Keeping up with the Twitter Joneses

by Kristin on June 6, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by simone riccardi

Sometimes Twitter feels like a huge, hip cocktail party. I am a guest who is regretting what I chose to wear, in one way or another. It is too casual, or too formal, or maybe it’s just uncomfortable and makes me feel less like myself than I already feel.

I sort of know everyone, but not really at all, so my face grows stiff from the smiles and forced animation. Even though I know it’s a party, full of interesting people, it feels like so much work. When I scan the room, my mind takes everyone in as a whole. Rather than seeing one person with a bit of wit, and another with a recent accomplishment, I see the sum total of the room: so much wit, charm, and accomplishment, all rolled into one super-being I can’t begin to keep up with.

That’s how it’s felt lately. I’ve had to keep Twitter at an arm’s length these past few weeks, as a sanity move. There are just too many other things that are up in my face right now—too many deadlines, too many people counting on me. When I stop by Twitter, I feel the weight of the many other things I want to be or should be doing, because it feels like everyone else is doing all of those things. They are all tending gardens and spending quality time with their children. They are baking pies, writing daily blog posts, and finding literary agents. They are reading all the best new books, and going to bed at night with clean kitchens.

Of course I know this is silly, but I’ve already explained the strange trick my mind plays, this ability to take each individual person I follow on Twitter—all 1,480 of them—and create a conglomerate super-being. That’s what happens when Twitter feels like a huge cocktail party.

But at other times, Twitter feels like a cozy dinner. It’s a small group of individuals, gathered around a table, listening and sharing. We wear comfortable clothes and eat comfortable food. Each individual might have a measure of wit or intelligence, but they also each have a measure of struggle and disappointment. Maybe one bakes pies and another blogs almost every day, but there is no single person at the table who does everything. We are each real and flawed, finite and full of potential, and we’re able to recognize this in one another (and therefore accept it in ourselves).

This week, in the midst of my streak of social media agoraphobia, two Twitter friends stepped out of the crowd and into my dining room. Shawn and Maile Smucker, with their four little ones in tow, stopped through on their way across the country, tasting not just our food, but also our ordinary life. We sat at the table and shared stories, their kids playing with toys that my kids loved but have outgrown. There was some dust on the piano and dog hair on the sofa, but I felt good about my life. After dinner, we walked through our neighborhood to the park, laughing at the kids’ antics, talking about different places we’ve lived, then returning home as dusk settled in.

The next day, Twitter felt different. I noticed I was once again able to see my social media community as a group of individuals, like Shawn and Maile—approachable, knowable, caring, and real—making me wonder how I ever slipped into that overwhelming cocktail party, full of its mind tricks and distortions. We are, in the end, each individuals, doing what we can and learning to call it enough.

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  • Erika @ chambanachik

    Loved this!

  • Ray Hollenbach

    I never was very good at cocktail parties: always on the periphery, nursing one beer through the night. It was safer to observe people from a distance and draw conclusions about them without actually talking to them. It’s probably why I like social media–it has the illusion of self-disclosure without most of the risk. One quick read of a profile becomes the interpretive guide for all the future postings I read.

    But there’s something about sharing a meal, sharing time, and moving into unscripted conversation that has a way of smashing the icons we’ve made. Perhaps that’s why Jesus used the image of a forever-feast, where we will finally have time to know one another, and it will be a safe place.

    [One writer’s note: I loved the phrase, “flawed, finite and full of potential”]

  • Sarah@ From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell

    So lovely.

    You’re right about the whole Twitter/social media experience. I get bogged down in everyone’s writing and lament my lack of an agent/subscribers/numbers/platform whatever. But I’ve met a couple of these people in real life, and they are simply that real, personable.

  • Preston

    Love and understand this, friend. I’ve come close more than once this past week simply declaring I quit.

  • Sara R.

    Wow! Thank you for sharing this. I feel so much this way, way too often. It’s like that quote i’ve read several places recently “I have to remember that i am comparing my behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight-reels.” (my paraphrase) So, thank you.

  • Shawn Smucker

    “Learning to call it enough” – that is such a worthy goal. Maile and I had a discussion about this very thing on the drive from Urbana to Odon, Indiana yesterday.

  • ed cyzewski

    I’ve been learning that while Twitter is great, I just get a little slice of each person, and each person is so much better in person. That makes me more eager to connect with people in person, even if I still value the Twitter…

  • The Modern Gal

    I think its easy for us to project our own feelings, assumptions and insecurities on any medium, but it’s even easier to do so when the people on the other end are mostly people we’ve never met. They’re more characters than humans. I always love meeting a blog/twitter friend in real life! You realize you feel like you’ve known them for quite some time.

  • Kristin T.

    Erika, thank you! Glad to provide some late-night reading for you! (I never expected anyone to be up and reading when I finally hit “publish.”)

    Ray, as you know, I’m a fan of parties and people, but there are definitely moments, scenes and moods that leave me feeling much less myself than more myself. Your observation about social media is spot on: “it has the illusion of self-disclosure without most of the risk.” A good truth for us to regularly acknowledge. (Thanks for the writerly feedback, too!)

    Sarah, we just need some good old fashioned reality checks once in a while, don’t we? (And it’s funny, I just realized that “reality checks” tend to be thought of as negative, like a slap in the face, but they can also be just that moment that we remember what is real.)

    Preston, you can’t begin to know how good it feels to know I’m not alone (and especially to hear it from one of those Super People I tend to paint as larger-than-life in my head!). Blessings as you become more grounded again.

    Sara R., I’ve never heard that saying, but it’s SO true! Facebook is especially notorious for that all-highlights-all-the-time perspective on life. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    I LOVE this, and I can’t wait to have lots and lots of “living-room time” with you next week. xoxo

  • Jen

    How am I only seeing this now? Yes. Yes to all of it. I will refrain from emotionally throwing up in your comments today. I really miss you.

  • Corrie

    Thank you.l Makes me want to have YOU at my dinner table.

  • Emilee

    Fun post, Kristin. I’m happy to have run into you at the cozy dinner.

    And Shawn, I’m from Odon, Indiana! Hope you had a good visit and hit up the Dutch Pantry and Odon Locker! (Those are my two stops when I’m there.) :)

  • dusty

    Thanks. I needed that. I mean — I *really* needed that.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Sometimes I think Twitter has brought equal parts joy and insanity into my life. I’ve connected with amazing people, quite a few of whom have become real life friends- yourself included. But the flip side is seeing All The Sparkly Things going on for other people and that can flip a switch on my insecurities. I’m learning to be sensitive to those little nagging feelings and maybe spend less time on Twitter when it happens. Or at least focusing more on the people with whom I have a friendship- the people that love me as I am, independent of how shareable my latest blog post is.

  • Kristin T.

    Shawn, I am so glad you and your family were able to stop in and spend some time with us (and that I was able to let go of my big hostessing expectations and call our simple time together “enough”). I have learned a lot from you—from your blog, and now also from our time together around a table.

    ed, this has definitely been the case for me: “I just get a little slice of each person, and each person is so much better in person.” That either means we have really great taste in Twitter friends, or that we have a special affection for the messiness of life. :) Either way, I’m glad you are one of the people I’ve met and can say is even better in person.

    The Modern Gal, that tendency to project more than usual when we don’t know someone IRL is so true! “They’re more characters than humans.” Indeed. We can’t always travel the country and meet everyone like Shawn has, so we have to constantly remind ourselves that each person has a very real side to balance their polished side.

    Katie, I know! I’m sure our time together will inspire a whole series of posts. See you soon!

    Jen, you can always let out whatever you want to here. That’s what we need more of—more of that real stuff. (I’ve been missing you, too! Some time I’ll have to write a post about what it’s like to know someone long before blogs and Twitter, and then to use those tools as a way to stay connected. Hmmm…)

  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    I find that twitter can repeal my muse! (I’ll on a “muse kick” at the moment.)

    I find the best or only answer for me to be BREVITY.

    Can I just also say that every time I make it here to read, I find the opposite is true. Each post is such a treasure. I’m glad this is “the party” you do. :)

  • Jen

    Aww, I get this. Except, weirdly enough, it’s usually Facebook that does it to me more than Twitter. All the fun photos and engagement rings and food and to my neurotic, insecure side everybody looks like they’re doing everything better than me. It’s exhausting.

    But I love this reminder that when it comes down to it, we are three dimensional people and not just a bio and whatever we choose to say to the Internet. I’ve made a few real-world, flesh and blood friends through Twitter, and it’s awesome. In a way, because I’m an introvert and terrible at parties, the virtual socializing has helped me make these friendships more easily.

    Thanks for this. I want to have dinner with your family too now! =)

  • @janus__

    Perfect post. Twitter has literally opened the world to me with friends from the Philippines to Finland, many I have met in person. No matter how I struggle with the time suckage and my wallflower status, I can’t walk away from the world it’s opened to me.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Sam Van Eman

    Kristin, I enjoyed this reflection, especially the first half, especially since your writing is good and to the point. It made me feel inadequate for not writing better/more often. I guess if I had read this last night, I’d imagine your kitchen was clean, too.

    But that’s exactly why I liked this. It resonates with me and I’m reminded that I’m not the only one who thinks the super-being called My Friends is out in front while I’m lagging behind in an insignificant way.