The Positive Power of Twitter and its Impact on Loneliness

It has been a most extraordinary past 48 hours, with #xmasathome and #nyeathome starting the process of keeping people connected during the Christmas – New Year period as well as receiving great media coverage. The peak of the surreal nature of the events was having test cricket debutant Ed Cowan tweet you, on the day of his debut, that your name has appeared in a newspaper. And then reading that newspaper and seeing that article next to one about Sachin Tendulkar. It is great for the initiative.

In one of the radio interviews I did (for the ABC), the point was raised about Twitter and the perception of the social networking tool in the community. It is true that it is largely seen in a negative light – as a way to trash people, or as a frivolous “look, we are at a bar / I’ve taken Liz Hurley to a shop” social hub. It doesn’t need to be that way. The #athome initiative is there to act as a positive way to use Twitter.

Twitter can be, to this era, be likened to a conference centre that also conducts multiple parties. You choose exactly where to go and what to do – who to meet, who to listen to and who you don’t really want to meet again. It was said best to me by Malcolm Farnsworth (@mfarnsworth) – it is all about filtering, who you follow. In this virtual building, hashtags work as a way to connecting people in that centre around a common theme. You read what others are saying about that theme and you find a whole lot of new people who might like to follow and chat with. For me, the hashtag that used to perform that role for me was #qanda, because it connected me with politically minded people. It’s not as useful as it used to be.

Another feature of hashtags and Twitter that doesn’t get discussed as much as it could be is that Twitter isn’t just a broadcasting and conversation tool. People like me are broadcasters on Twitter – broadcast my feelings and opinions. A lot. There are untold numbers of Twitter users who are audience – listeners, who don’t say a lot. A perfect example of that is my partner, @clairebbbear, who loves following Twitter streams and laughing at what is being said, or reflecting – and then turning to me and we chat about what is going on. A bit like watching a television show. For a number of people tuning into #xmasathome and #nyeathome, they are the audience, enjoying the show. That is a good thing.

What has happened during #xmasathome and, will happen during #nyeathome, is that people can be distracted from their loneliness and read the pixels on the screen and have a laugh, a cry, whatever happens as a result of being connected. However, what would be wonderful is if people start a meaningful connection with people as a result of a friendship sparked during the period – that people find others with common interests and feelings. That, in the days and months after the hashtags fade, that we have people building lasting relationships that help to dissipate their loneliness and move on to a happier life. A time long ago that happened to me – I met my partner on an internet forum that discussed TV and various things. Not that these connections need to be romantic ones. I treasure the meaningful relationships I have built with people on Twitter – I have an amazing group of friends that I know online and many of whom I have met in real life. I have especially delighted to know people who share my love for 20th Century classical music. Very hard to find those people where I live.

If #xmasathome and #nyeathome can bring to others what the internet has brought to me, it would be a good thing. People – and the media – can then see that Twitter is a force for social good, as as the other stuff. Ultimately, it is all about the filters and how users approach it.

P.S. In preparing for #nyeathome, I suspect I consumed a little too much outstanding Rutherglen wine in tasting and was violently ill for a couple of hours. Every so often, though, I would lift my head and ask “is Ed Cowan still in?” The level headed debut of the Renaissance Man of test cricket was a big highlight of the past 48 hours. Well done, Ed.

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4 thoughts on “The Positive Power of Twitter and its Impact on Loneliness

  1. It was a great idea. Twitter has been very helpful and supportive for me, allowing unobtrusive connections with like-minded people with whom I’m now connected in ways I’ve seldom found possible with other social settings. It’s all about conversation, which is practically impossible at most social venues, especially with strangers.

  2. A great initiative. Until a short while back I also didn’t ‘get’ Twitter. But it has quickly become an indespendible part of my online and personal life. It is so easy to connect with people on common issues. Far easier than face to face.

  3. Twitter (and other written-only media) levels the playing field. The only thing you know about the person (or people) you are conversing with is what they care to reveal to you, and the only way to judge them is by what they say. And with Twitter, with only 140 characters to express a thought or idea, the tendency to judge by writing style or how literate the are by their grammar (or lack thereof) is further curtailed: putting much greater emphasis on content over form. Therefore *ideas* are more likely to be judged on their merit and merit alone rather than how they were delivered or by whom.

    By leveling the playing field so much, unconventional friendships can flourish. I wouldn’t usually strike up a conversation with a person who was in the final year of school, particularly a male one, for example, but have found myself enjoying the conversations we’ve had on Twitter. I doubt either of us would have approached the other had we been in the same room in Real Life, let alone have the sort of discussions we’ve had. Its a genuine friendship (even if its an ephemeral one) of equals, of peers.

    Which is why the #*athome concept works. The only thing you need to qualify is to be able to tweet. No need to impress, to dress up, to face someone face to face, to pretend, to make small talk and chit chat in uncomfortable social situations. If you have something to say: say it, and the words will be judged on their own merit, not by who you are or what others think they know about you by your looks, your name, even where you are. And being at home on the relevant days, you immediately have something in common, a starter for the topic of conversation.

    And even if you don’t say a peep, you can ‘lurk’, watch and feel connected to people you would have otherwise never have interacted with. It may not work for everyone, but for others its a lifeline to actual real people, a way of reaching out and connecting to people that, by definition, have something in common in a safe and non-confrontational way. Twitter (and its successors) won’t ever replace ‘face to face’ (“Meatspace”) human interactions, but its far better than total social isolation, especially on culturally significant days where gathering together is the social expectation.

    I carry my friends in my pocket wherever I go – I can access twitter on my mobile phone and I am quite lost with it (for many a reason, not *just* Twitter. It does Facebook as well j/k). I don’t feel lonely anymore. Even if home alone on Christmas day, there they are in my twitterfeed, my friends, my tweeps.

    Twitter FTW.

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