Browsing the archives for the Twitter category

Twitter Improves Lives

family, Life as it is, Twitter, Vulnerability

I wrote this as a comment – a very long comment – to Good Times, where they offer an inexperienced view that Twitter Sucks. I could not save my comment (due to a problem with their captcha anti-spam defense), so I decided to share it here with you.

There are a lot of good comments in the post written, but it also lacks the frame of reference of the experience of using Twitter for any length of time – or at least using it with any interpersonal connections of value. I have been using Twitter since 2007 and will offer some other glimpses in how Twitter is improving lives – or at least my life, and impacting – in a good way – the lives of my daughter, family, Houston homeless, hurricane Ike survivors and many others.

Reaching Out to Twitter

Twitter is Experiential

I believe that the value of Twitter is experiential, and almost impossible to see from the outside. Just as one sonar ping on a naval warship is uninteresting – it can only tell a distance to another object, a series of pings can tell a tale of hidden dangers, hidden enemies, and even locate lost friends. So too, one tweet may be have limited meaning or value in and of itself, but reading a series of tweets of a friend’s day or life lets us get an image and tells a tale of their life that we would not see otherwise.

For example, I know that my niece just served on a jury for the first time and thought it exciting; is planning to attend a baby shower; and struggling with the amount of e-mail she receives. My daughter has a grim but determined relationship with Geometry; has endured the loss of a meaningful relationship (that would not normally be shared with a dad); and gets to play the instruments during break at the music store where she works.

Are any of these of major import to others? No, but they let me see the lives of those close to me in a way that is meaningful to me and would not be mentioned in a letter from my niece or at dinner with my daughter. In other words, i get a chance to see the lives of those i care about in a way that I might miss otherwise.

Twitter Saved My Runaway Daughter

That doesn’t mean that Twitter is without importance, however. When my daughter ran away last year into the 4th largest city in the US, twitter (along with Flickr and Facebook) was instrumental in finding her and carrying her messages of my love for her. Where the police could not find her, friends and social network contacts who spotted her would tweet where she was and what she was doing. Their ability to tell her of my love for her helped set up her eventual return.

Twitter and Hurricane Ike

When Hurricane Ike hit the Houston area, I heard many people frightened, alone and cut off on the radio talk shows through the night of the storm. I hadn’t seen any of that because all of us were able to continue touching one another with news and hope and human connection through the storm through Twitter. Based on SMS, Twitter also proved reliable as a communication medium the next few days as cellular voice calls became overloaded and unreliable. We were able to arrange shelter for people still without power as some of us gained power back, tracked locations for food and assistance, and were there for one another.

Twitter Feeds the Homeless & Shelters My family

This past Christmas I decided to see whether Twitter could help me feed 100 Houston homeless (after learning about another effort to do so from someone on Twitter). As a result of the generosity of the people who use Twitter in this city, over 230 homeless people in Houston got a full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the trimmings and pumpkin pie.

When my son and I lost power unexpectedly for several days over Christmas, a single tweet of our situation ended up with us having a complimentary hotel room while we waited for power to be restored – thanks to a generous-hearted individual that uses Twitter. I have had wonderful photowalks with old and new friends, just because one person would tweet where they were going and offered an invitation. Many lunches around here are spontaneously organized around local venues – some of whom (like @coffeegroundz) will let us tweet ahead with our orders and have them ready.

So What Then Can We Make of Twitter?

Twitter is nothing more or less than a way for people to communicate with one another – in a way that removes geography and other barriers. What we make of Twitter is based on this – it may be vapid connections with people that don’t matter to us if that is how we choose to connect to one another. Or… And this is the most wonderful thing about a technology like Twitter. Or, it may be used to connect lives together in ways that we can do things together that we could never do on our own.

How meaningful that makes Twitter, then, is up to each of us. In the same way, I started writing this about twitter, but the truth of the matter is – it is really about how blessed i have been to have such wonderful people connected to me through Twitter. the technology remains juts a technology. as always, it is the people that matter.

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Twitter and the Hurricane Ike Community

Life as it is, Twitter

Hurricane Ike passed through this area more than a week ago, and the effects are still very present. I sat in a McDonalds today – the only one in the area that was open – and listened to a mother explain to her young daughter that they couldn’t watch anything on TV at home because they still had no power, but now they could have a hot meal. But while there are still bumps in the road ahead of us as we clean up, what I will remember from Ike is the night of the storm itself and the community that kept me company.

Watching Ike Through the Night

After the height of the storm – about the time I had taken this photo – the power had gone off shortly before and the waiting began. But I was in touch with so many people that night, i was able to sit in my living room in the dark with my computer and phone and candles and participate in a conversation about the storm – we shared stories of when we lost power, the noises we heard as trees broke and crashed, the fears as one of us thought their house was on fire. We had each other through the storm.

A couple of situations underscored this comforting community for me. I had been following on Twitter the National Hurricane Center’s @HurricaneIke account and they were correcting news errors about tornadoes and sending links to show radar imagery. They even shared the way the downtown buildings were creating blind spots and false indications of tornadoes. A calm voice of reason and knowledge. But turning on the radio, I found other voices that were not as calm, callers that were alone and frightened and isolated from one another except for the radio, all in the dark as I was, but without the reassuring chatter of friends and experts as we on Twitter had with one another.

The next couple of days saw a near-collapse of the cellular voice and data networks in the area. Calls may or may not work at any given time, but the SMS-based technology of Twitter kept us still in touch. We knew who had power and who didn’t. People with power were opening their doors to the people without, and we knew the condition of the city as people checked in with their zip codes. (This also lead to someone messaging me on twitter to check on their brother as they realized I lived in the same neighborhood.) Messages got out about who needed help, and what people were doing to pass the time in the heat of a city with no air conditioning. Tips were given on how to check for power, or where generators could be found, and what sort of nails would best hold tarps in place.

The final way this community worked for me was when I started searching those messages on Twitter hashtagged with #ike, so that they could be viewed as a whole. I got the idea to search for my zipcode as well, and found others that lived near me that had also shared their stories and community during and after the storm. I added them to the list of people I follow on twitter and my own community on-line grew to include the people in my geographic community.

I even found the way to express some of my own feelings from the tweet of a neighbor:

HughesJW: Today I’ll try to take a step out of crisis mode and begin finding a new normal. Still grieving loss of old normal, #Ike.

The final irony is that this new community on Twitter, the same internet service that has had so many availability problems, turned out to provide the stability that we needed to get through this storm together.

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Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

Life as it is, Mistakes, Twitter

I have been busy lately. Lots of things have been happening, and so of course I have been making mistakes and learning from them.

  • My photography class on wildflower photography was a success, but an uncalibrated monitor taught me a lot more about post processing than I ever imagined.
  • I won a $1 bet with a friend of mine about redecorating and designing my home computer room. What I learned about 10-year old dirt in the corners is not sharable on a family-rated blog. (My teens read this, I fear.) I also got a crash course in vacuum maintenance.
  • I found an unexpected sunset hour to photograph birds in Brazos Bend State Park, and learned not to look away from alligators that are within six feet of me

But there has been another learning mistake as well. I mentioned previously the White Bread Warning, that if I use the same recipe, I will get the same bread. And I am finding that to be absolutely true in regards to this blog and my Twitter feed.

Time and again, I think of something interesting to write, and decide instead that it can wait a day because at least my Twitter entries, or tweets, are still being posted for that day. And then days become weeks, and the weeks start to stretch on as well. Pretty soon, I have the same result of empty blogging – a blog made up of tweet entries. And my main thoughts and ideas that I want to share being put off again and again.



So it is time to take the bull by the horns and turn off the feature that took tweets and made them blog entries. It’s a neat feature, but I am falling into the same trap I fell into previously. I will still keep the Twitter sidebar up of what I am recently doing, but those tweets just won’t become posts.

This forces me to write and to write regularly. And trust me, I need the practice! And well, I always have some wisdom to share that I learned from some recent mistake.

This way, when I next want to share with you how I learned that sandals offer zero toe protection from “stubbing impact” because of my error in not looking where I am going – well, now I will have to really blog about it and not rely on the tweets catching it anyway….

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Twitter and I

Mistakes, Twitter

As a part of admitting my error in letting my blog become only an echo of my tweets from twitter these past months, I thought i would start in looking at Twitter itself.

A little over four months ago, in a small forum for local photographers, someone brought up Twitter, and how many of us were using it.  I know that previously phone numbers would be made available on links at twitter.com to reach people for gathering together – but that was almost all that I knew about twitter.  Well, ok, that’s not true.  I did also know that it was getting bigger – because more people i knew were using it, and i was seeing all sorts of integration tools for twitter as well.

So I decided to ask the group a question:

How do you use it, what do you get out of Twitter? What does a twittered life have that is so cool?

And I got all sorts of answers that mostly seemed to say, “try it and see”.  I researched it further and found the professionals equally perplexed at Twitter’s success.  In fact, Twitter seems to have been a spin off of a larger tech startup where this one small piece had greater value than the whole.

Even the reviewers did not seem to have good answers:

So why has Twitter been so misunderstood? Because it’s experiential. Scrolling through random Twitter messages can’t explain the appeal. You have to do it — and, more important, do it with friends. (Monitoring the lives of total strangers is fun but doesn’t have the same addictive effect.) Critics sneer at Twitter and Dodgeball as hipster narcissism, but the real appeal of Twitter is almost the inverse of narcissism. It’s practically collectivist — you’re creating a shared understanding larger than yourself.
Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense

So I created an account and tried it out.  I soon was able to put together a model in my head for what it was – but it didn’t answer for me the question of what it did.  It reminded me of IRC – the old Internet Chat standard – except everyone was starting “muted” or silent and I had to find and turn on each one to hear them.  I also had to get my friends to join in, and there were concerns for what a time-sink this could be.

And so that is how i ended up letting merewisdom.org become a twitter echo only.  I found myself listening to my friends navigating their days.  Small details – never more than the 140-character limit of Twitter – of my friends’ lives surfaced.  Listening to a couple of friends planning dinner with one another, or someone else sharing a new web site, or being able to tweet a question to my group of friends and get many answers back.  That’s what Twitter did for me.

A sonar ping only carries so much information about where ships or obstacles are at that moment, but over time it can paint a detailed landscape of information about what each ship or obstacle is doing, and who is on or off course.

Of course, Twitter is still a part of my life and this blog.  i just won’t let it replace my own landscape imagery.  You deserve more than just a sonar map of my life and my errors and my occasional lessons i have learned.

You deserve a guided tour….

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Empty Blogging

Life as it is, Mistakes, Twitter

At a recent Twitter meetup, I was commenting on how my tweets were the primary source of content for merewisdom.org. That I had resorted to it so my blog would still let visitors have a rough idea of what i was up to lately, without blogging regularly. In fact, it had been so successful that I had not written an entry in some time.

“Isn’t that just “‘Empty Blogging’?” came the reply.

And the more i thought about it, the more the label seemed to fit. I mean, it’s not nearly as empty as months of no content, but on the other hand the idea behind this blog – that is a place to admit mistakes and learn from them – was also not being fulfilled at all. Having a daemon copy my tweets for me is not at all giving me a forum for learning from my mistakes, nor does it pass on anything i learn along the way.

So from the view of the reason for this site – filling it with only tweets is certainly empty – I agree.

There is a lot happening in my life and a lot of mistrakes I’ve been making, and even a desire to hide some of those mistakes – and that is an attitude that never works towards my growth.

So the tweet-only phase of merewisdom.org was a mistake.

What i learned from it is that if i am making the sharing of myself simple, brainless and mostly painless… then i will end up with a site that is simple, mindless and of little value.

What i do next will be interesting to watch – for me at least…. Will you join me on that journey?

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