When I first started this blog with the ‘magnum opus’ of my story I took out a few sections that didn’t really seem to fit. They were still part of the story, but just didn’t ‘belong’ all that well. And as the whole three-episode saga stretched to more than 6,000 words I thought you’d probably had enough by then. But I think they are worth developing, so here’s the first, about my love-hate relationship with Twitter. I’d be interested in feedback on this: how is Twitter for you? Is it very different from my experience?
Why join Twitter in the first place?
I had never been one much for the social network stuff. I have a smallish circle of real, close friends who I would prefer to chat with face to face or by phone, or even by email, Kik etc. So I didn’t think Facebook was right for me: it seemed too open, too self-promoting and somehow attention-seeking. Not me! Well, I think so, despite what anyone may tell you! I first signed up to Twitter early in 2011 to try it out, and used it largely to keep in touch with sports, news, music and some amusing sites – Milton Jones is a genius! In other words, I was using it for entertainment. But around last Christmas I was beginning to feel the need for some kind of human contact so I started using it more to interact with people. This felt safe: I wouldn’t have to actually ‘talk’ to these people living in my PC, iPad or iPhone, and could turn them off whenever I wanted to. They could be friends, but I could control how I interacted with them – it’s much easier to ignore a tweet than a ringing phone if you don’t feel like talking. And I wouldn’t have to get ready to go out and meet them, I could chat from the safety of my flat, in the comfort of my armchair, and best of all, they couldn’t see me. For quite a time I hid behind an anonymous avatar, rather than show my face – even at the size this appears on a mobile! Or maybe that’s just my eyesight?
How has it been for me? The good bit
Since I started using Twitter to chat more, it has been a huge benefit to me. People have come and gone, as friends do in real life, and the ones I talk most with nowadays aren’t the same group as, say, seven or eight months ago. But there’s nothing wrong with that, I believe – we move on. Just the act of communicating, of feeling that I was in touch with the world, was a tremendous help in my recovery process: even in the days where I still couldn’t face going out and talking to real people, in the flesh, there was Twitter to help me keep in touch. So I chatted, sometimes for hours, with people I didn’t really know and was highly unlikely ever to meet. Again, this felt safe: they wouldn’t see the ‘real me,’ whatever that is. It made me think about having a two-way communication, rather than just sitting at home thinking, or talking to myself. It helped me to connect again, to reawaken the sense that there was a world beyond my front door. In a funny kind of way, I guess I see Twitter itself as a sort of virtual friend, always there for me when I want it to be. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I wouldn’t be recovering without Twitter, that would just be stupid. But I know I owe it a drink next time we’re in the pub together. It has been extremely helpful to me in understanding what was happening to me. How else could I have got some good ‘personal’ advice on coping strategies from a former England test cricketer, who has suffered from depression on and off for years? I now have a network of Twitfriends who keep me amused, entertained, challenged and feeling alive. And it can lead to real friendships too. I have spoken with a couple of people I’ve met on Twitter who I now feel are real life friends, and will be meeting another, I hope, when she is over her current illness. And there’s also my American friend – the intrepid ravine diver – who has invited me to spend some time with him and his family in Arizona after I retire. I’m really looking forward to this, but I should perhaps warn him that I have no intention of taking an active part in any air rescues though! He gets paid for it – I won’t, will I!
How has it been for me? The not so good bit
My active lifetime on Twitter hasn’t been without its downsides. I’ve unfollowed, or been unfollowed by, people I had chatted with who then didn’t get my warped sense of humour, or said things I disagreed with so much I didn’t want to hear any more: you can turn racists, perverts and scumbags off much more easily in Twitworld than in the real world! In earlier days, I know that my mental state was a lot less healthy than it is now, and I can remember a couple of whingey rants that lost me some followers – just thinking about these rants now makes me cringe! I can’t remember what I said in them, but I know I must have seemed like a self-seeking, needy prima donna. Again, despite what detractors may say, that isn’t me! There’s only one that I regret losing: I managed to upset someone who was a close Twitfriend, possibly could have been in real life too, but I don’t think she could trust me as a friend after that. That’s a pity, as I liked her, but as in real life you can learn from experience. In my case, the lesson is ‘stay away from Twitter when I’m having a Black Dog day!’ Take heart from that, people!
And very recently I’ve had my first real experience of this:
In brief: I said something in jest that upset a good, long time Twitfriend who is, unfortunately, hypersensitive. She then unfollowed me. Fair enough, but after someone else challenged her as to why she launched into a tirade against me and what she saw as my faults which I felt described her better than me! Having a huge argument like that on the Twitter timeline felt a bit like it would be to have a blazing row in the middle of a busy shopping mall, but surrounded by people who weren’t total strangers. In itself, that would have been enough, but she and her ‘friends’ have spent a fair amount of time mocking me. I’m stronger now, so it won’t work, but anyone who uses Twitter to identify me and then mock this blog and my mental health is unworthy of my friendship in any form. I’ve thought carefully about telling this story, as it could come across as a needy rant! But on balance, it is part of the Twitter experience that I know has affected others, so I’m telling it to show that I’ve had it too. This isn’t meant as any kind of revenge (much!) – if it was, I’d be naming and shaming the trolls! Have you had anything like this happen to you – tell me about it, I can keep it anonymous, but I think there may be an interesting article in there somewhere.
The obvious pitfall about Twitter is the basic question about whether people you talk to on Twitter are ‘real.’ On one level, when you strip out the commercial and promotional users, there is a real person behind every Twitter account, even the spoof ones and/or those hiding behind pictures that aren’t themselves. So it can be like a phone chat, each taking it in turn, but in a kind of open forum where others can and do join in. This can be the best and worst part of Twitter, depending on who it is joining you! It’s common sense, I think, to treat these as real people, and talk to them as if they were in the room with you. But in the final reckoning, if you feel the need to stop talking to them you can, as simply as that. If only real life could occasionally be that straightforward! What Twitter should never be allowed to become, however, is a substitute for life and proper human interaction. Looking at some people’s tweets, I fear they may have lost sight of that – I hope you and I haven’t.
The other pitfall I want to mention is the addictive nature of Twitter. We’ve all seen them, the people whose first thought in moments of crisis or panic is to tweet:
‘The pushchair’s brake is broken and I’m at the top of a steep hill!!!! Oh…’
‘The house is under mortar attack!!!!! Here’s a pic of granddad in the lounge…’
Or those whose lives are so dull that they tell us everything about them:
‘I’m awake’ – ‘I’ve been awake 4 minutes now’ – ‘ I think I should get up’ – ‘What shall I have for breakfast?’ – ‘Here’s my breakfast – yes, I’m having toast today, but I’ve run out of butter so that’s lard’……. and so on ad nauseam.
Er, wouldn’t it be better to do something else, like sort the problem out or find a more interesting life? Or have you succumbed to the temptation to become an attention seeker? I live alone and I admit that one of the first things I do when I wake up is to check my timeline. But I’m not addicted, of course!
Twitter as ‘advertising’
One final word: a little admission. Whatever the merits or demerits of Twitter, I have to be honest in recognising that a lot of you reading this wouldn’t be doing so if we hadn’t found each other there. So, for sticking with this to the end and for being a Twitfriend – Thank You!!!!
And as I said at the beginning, feedback on your Twitter experience will be very welcome.