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.