twitter as gathering place
i've needed to be among friends, and twitter has given me that
[apologies to my non-twitter readers - mostly family - for this very twitter-centric piece today]
When I was a kid, I used to write letters to my favorite musicians and actors, telling them how much I adore them. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from them and was always pleasantly surprised when I got a signed glossy in the mail. It felt like a connection, like they knew I existed and loved them and it made me happy, even if years later I would realize that no one but a publicist ever read my letters.
Today we have more immediate access to our favorite celebrities. Just sign on to twitter, found out their name, and tweet at them. Sometimes they will even tweet back! No writing out long letters, no stamps or envelopes or long waits to see if you get anything in return. Is this instant access to the famous a good thing? Not always. It certainly can lead to over zealous fans hounding someone, and gives space to people to say negative things. But for the most part, I find that twitter is a good place to lend support to your favorite artists, even have conversations with them. For the lesser known among your faves, it’s a good way to let them know they are appreciated. I will often tweet to writers as well, telling them how much I enjoyed their writing, whether it was a fierce piece of journalism or an oral history of a Simpsons episode. Overall, the response to this has been positive. Who doesn’t love good feedback?
I was thinking about all this when I tweeted out a small thread last week about how much I appreciate my followers. I’ve had a rough time of it lately; a surprise separation and subsequent divorce put me into a tailspin. Twitter was there for me. The friends I made in that space came to my rescue immediately, sending tweets of support, DMing to check up on me, texting me words of encouragement. Every time I had a moment of despair I’d tweet about it and my friends would rally around me and make me feel better. For all the bad rap twitter gets, it’s been a good space for me, a place where I can let go of emotions, where I can say what’s on my mind and in my heart, and have people who have grown to care about me by my side. It’s been better than therapy in some instances, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
Since joining twitter in 2007, it has become my main avenue of socialization. I don’t go out much, I don’t hang out in groups, I don’t have a lot of offline friends. I prefer being home, on my couch, to most other activities. I like my physical privacy and need a wide swath of space around me, so hanging out in bars or at parties isn’t my thing. Yet, I enjoy conversing with people. I like both intellectually stimulating conversation and talking about simpler things. I like to talk sports. I love telling jokes and making people laugh and I love even more listening to be people be funny. Twitter allows me to do all that, without the burden of having to be uncomfortable in a large group of people. If I ever left twitter - as I think of doing sometimes - I would leave all those daily conversations and laughs behind.
But the conversations aren’t all twitter affords me. There’s so much more I’d be missing if I left. Because twitter isn’t a thing. It’s a place.
Twitter is a place. It is a hospital waiting room where we pace awaiting news of a birth. It is the pub next door to the funeral home where we gather to swap stories about someone who shared their life with us until the end. It is a graduation party, a wedding hall. It is a stadium where we all watch the same game at the same time, it is an auditorium where debates are held. It is a cafe after a movie opening.
I follow 1,208 people. Not all of them tweet anymore. There’s a lot of dormant accounts in my follow list. But I’ve curated a timeline that I enjoy immensely. There’s sports people and news people, there are people who make me laugh and people who offer me insight. There are people I’ve been internet friends with since the late 90s, people I’ve actually hung out with offline, people who have shared their lives with me. Twitter is my backyard and we’re all just hanging around the fire pit having conversations. The friends I’ve made on twitter are real friends, people who I want to spend time with, people who are there for me, who bring true value to my life, who allow me into their lives so I can do the same for them.
Oh, yes, twitter can be garbage. It can be absolute trash and there are days I close my app or browser and think I’ve had enough of hate reads and hot takes. But I always go back. Because twitter’s attention span isn’t all that expansive and where you had hot take twitter fifteen minutes ago, you have congratulations twitter now, which is always a charming thing.
I tweet a lot, and I think of the millions of words I’ve thrown out there. They could have been something else, sure, but why would I want them to be? All those words, all those tweets, were parts of conversations. One of the best parts of life is conversations with other human beings (I find conversations with my dogs to be one sided), getting to hear other world views and opinions, learning as we talk. Because I don’t do that much in life, twitter affords me a space in which I can engage. I’m engaging with actual friends, I’m engaging with other writers, and yes, I am engaging with my favorite musicians. Twitter takes away the sting of being alone, it eases my pain. Not a day goes by that I don’t smile at some interaction; someone showing me the dog they just adopted, their kid taking her first step, a well-timed joke, a compliment.
For all of twitter’s problems, it certainly has its charms. And those charms are what get me to stay. Twitter isn’t just a hate-filled site filled with misinformation. It is what you make it. You follow people who make your world better. You mute the phrases you don’t want to hear. You make the friends who in turn make your life better. You make connections that might have been impossible otherwise. I’m thankful for this place where I can gather, where I discover new music to listen to, new books to read, where I learn valuable things and make terrible jokes. I’m thankful to everyone who follows me, who reads my writing and listens to what I have to say and who shows an interest in my life. You make it worth all the dumb memes.