If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you’ll see a trend of my disappointment with how people are acting on social media. My last post was about how people are not respecting others, for example. And then my friend Michele Catalano posted on Twitter this morning how she has made so many new friends in her five years using it. I was inspired by her (she and I have become friends over the last few months and we haven’t even met…yet), so I asked her to write something about why social media is important to her. Below is what she sent me. You can follow her Twitter account @inthefade or on Tumblr.
I celebrate my five year anniversary on twitter today.
I say “celebrate” because it is indeed a happy occasion. While others may look down on the idea of spending all those years pushing out tweets (39,781 of them as of right now), view it as a waste of time and energy, it has been anything but a waste for me.
Since social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become so popular and so commonly used, there have been numerous articles written about how our social lives — our humanity, even — are going to hell in a hand basket due to online interaction replacing face to face interaction. They tell us social sites are confining us to our homes, tethering us to our phones and computers, allowing us to do all the things we used to do in person — even something simple as saying happy birthday — without ever having to leave the sanctity of our browsers.
Twitter is a time sink, they say. Nothing useful can come out of social media, they say.
I’m here to tell them they are wrong. And it’s not just the freelance writing gigs I’ve obtained through making contacts on Twitter. It’s not about networking or keywords or branding. It’s way more personal than that.
I’m an introvert by nature. I never had a large circle of friends and you are more likely to find me spending a weekend in the house rather than going out and socializing. I even avoid family functions when possible. Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook have given me the opportunity to make friends and keep in contact with relatives without having to deal with things like actual eye contact with people who intimidate you or the awkward silence that comes when you’re done talking about your kids and you realize you have nothing else in common with this third cousin twice removed you’ve been seated next to at a wedding. I’ve LOL’d at the jokes of people I went to high school with whom I have no desire to see at yearly reunions. I’ve used Facebook to wish happy birthday, anniversary and graduation to friends and family whose special occasions I would have ignored otherwise because I hate talking on the phone.
But it’s Twitter most of all that has helped me become as social as a INFP personality with a social anxiety disorder can become.
A big indicator of how you feel about social media depends on what your definition of social is. Can you be social without physically interacting with people? Can you say you socialized if the people you spent time with were in other states, other countries and you were connected only through space and fiber optics? What’s the difference if you typed your conversational words out on a screen or if you shouted them above the music in a crowded bar? Is your group talk about football any less social because you were all eating snacks while chatting on Skype instead of eating wings in a restaurant together? Social doesn’t have to be face to face. Merriam-Webster defines “social” in part as:
marked by or passed in pleasant companionship with friends or associates and
tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others
Either of those can be done without the benefit of being in the same room, meeting eye to eye. We can be social without being present with each other, physically. So while those who argue that Twitter makes one less social, they just might need to broaden what their definition of being social is.
The thing that makes Twitter so special to me is that I’ve made friends. I’ve met new people. The groups of Twitter user I’ve gotten to know, the communities I’ve become a part of and the bonds we forged over 140 characters or less have forced me to leave my house and meet up with these new people with whom I’ve formed interdependent relationships. I’ve traveled from New York to Chicago, California, Memphis and other places to meet up with the friends I’ve made while spending my time online instead of doing things that pass the narrow definition of social.
In my five years on Twitter, I’ve made literally hundreds of new friends. Some of them have become close confidants, people I engage with regularly, people I make plans with. In those five years the circle of friends I’ve made have shared life changing moments: births, deaths, marriages, divorces. We’ve sent gifts, held hands, attended celebrations and basked in each other’s achievements as well as comforted each other through trying times. In five years I made more close friends than I had the first 45 years of my life in total.
There were a lot of things in the early days of Twitter that drove us together. A shared sense of humor. A desire to make people laugh, to create things that would bring enjoyment to others. We scanned favrd (RIP) for new people to follow, for people who had that smart wit that allowed them to make succinct jokes and tell amusing stories within a 140 character confine. We found people like us. We found people who liked us. Out of laughter came tentative friendships and out of those friendships came bonds.
Last week I flew 3,000 miles to have dinner with people I met through Twitter. The next day I had breakfast with friends I met on another website, lost touch with and found again on twitter.
It’s called social media for a reason. We’re not all out there selling something, promoting something, trying to get a brand recognized. We’re not all social media gurus proficient at SEO marketing, throwing out platitudes about engaging the masses. Some of us are just having conversations. We’re making friends. We’re telling jokes. We’re sharing our lives and both the humor and tragedy in those lives. We’re being social. That we are using Twitter to facilitate that socializing shouldn’t matter. We’re doing it.
I’ve spent five years making friends on Twitter. I’ve learned from them. I’ve laughed with them. Twitter has enriched my life and added value to my world by virtue of the people it has brought into my life.
Social media has made me social.