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.


12 Responses

  1. Angela (@AbbyNormal) says:

    Twitter has often saved my sanity. Literally. So many friends, so much compassion……. so much fun! I've been able to meet people that otherwise, I would never have known. It's a very real blessing. People make Twitter. You get out of Twitter what you put into it. Much like a computer, if you input 0 data, you will get 0 in return.
    Glad to call you friend…….. xoxo

    • crossmage says:

      Hi Angela! Seeing your comment really made my day. None of us are alone, we all are connected to one another in a beautiful web – or so I believe. Thank you for all the ways the connection with you enriches my life, my friend.

  2. cybertoad says:

    I just saw this blog post James & had to share it on my FB profile! So well written & so true… thank you!

  3. laanba says:

    This is a wonderful post James. I believe that most people who don't like Twitter haven't really used it. A lot of times they aren't following very many people (which makes a difference) or they have already set it in their mind that it is a stupid medium and they can never break from that mindset. I used to get upset at those kind of posts, but now I just know that it is their loss.

    • crossmage says:

      Considering that it was your invitation in '07 to join twitter that finally convinced me to join myself, I think you are right. I'm not sure if it's the number of followers that changes one experience of twitter as much as it is the social circle that one knows on twitter. That's where your Flickr group serving as a already-known social circle let me experience twiotter and the tweets of people that i already cared about… And i can't help but wonder if that wasn't why I stuck.

      What made you stick as a twitter user?

  4. cybertoad says:

    OK, just linked to your blog post in my comment to a NPR article dissing Twitter. 🙂 I thought it was the perfect response & I hope you don't mind.

    • crossmage says:

      So let me take a moment to welcome the NPR listeners and readers out there that have been linking in. Welcome to mere wisdom!

      And thank you Elaine for passing the word along. You are one of the people with whom I connect through social media – and one of the people that makes my life richer as a result. Thanks!

      How long have you been a NPR listener and reader o the site?

  5. Christine says:

    I could not possibly agree with you more about Twitter. Being in Louisiana as Ike hit back in Houston (we had 80 mph winds over there too), it was such a blessing to have Twitter to keep up with what was going on back at home. But that is just one of a never ending stream of examples – Twitter constantly brings me blessings in my life. It is a wonderful thing.

    I should add that meeting and getting to know you thanks to Twitter and Flickr is on that list. Your insight always amazes me. Thank you again for sharing this.

    • crossmage says:

      One of the twitter events of Hurricane Ike that i really remember was when we all started using our zi codes as hastags so we could tell were the power outages and restorations were, as well as store openings and generators. Someone with family in my neighborhood found my zip code through my hastag and asked me to check on their family so they could reach out and connect with their loved ones.

      Later I searched for my zip code to see who else had gone through Ike in my neighborhood and followed them on twitter – getting to know my neighbors that much more closely!

      I'd have to say the same to you, Christine, about how getting to know you. I'm so glad we get to know each other through these new mediums!

  6. James, this is fantastic!! If it weren't for Twitter I might never have known about Photocamp, where I learned awesome stuff, met fabulous people like you, and got the courage to turn my passion into an income! And I'm still meeting more and more incredible people, in Houston and beyond, through Twitter.

    • crossmage says:

      Thank you so much! Keep following your passion – it's the secret of how to avoid working for a living. When you do what you love it can become playing for a living instead!

      Will you be at the tweetup at @CoffeeGroundz on the 23rd?

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