Browsing the archives for the Hurricane Ike tag

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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