At a friend’s house for lunch on Friday, she mentioned to her husband my fondness for Twitter. He works in the IT industry for one of the major players, but he rolled his eyes in despair, wondering what the point of it all is. She endeavoured to defend my position – all with good humour – but he was not to be persuaded. While I am not blind to the shortcomings of the 120-character-communication-with-a-tonne-of-people-you’ve-not-even-had-a-cup-of-tea-with medium that is Twitter, I would defend it, with one or two caveats attached.
Throughout the past week the most frequent thought I have had in relation to Twitter has been ‘All Life Is Here.’ Now of course this isn’t literally true. There are lots of voices in our society who can’t be, or don’t want to be, represented in that digital talk-shop. Lest we forget, not everyone has internet access, despite the gigabit-driven desire of Cameron et al. Nevertheless, the discussions, both fleeting and enduring, that I have witnessed via the site this week have illuminated something about the essence of human nature. I’ll try and explain what I mean.
Plenty of people use twitter to advertise their product or service. Absolutely nothing wrong in that. Others use it to campaign on social and political issues. Twitter is marvellously democratic – because it allows you to ‘speak’ directly to people you would otherwise have no way of reaching – and so again, it is well-designed for supporting the promotion of views, arguments, movements. Beyond this, there are those who use it to hone their ideas, carrying out prolonged but undoubtedly entertaining discussions that are, again, usually focused on serious issues, such as feminism. Switching gear, there are those who share heartwarming images of activities they have done with their kids, or atmospheric shots they took on their morning walk with the dog. Or to build and maintain friendships with others with whom they share common ground. And, less appealingly, there are those who use it to intimidate, to bully. Try typing @toryeducation into a search engine or Storify to trace the recent history of this ‘anonymous’ tweeter’s hate campaign against anyone whose views on education don’t match current Dept of Education thinking, and you’ll get the gist.
These myriad exchanges are going on 24/7 – so why did this week stand out for me, in particular? I think it is because people I’ve never met, but care about all the same, have been caught up in moments of drama, debate, debacle. I’m not going to mention anyone by either name or their twitter tag, which makes it harder to share with you what I mean, but I’ll keep going all the same. One friend has been incensed this week by the changes to welfare payments, and has eloquently ranted her way through the week. I’m hoping she feels she has made a difference – for me at least, I feel better informed and better able to form an opinion as a result of her diligent research and vented frustration. Another friend, who writes brilliantly about feminism, is as honest as one could be about the contradiction of writing about the feminist struggle from a position of relative middle-class comfort. But she was on the receiving end of an unkind amount of criticism earlier this week, and tweeted her pain – and yes, got support. Another chum wanted her overdue baby to just darn well hurry up and get here, venting a little via tweet. Twitter-chums rallied and empathised. And another got into a debate about being pressurised to join in with movements. It seemed so emotive at the time, it left me feeling concerned for people I like (even though I did not participate – or *but in* as twitter describes it – at all). And one more friend expressed her feelings of self-doubt about whether she and her blog were up to scratch, in comparison to everyone else’s out there in the blogosphere.
Collectively, each one of these people were expressing something meaningful about the human condition. Each short statement made on Twitter is a unit of honest self-disclosure. Seen in this way, there is vulnerability in nearly everything that is written there. And thus here is the first of my caveats: Twitter can be the friendliest place and the loneliest place all at the same time. As yet another good blog chum observes, ‘just at the point you most need response, none will be forthcoming’.
Other things I’ve read this week on Twitter have seemed misplaced, somehow; as if the author lacked, well, some self-awareness. Again, I’ll remain (frustratingly) vague, and not give particular examples. But what they have done is remind me of something I learned when I studied psychotherapy back in my twenties. It’s called the Johari Window.
I’ve always liked the simplicity of this model, and it’s capacity to illuminate pretty much every aspect of human communication; rather like the Dewey decimal library classification system, nothing is left out. No book, no matter how obscure, is denied a place in the Dewey decimal’s pursuit of categorisation. With the Johari Window, every moment of human interaction – and every tweet as a unit of honest self-disclosure for that matter – can be placed and understood within its parameters. And thus caveat number two? Know yourself as you tweet – otherwise, you may betray more of yourself than you wish as you cram feeling and sentiment into the restrictive word count.
A quick shufty through my own tweet history shows me ‘me’, warts ‘n’ all, as the saying goes. In the last few weeks, the best of me has empathised with struggling friends, and offered help where my knowledge base overlaps with the requests of another. At other moments I have tweeted bittersweet triumph as I complete a final task for a job that has let me go; and at other times demonstrate all my vulnerability as I tell the world that I’ve finished my updated CV and I’d really like some writing work. It would be up to others to decide whether there are things that I say in the twittersphere that demonstrate some part of me that I don’t yet see, but I guess I’m not immune, despite my knowledge of the above diagram.
Just yesterday I saw an infographic (I’m down with the lingo, me) that suggested that a high proportion of people who use social media find work via these channels, and that recruiters actively look for people in these places. So, for now at least, I’m going to continue writing my units of honest self-disclosure, in the hope that something I write rings true for someone else who needs something doing that they can pay me to do for them – if you get my drift. And to get back to my sceptical friend mentioned at the start of this post, I’ll be staying with twitter as I am full of admiration for the people I find there, who also tweet with honesty and self-awareness in abundance.