I like to think of myself as an early adopter. As a member of the last generation to suffer the miseries of erasing carbon copies on a typewriter, balancing a checkbook by hand, and lying awake half the night trying to remember the name of an actor or musician, I was quick to embrace technology.
The same was true of social media, at least at first. Almost right away, I got Facebook. It was a big loud party, where I could argue politics with my brother’s coworkers, exchange recipes with a friend in Tennessee, make dinner plans with neighbors, and get to know my niece’s new college boyfriend. I jumped right in, and although Facebook makes me crazy sometimes – especially in an election year – I am never far from its reach.
Twitter has proven to be more challenging. If Facebook was a party, Twitter was the hallway at my high school between classes: a place where things move fast, with little snippets of conversation flying everywhere.
Some of it I didn’t understand at all. Some of it was interesting, and I might pause to listen for a moment, but it felt awkward to butt in. Some of it was happening between people way too cool to ever talk to me. Some of it scared me a little. I could almost hear locker doors slamming.
Language was another obstacle. I had to get past my resistance toward the word tweet, not to mention using follow as a noun. (For the record, I also refuse to order a venti at Starbucks: I’m in West Virginia, not Italy, and word we use here is large.)
So Twitter has been a slow start, an on-again-off-again effort. In three years, I’ve sent 202 tweets, approximately the same output as @beckyrbnsn on a typical afternoon.
At first I treated it almost exclusively as an information source. I followed people who were interesting to me – musicians, activists, comedians, state and local media people – and scrolled through my feed now and then when I thought of it, usually while I was waiting on a turn in Words With Friends. Once in a while I’d add something to the conversation, and even more rarely I might be retweeted or gain a few followers.
Even as such a casual user, I’ve come to have a few “aha!” moments about Twitter’s potential: Waiting out the results of an election. Trading notes and jokes during the opening ceremony of the Olympics, along with others watching on TV and some who were actually there (including a few of the athletes). Grieving the death of a little-known bluegrass musician. Learning about a woman in New York who works with a terrific nonprofit organization, one I’d like to write more about or work with some day.
In all these cases, Twitter allowed a little community to be forged – sometimes as part of a much larger group, sometimes as a transitory gathering of people with no other visible connection. And even though I may still feel a little self-conscious and unnatural out in that tenth-grade hallway, it’s a goal worth pursuing.