Looking for a nice primer on how Twitter works? Click here.
The other day I went on something of a tear about how Twitter doesn’t reflect Real Life. And I stand by that post! I said, I said: I stand by that post!
And I really do, because my point was: Let’s take this whole Twitter thing with a boulder of salt. Aside from anything else, I argued, there’s no such thing as “Twitter” — there are as many Twitters as there are people using the service.
I believe I’ve already established that I am entirely capable of contradicting myself (being in possession of a bicameral mind), and the truth is that there’s another truth here, too.
While Twitter doesn’t have the kind of impact that people often like to think it does (witness the pronouncement that I’m “influential” in the world of Jewish Twitter — meanwhile, in the world of Jewish People, I’m really rather not [and/or witness the fact that the Iranian government was not, after all, toppled by tweets]), Twitter — and here I actually do mean a single, discrete thing called “Twitter” — does have real world impact that shouldn’t be denied. Certainly not by me, a person who often serves as a conduit for that impact.
I could not possibly estimate the number of new ideas I’ve been introduced to through my Twitter feed, and if we throw in the deepening of my understanding of old ideas, too, then we’re in entirely uncharted territory.
Furthermore, there are actions I’ve taken, good deeds I’ve been privileged to be a part of, about which I would have known nothing were it not for my Twitter feed.
A few minutes ago, I called my state senator in support of an end to the death penalty in Illinois, because I got a tweet. A couple of weeks ago, I brought a bunch of coats, hats and gloves to a Chicago school serving a community of homeless kids, because I got a tweet. And (my personal favorite), a few months ago, I contributed to an ad-hoc, wildly interfaith fundraiser to compensate a Muslim community after a drunk Islamophobe/asshat burst into their mosque and urinated on their prayer rugs — because I got a tweet. And I have, in turn, pushed each of these good deeds and others like them a bit further down the road by tweeting about them myself.
I have also been in a position to: Prepare for a wind storm; bring along a surprisingly necessary umbrella; watch important events unfold live; laugh my fool head off; get excellent, free job search advice; and (my personal favorite) hold hands across time zones with people I wouldn’t recognize if I sat next to them on the bus — because I got a tweet.
Twitter is a tool. It does what we want it to do. Like a hammer, or tweezers, or a fork, or, I don’t know, a chainsaw. It can be used to do good things, like eating dinner, or you could, you know, put your eye out with it. Metaphorically.
The oft-mocked 140-character increments in which we communicate on Twitter are, I will grant you, often mockable. But, at least in my experience, they are more often than not little teasers, ads almost, for worlds that expand exponentially when you click on a link or download a song or follow the trail of replies or…. Each tweet (stay with me now) is a portal.
Or, of course, each tweet can be. One can navel gaze and tweet obsessively about breakfast and bowel movements, or not.
But when we put all of those portals together (and even the navel gazing), there is (in spite of all that stuff I said the other day, or perhaps alongside it) a Thing that is Twitter. It’s amorphous and messy and its borders are ill-defined and ever-changing, like any other social construct, but it’s a Thing. What’s Judaism? What’s the blogosphere? What’s American society?
So, yeah. Twitter’s like that.