It isn’t easy to explain why I tweet. I am not even sure I can, even if I wanted to. I’m always surprised when people say they enjoy the things I tweet. I tweet mostly about completely irrelevant things, sometimes I open up a discussion and at other times I tweet links to my writing. My following list is impeccable, though. News, feminism, writing, poetry art, music, cars, crochet, photography and friends. I truly believe the list of people I follow is a delight.
But there’s always some level of discomfort when I am asked how I met one of my closest friends, or when someone asks me how I know something, or someone, when the answer is Twitter. It isn’t the easiest thing to say in a social setting that isn’t online. It gets awkward and I shy away from the judging a little.
The truth, really, is that social media has opened up for me the world. So much has been altered and affected because of it, especially with regard to information, to the kind of people I choose to interact with, even the kind of books I read. For the life of me, I wouldn’t have been this aware of issues of, say, trans people of colour if it weren’t for Twitter. Or about the complete and utter asinine attitudes of Hindu right wing fanatics. That’s the kind of stuff newspapers in India rarely ever carry. While all of it is fascinating, the larger gain has been the wealth of interactions and the few friends I have made.
It isn’t very difficult for me to feel affection and take to people who are interesting. I trust them to be good human beings and have very rarely been let down. On social media, it is particularly easy because, according to me, you weed out the peripherals right in the beginning. Your interests bring you together, perceived anonymity and not being physically present in front of someone makes it easier to say what you really want to say without being intimidated by their presence. Even when you aren’t having a conversation with them, you are witness to what they talk about and make your own mind up about them. Someone seems talented and beautiful, and you feel that you want to get to know them a little better but suddenly a bigoted streak emerges, and you shut down. Another seems intelligent and charming and then you meet them and you understand everything about them is made of Google. It’s quick, and judgemental, to do this but what I am trying to say is that you actively choose your friends, instead of hanging out with colleagues, train friends, old school/college buddies or neighbours because chance threw them your way.
The friends I have made on Twitter are solid gold. The connections I’ve forged are simple, direct and full of love. When I hear people say, “Wow, people make friends on Twitter,” in that condescending tone, it makes me feel a gamut of things. I feel defensive, amused, annoyed all at once. And then it occurs to me that these are also the people who have fallen for a Nigerian bank scam or found their partners on matrimonial websites.
These connections I have made have all moved offline, into a space where we make the effort to keep in touch with each other in various ways. It is also the reason I prefer to use the words offline/online life instead of real or virtual. Real life automatically assumes that the connections made online are fantastical, or illusions at any rate, and therefore insignificant. But look at the scores of people who have found companionship, help, sisterhood and love online. How is that unreal? What part of throwing yourself into a teeming timeline alive with personality when you want to get away for a bit is unreal or unwelcome? I get a glimpse of a shy, funny guy who goes trekking almost every weekend and his Instagram in autumn is soul-fillingly beautiful. A new father, doing his best to be an involved one, tweets about his little child with pride and love. A homemaker, a magician with words, makes me look at flowers, snails and torn leaves like I’ve never seen. I get a peek into the life of young girl who lives a charmed life, everything perfect and she, grateful for it and beautiful at it. A girl who likes elephants and is honest and open, another who embodies love herself. Yet another who created the word optimism. One who likes post-its, another guy who says exactly what he wants. Another who hides, and another who reveals. People who constantly make choices that make you think about your own, people who bring serendipity into your life by being who they are, people who are genuine and warm and empathic. Why would I exchange this for a neighbor who concretised his entire lawn or a colleague who doesn’t like to dance?
I spend a lot of my time alone and for me Twitter has become a huge companion. Does it reduce stress? I think it might. Does it help me cope? You bet. And it isn’t just me. A friend tweets about being alone with her child, and a wave of warm sympathy flows to her. Another tweets about a health issue, and I see a swarm of concerned tweets directed at him. I tweet about being lonely, sad, sleepless and the lucky ducky that I am, I am deluged with messages and tweets from complete strangers, filled with hugs, stories of their own, suggestions to sleep better, offers to call me.
It restores my faith in the goodness of people and gives me the luxury of being able to continue trusting people. I am glad if women feel better about themselves because their selfie gets a ton of compliments or if you use a heavily-distracting time line to get away from your little mess. Am I going to die, old and lonely with my phone screen for company? Maybe. But hey, at least I’ll die with people who will tweet about my funeral.