It May Be Stupid, But It's Twitter's Greatest Strength

This past weekend my brother and I spoke on the phone as we do most weekends. We talked about watching the US Open and shared thoughts about who we’d be rooting for when Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate played another 18 holes of golf in Monday’s playoff.

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We shared a few details about what we did during the day as well as other mostly mundane information. Nothing about our conversation was particularly enlightening and neither of us is a changed person as a result of our talk, but in talking about ordinary things we strengthened the bond between us.

A number of years ago he was living in Manhattan and I was living in Danbury, CT. Both or us were single, worked all day, and came home to watch a little tv and unwind after the day. We’d call each other and watch a Knicks game together. He watching on his tv and me watching on mine. We said very little, didn’t need to other than the occasional comment on a play. Yet the phone line was open and connected us for a few hours each night a game was on.

Earlier today I was IMing a friend. She used to live here in Boulder and now lives in Florida. We discussed exciting topics like the weather and what we were going to eat for lunch. We said nothing profound and for much of the time neither one of us typed a word. She worked on her laptop and I worked on mine. Still the channel for communication remained open and helped to keep us close.

I Do Want To Know What You’re Doing Right Now

The most popular criticism you hear about Twitter is “I don’t care what you’re doing right now.” I said it often enough myself before giving Twitter a try. From the outside looking in, it does seem like a stupid idea.

  • Do you need to know what I had for breakfast? – Raisin Bran
  • Do you care what time I’m going to sleep? – around 2:00 AM
  • Is it important to know what magazine I’m currently reading? – Dynamic Graphics

Does knowing these mundane details about each other help us in any way? Is there any point to sharing the information?

As it turns out these kind of tweets are one of Twitter’s great strengths as a networking service. Do we need to know? Of course not, but knowing the mundane facts about each other is what brings us closer together.

I can’t speak for you, but most of my day is pretty dull. I wake up, go to the bathroom, make myself a pot of coffee (presumably so I can go to the bathroom again), check my email and begin my day. Much of the details about my week aren’t too exciting. I’m not complaining. I’m very happy with how I’ve set up my week to week, but truth is most of us live rather ordinary lives.

Earlier I left a quick message on Plurk about how I was having difficulty writing today. I started this post and several others a few hours ago and while the ideas were all in the place the words weren’t flowing.

Did anyone need to know that? Probably not, but since most everyone who’s ever written anything has gone through the same it’s a point of connection between us. Anyone who sees my plurk and empathizes will feel a bit closer to me and I’ll feel a bit closer to anyone who replies.

We’ll continue to become closer as we reply to each other’s tweets or share links on Sphinn and StumbleUpon. Repeated replies to ordinary thoughts will create stronger bonds between us than anything else.

We are the minutia of our days and sharing that minutia is what connects us as human beings.

It turns strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into friends. is there a better purpose to networking? The little things make a difference and the ordinary strengthens friendships.

Maybe it sounds stupid and pointless to share mundane details about what we’re doing at various moments throughout the day, but the truth is I do care what you’re doing right now and I hope you care about what I’m doing too. We don’t necessarily need to know, but knowing will bring us closer together.

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12 comments

  1. That’s a great point. We all make fun of the “I just sneezed” aspect of Twitter, and yet that’s 95% of life. I used to watch TV with friends over the phone, too, and it was fun; sort of a way of recreating the kind of things we did when we lived closer to each other. Sometimes it’s nice just to be reminded that there are people out there and have a connection with them, however tiny it may be.

    • Thanks Pete. I was thinking about it after the last time someone said “who cares what you’re doing now” and I realized that’s what I liked most about Twitter.

      I do like knowing who else is watching the Celtics/Lakers game like I am now and I find it interesting to get a better sense of people’s personalities by what they say when they’re not directly marketing.

      Knowing what you eat and what color pajamas you wear or what time you need to pick up the kids from soccer practice is really who you are.

      Don’t you feel more connected to people when you know that information as mundane as it might be?

  2. I’m finding the same thing now Steven. I boycotted Twitter completely based on my assumption that it’s a complete time waster. I hesitantly registered for Plurk out of curiosity (and because I’d let too many people know of my Twitter boycott to ever register).

    I still think 50% of my time on Plurk is wasted. But I did underestimate the networking potential of inane chatter. It’s helped me find a few more great blogs and grow my network of digital friends.

    So rather than just playing with it for a while and then abandoning, I suspect I’ll continue to use it, even if it is somewhat sparingly.

    • That’s how I used to feel about it too. I just seemed like a time waster and in some respects it is. But we all waste a lot of time hanging out with friends.

      Knowing one person has a dog while someone else lives in a gated community gives you insights into their personalities that you don’t get in other places.

      It does connect you to each other.

  3. I’ve always been pretty anti Twitter, but I’m starting to be converted. It does enhance the sense of connection you have with other people. I follow some people’s Twitters already, so I’m guessing at some point I’ll jump in myself.

    • I was converted a few months back when there was push in several seo blogs. I figured why not at least see what it was all about,

      It was addictive at first, though now I’ve scaled back some. I leave Twhirl open on my desktop all day and from time to time tweet something or reply to someone else’s tweet.

      It has been a good source of information and I’ve found it a good way to connect with someone quickly. I can ask one of my friends a quick question without having to email.

  4. I’ve been “playing” with Twitter for a few weeks now, and frankly can’t figure out what the big deal is.

    I do heartily agree with your assessment of the need for casual contact. In fact, I’ve mirrored the scenario you describe many times with my friend in Florida, watching a hockey game or Simpsons episode while throwing out the occasional comment. However, we’ve found instant messaging more to our taste; while it has the same functionality of Twitter, it’s more a one-on-one conversation. (Twitter is more like a conversation on a party line, or in a wide-open cafeteria with anybody listening in.)

    I’ll continue fiddling with Twitter in all likelihood, but I’ll stick with my meebo for keeping up with mine.

    Rudy

    • Some of what makes Twitter a great place to be is the people there. Of course that means it’s only as good as the people you connect with.

      The SEO/Marketing community is there, which is why you hear a lot of people like me touting Twitter’s benefits. But if the people you want to connect with aren’t using Twitter then you may not find it as useful.

      The value in any social network is the people.

  5. Yes, you did add me. I’m mostly there in the morning, while most of my twitter-buds are later in the day. That sort of asynchronous conversation thing is hard to maintain in the free-for-all Twitscape.

    • I see you there right now as a matter of fact and just sent you a message. I find it works best for me if I just have Twhirl up and running throughout the day.

      When I need to focus on work I have it minimized. When I have a little more time to interact I’ll open it again and join the conversation.

      Some things I can do while tweeting and other things need my full attention. One of the things I like about Twitter is that I can join the conversation when I want and ignore it when I want as well.

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