I Tweet in Real Life!

Posted on February 9, 2009. Filed under: In My Experience | Tags: , , |

dallas-road-seawallLast week, when the weather was giving us West Coasters a glimpse of spring, I went for a run along the Dallas Road Seawall. Of course, I wasn’t alone in my decision to enjoy the mild weather – many others came to enjoy the air, the sunshine and the view, bringing dogs and babies and cups of coffee.

Jogging past my strolling neighbours, I found myself chatting in tiny bursts: “Cute dog!” “I like your stick!” “Good afternoon” – and nearly all these little exchanges were marked with a smile back, or another comment. By the end of 40 minutes’ running, I had exchanged greetings with dozens of people – what’s more, I felt wonderful… connected, even.

I’ve been quite active on Twitter.com for a couple of months, and thinking about the nature of this communication medium: 140 characters to answer the question, as Chris Brogan says, “What has your attention?”. (While the twitter.com home page asks “What are you doing?”, Twitter seems to have evolved beyond the scope of that starting point, and attention is what it’s all about.) That’s just enough for a decent sentence, a quick response, or a kind comment. It’s an awful lot like greeting the folks you meet on the street, or on the seawall.

And to me, that similarity marks the return of something we’ve been in danger of losing – that casual but kind human contact. When we lived in smaller communities, the friendly greeting was commonplace. Everyone knew everyone else’s face, but didn’t necessarly want to become intimate friends with all their fellow citizens. It made sense to lubricate social interaction with a little small talk.

Now, with our big-box stores and freeways, we’ve lost that opportunity for the most part. Seawall friendliness is the exception rather than the rule. And that makes places like Twitter more important than you might imagine. It’s becoming the 21st-century equivalent of the village square, the promenade, the church social. We tweet because we’re human.

I’m not saying that we should all be updating our Facefook status and posting to Twitter multiple times a day. In fact, I’d promote the opposite – take the “listening” skills and the short communication that you learn online, and try applying it to the real world. Next time you are stuck in the grocery line-up, faced with catching up on the tabloid news headlines or choosing which package of gum to add to your purchase, try “tweeting” the person standing in line beside you. It can be something simple, like “wow, look how many magazine covers have the same people on them this week”, or even the classic comment about the weather. You might get a reply. You’ll certainly have made the world a slightly friendlier place.

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