Sunday, 21 April 2013

Social Media Mystery Tour

You might have noticed me lurching towards a better understanding of social media.  This has been a weird experience for everybody.

For my family – they’ve been exceedingly patient with my experimenting, and with all those annoying doodly alert noises from my phone.  Although my partner has been threatening to take my phone and throw it in the dam.  He claims we wouldn’t hear the alerts if my phone was four feet underwater.  My kids all think it’s hilarious – they keep urging me on.  They want me to send a gushing fan message to JK Rowling.  I tell them that I am far too mature and intimidated to do any such thing, and that it’s poor etiquette.  They ask me to explain what ‘etiquette’ is.*

For those of you who read my Facebook page – yeah, apologies for spamming you with recent tweets.  That is poor etiquette.  I know it’s extremely uncool, but I still haven’t figured out all the little dials and buttons yet.  I am trying to figure out how to selectively retweet and stuff like that, so I don’t come off as a complete wanker.  I guess I’ll just have to settle for looking like a confused idiot until I come to some arrangement that works.

For those of you who’ve witnessed me blundering about on Twitter – thank you for your kind patience.  I feel like someone who has walked into a party that wasn’t supposed to be a fancy-dress party, but I thought it was a fancy dress party, so I’ve come dressed as a snail.  Or maybe the other way round – everyone else is dressed to the nines, and I thought it was ‘come-as-you-are’.  Or something.

I’m sure I’ve intruded on a number of quiet conversations that were none of my business, and I’m also sure I’ve introduced myself to various people who wonder exactly why I am talking to them.  I’m trying to glide elegantly around the room, listening to the hum of conversation and injecting the occasional witty bon mot – but I’ve always been terrible at that.  I am the person who laughs like a hyena at other peoples’ jokes, and then trips over the hem of her skirt while trying to get up from her chair.  Dorothy Parker I am not.

I just try to be uniformly nice to everyone.  I’m not trying to make a great impression.  My experience tends to be that when I try to do that, I make an impression of ‘wow, that girl sure is good at falling on her face’.  So I resist the urge to make myself look good.  I just try to be nice, and then maybe someone will invite me back next time.

Sincere apologies to anyone I’ve offended - it was an honest mistake – and I’ll try to obey the rules of propriety.  Or at least the rules of sobriety – someone said recently ‘Never Tweet while drunk’, which seems extremely sound to me.  I’ll steer clear of the bubbly.

But Twitter is a truly eye-opening experience.  I admit I pooh-poohed the idea at first – why would I want to tweet?  How much more stuff about me can I be bothered to write? (or would other people be bothered to read?) – but it’s a very different type of engagement with people.

For one, it’s extremely personal and immediate.  This was amply illustrated to me within a few short days of starting up.  I’d only just figured out how to send messages and give myself a picture when the Boston Marathon bombings happened.  Suddenly it was six in the morning, and I was reading all these cries of distress from people in the US – not just messages of commentary, but actual people, shocked by what they’d experienced, or what they were watching in ghastly ‘on-the-scenes’ photos and clips taken by those who were right there at the time.

There were messages of anger and worry, people trying to get word to their families that they were okay, people trying to find their loved ones…  Those were the most distressing.  One author was receiving messages from people who knew his wife, so he knew she was all right, that she hadn’t been near the explosions (they live in Boston, he was overseas).  Other people were offering their homes to those who’d been in Boston and were too hurt or weary to get back home, or whose flights had been cancelled when the city went into lockdown.

I got a strong impression of a community in distress – this wasn’t a party anymore, this was a crisis, and people were bonding together to grieve, or express their horror, or offer support.  It really affected me: coloured the whole day with the fear and distress that people were experiencing so far away.

It also made me realise that this platform, which is often derided (which I often derided) as a place where people list what they had for breakfast to no useful effect, was actually a means for people to draw closer, and share of themselves, and connect in a genuine way.  It’s a bit like a being at a party, as I said, but equally it’s like being together with a bunch of people on a mystery train trip – or in this case, trapped together in an elevator during a gunfight.  People talk, they connect.  And it is so immediate – that connection is right there, miles and miles and barely a fingertip away.

I wouldn’t have continued with Twitter without this experience.  I think I would have just treated it as a novelty activity, and only poked my nose in every now and then, to see if there was something interesting people were chatting about.  But I can’t approach it like that now.  I’ve seen a different side of it.  And I’ve seen that people are people, regardless of the place they live, or the platform they communicate on, and I quite like the idea of being involved in a community like that.

If they can put up with me falling off my chair and speaking at the wrong moment occasionally.

*omg, Parenting Fail

If you’d like to join me, go to @elliemarney and say hi.  I will try not to bump into you with my drink.

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