better about being addicted to Twitter :)

  14. Gaurav says :

    Among the many things twitter has given me that you have listed above, there is one that you left out. And for me, it has to do with you!

    We used to be inseparable through 4 years of college, laboring over pointless “journals”, tinkering around with circuits, killing time at BC, and of course, quizzing and quizzing and quizzing. We knew (and shared) each others opinions on almost everything under the sun.

    After college, we drifted apart, which is quite natural when two people are in two different geographies, often different timezones, pursuing different careers, and most importantly, building their family lives. It’s as much a part of growing up as losing hair, because life isn’t a Seinfeld episode.

    Although we stayed in touch through chats, the occasional emails, calls, meet-ups and wellofcourse Facebook, it took twitter to bring back a semblance of those old days. Those old days when we always knew what book, movie, article, or rant (most important, our epic rants!) the other guy had on his mind. When we cracked really really bad jokes, atrocious puns, and chuckled ourselves silly to the bafflement of many surrounding us. When we ribbed each other mercilessly without even entertaining the notion of giving or taking offense. Twitter has brought back for me that sense of constant contact with you, that feeling of being part of each others’ minds if not lives, that no other medium of communication ever could. It has enabled us to kinda sorta “hang out” again.

    iLike!

    • daddysan says :

      Ah that was lovely Gaurav. You said it. Twitter was a means of rediscovering an old connection sans the formality of small talk that is so endemic to any conversation involving two friends who have spent time apart.

      Even when we haven’t been in touch, I’ve learned from you. I value your honesty and I have tried to be honest in my opinions and arguments without disrespecting the other person.

      I’m eternally glad to know someone who can tolerate my madness and dishes out much insanity of his own :)

  15. siva says :

    haha awesome post. :)

    I learned a lot from here.. [ politics ( like from venkatananth) movie (mihirfadnavis) humor(gkhamba), character building(cgawker, surekhapillai) Getting into a conversation(greatbong, daddysan) etc…)
    I dont read except some humour columns ;) exception : yours and khamba blog… so building the reading habits from your blogs :D yea i shared twitter stories..

    • daddysan says :

      That’s good to know Siva. Building a ritual of reading interesting points of view is a superb way of discovering more awesomeness. And yes, Khamba writes one heck of a blog and it’s nice to be mentioned in the same sentence :)

  16. Patrix says :

    Sometimes the need to crack jokes at every opportunity gets to me (I’m guilty of it too and am working on lessening it). It is done best by a handful. My experience on Twitter has been mostly positive although I sense an increasing presence of a cartel mentality and growing sense of condescension. It is easy to not get caught up in it if you can ignore it but for those who can’t, it can be off-putting. I have been on blogs and Twitter and I may be biased but I have found my interactions among blog friends to be more fruitful and enlightening. Sadly, hardly anyone blogs anymore and if they do, it is merely an extension to their Twitter activity.

    • daddysan says :

      I hear you. Some folks do prefer the ability to express more holistic opinions on blogs instead of Twitter. The right progression is to spark discussions on Twitter and then “get a room” :) So in that sense if a blog is an extension of someone’s Twitter activity it’s a great recruitment tool for blogging.

  17. Anirban says :

    This post was very nicely articulated.

    I joined Twitter around the same time you did. It was slow at first and somewhat frustrating. Twitter takes time to understand and especially if you don’t have a group of people you know from blogging days. Some people get by with SMS-type wisecracks; some people with simply marketing what they’re selling; and some people can tweet only about what they ate for lunch.

    I think for the rest of us who spend an appreciable amount of time on Twitter, it is the ability find the vanishingly small number of people who “get” our jokes, cultural references, and thought-processes in real time – smart people in other professions who we cannot prejudge because of qualifications, race, age, or salary. Twitter is the great leveler. You are what you tweet.

    Conversely, I’ve met some people who I’ve interacted with on Twitter and found it to be a reliable index of whether I found them awesome in real-life too. You’re on my list and I hope we can have a drink sometime soon!

    • daddysan says :

      Brilliantly articulated! Yes, it’s about finding that oasis of company where you sit around trading idle banter which only you get.

      A drink is long overdue. DC isn’t such a hike from where I stay so we need to make this happen soon.

  18. AG says :

    Lovely!

  19. Rainbow (@ra1nb0w) says :

    great post, as usual. your choice of words are very apt. for once, thought had caught you on the wrong foot. i thought you had used the word ‘joshing’ out of context, and thought ‘jostling’ was what you meant. then google put me in my place. btw, learnt that jostling is also used in a sexual context. great writing sir. hope your pen never dries.

  20. ShaKri says :

    Thank you.

  21. Harjee Kapur says :

    I’m often accused of being a snob and not mingling with twitter folk or go for tweetups. Some of my other more social friends hold it against me.
    But you’re proof of my discerning choice :)
    Thank you, my friend.

    (you still had no business writing about what was between me and Tyke. But I’m too touched to hold it against you.)

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