Who are all these people?

“Who are these people, who spend their entire life on Twitter?”

My husband has a sardonic view of social media that I don’t share.

To answer, no one. No one spends their entire life on Twitter. It’s the non-tweeter’s curmudgeonly (sub)urban myth, that to tweet is to spend one’s every waking hour tweeting — and yet there’s a beguiling, not to say addictive, satisfaction in seeing one’s name “mentioned”, and common manners necessitate replying to someone who is tweeting you, no? You can end up reading a LOT of tweets. He has a sort-of point. Maybe.

Twitter, in a global sense, impresses me. I like the information flow and I like the opportunity to put information out there. Not the ‘BUY MY BOOK!’ rabid screeching of the mass spammer; more the considerations and philosophies of people like @normblog. These tweets I understand, enjoy, and am grateful to see.

But Twitter in the parochial sense depresses me.

“Just ate a chocolate, YUM.”

Or, worse,

“Thanks to the lovely Sarah for following me, do follow Lovely Sarah back for her elucidating, wisdom-rich pearls.”

Oh, purlease… The nauseating sycophancy would be barfworthy even if Sarah were lovely; that Sarah might well be a vicious sociopath with a child locked in the cellar is also cause for pause. Tweeting does not mean knowing.

You can get to know people to an extent on Twitter and there’s little difference, maybe, between befriending someone on Twitter and regular waving at a neighbour through a window. What do we really know? Does it matter? And isn’t it worth the effort just to contact another soul? To bundle into this mesh that we call society and the hell with it? All hellos carry promise.

It’s necessary to bring faith in humanity to the Twitter table, to enjoy it at all.

Without that, Twitter is a fearful playground, and I’m not just talking about cyber bullies — although they do exist, as displayed by the shameless haranguing of Mary Beard last week, when cruel names and crude images were posted on the web after her appearance on Question Time. We call these people trolls — people who derive satisfaction from baiting other online users — although I dislike the name as it takes a step back from reality, and makes them sound less boring than they are; they aren’t trolls, they are rude people.

Perhaps more insidious are those nice people, who are only nice online. The people who tweet about spending quality time with children, while their preschoolers sit unattended behind them. Twitter allows people to present themselves largely as they wish with little accountability because, in contrast to ‘meatspace’ friends, or a local community, Twitter followers are easily kept apart, and/or replaced.

And perhaps it doesn’t matter. If someone lies and cheats their way to Twitter popularity, so what? What do they gain — what’s a Twitter follower anyway? Is it anything? Do they matter? I had about 4,000 followers on one account, and not a single one made me a cup of tea.

It does matter, because there are also a lot of kind and decent folk out there on Twitter. People who will share information, who will offer a hand or an encouraging word to a fellow “Tweep”, enabling the housebound to join in the party, engage in live political debate, and support their favourite causes. And I think you can tell by reading that some people really do pour their hearts out into the streams, hoping to make real connections with kindred souls. On a daily basis, they put a lot of joy into the ether, sharing information and fun — books, videos, photos, jokes… The Twitter experience can be very positive and wholesome, arguably for those who most need it, and for that reason, we should try and keep it so.

Twitter is, at the end of the day, just like paper; you can use it or misuse it, but to fully enjoy it, you have to have a little faith in those who write on it. 


  1. claireking9 says:

    Yes – your window analogy is great. Twitter is like an extra window in the house where you can see others and open the window, call to them ‘coooeee!’
    Had a lovely moment on twitter yesterday, where someone I follow was asking about a certain region in Spain. I hooked her up with someone in a neighbouring region and they hooked her up with two people from that region. All within 15 minutes. Ace. And afterwards our mutual chum declared Twitter to be like a nice cosy pub where you can have a good chat. And sometimes it is, and as one bereft of pubs I love that. Today I had a slight wobble about book shops, pinged a book shop person who I’ve never met in real life and got a lovely reassuring email back. It matters. Sometimes a Twitter window makes a big difference to an otherwise busy life.

  2. I’m a big fan of Twitter, especially as I work at home alone, but my husband is the same as yours as doesn’t get the whole social media thing. I’ve met lots of lovely people on there and then met lots of them in real life at writing events – so far none of them have been scary!

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