Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Is Twitter Hurting “Real-Life” Relationships?

I’ve talked a lot about Twitter here lately.  Everyone is talking about Twitter, even people who don’t use it.  The fact is, Twitter has invaded our lives; not just the lives of the digerati, but those of students, moms, television personalities…even cats.  Rather than texting, we’re tweeting.  Instead of blogging, we’re tweeting.  Sometimes we’re even tweeting about blogging.

Tweeting about blogging?

Tweeting about blogging?

But when is tweeting too much?  A coworker, who is not on Twitter or Facebook and basically seems to eschew all technology except her laptop, is a bit skeeved out by the communication that happens on Twitter, mainly the fact that we are using Twitter to communicate with people we’d normally have regular conversations with.

I admit, I too have moments of frustration, such as when someone direct messages me to invite me somewhere (rather than sending an SMS or giving a phone call), but on the other hand, some of the ordinary communication that happens on Twitter is the best.  For example, this morning, I sent out a tweet exclaiming my excitement over a particular download:

(it's true, it pleases me muchly)

(it's true, it pleases me muchly)

_My mother, rather than waiting until our next phone call or visit, then sent me a direct message which read, “Are you serious about Joan Baez? I have many old albums, I had no idea you even knew her.” (hope you don’t mind my sharing that, Mom!)

What’s interesting here is that, in my narcissistic use of Twitter, my mom discovered something about me she didn’t know before.  I’ve heard the same thing from my dad before about my blogging, incidentally.  In other words, rather than having a negative effect on my communication with my parents, the Internet has actually improved it – teaching my mother how to use Twitter gave us something fun we could share together; when my dad – who learned how to use the Internet last summer – calls me, we always have something new we read online to share with each other.

So, no.  I don’t think Twitter, or any other social networking, is detrimental to my “real-life” relationships.  While I could do with a little less tweeting from bars (especially on Tuesday nights), I’m glad to have this type of communication throughout the day with my friends and loved ones that was just never available before.

4 Comments

  1. since you are the one who pulled me into twitterlandia i feel compelled to respond. honestly mostly i use it for news not to communicate with friends. however, i think that there are two aspects of social networking (facebook and twitter) are important to consider. 1) sometimes such tweeting is used by people wanting to save money on sms messaging. but also i think that for people who are scattered across the globe the is especially important with respect to cheap ways to connect with friends. the thing that disturbs me is the notion that tweeting may replace blogging. i know that tweeting is called micro-blogging, but the fact that one has to limit what one says in relation to character limits means that nothing of substance can really be conveyed in twitter. so the idea that tweeting could replace blogging suggests to me a kind of dumbing down of blogging. sort of like watching a movie instead of reading a book.

  2. Twitter is fantastic (just to get that out of the way). I believe that part of the angst centers around the idea that Twitter is much closer to a raw technology platform than an application, so people have found their own uses for it – hundreds of uses, most of which are not obvious to new people that join. It’s like trying to explain the pre-graphical web to people (or the current web to *some* people).

    The combination of uncertainty, obligation, and perhaps a fear of being writing for a public audience leads newcomers to either create the illusion of participation by sharing mundane details (having coffee with a friend, lunch, went for a run) or to treat Twitter like some other application they’ve used like Facebook. Largely this confusion has been created by the media looking to jump at the chance to (wrongly) answer the question “What is Twitter? with the answer “it’s a social network like Facebook!” Of course, it doesn’t help that Twitter.com asks “What are you doing right now?” – invariably updating Twitter.

    We know that Twitter is a micro-blogging tool because, by default, all Tweets are public and “following” someone is nearly identical to subscribing to an RSS feed. But this term only makes sense to those who understand blogs and RSS. Someone choosing to read your blog or follow your Tweets doesn’t automatically make them your friend, although your friends probably read and follow you. This is even more confusing to for new people, because they likely were encouraged to join Twitter by a friend – not because of a topic-interest (like the desire to rant to @comcastcares). I’ve even heard people say that they “now feel like they have to switch to Twitter” when they were “just getting comfortable with Facebook”.

    Further compounding the whole damned thing is that the desktop Twitter clients mostly suck (feel free to disagree and make a recommendation, btw). There’s currently no great way to organize and prioritize people that you follow – it’s either on or off. I can’t understand how anyone can use something like Twitterific for following more than a couple hundred people. There also seem to be very few tools for subject search and discovery (besides search.twitter.com) that are accessible to a wide audience.

    I gave up on attempting to read all of the tweets by people I follow, and I’m okay with that, but I have no idea if that’s the norm. So there’s also a sense of obligation that friends might be expecting you to read everything they tweet because there is little in the way of established uh… twetiquette. A good example is how new users can become freaked out that a stranger is suddenly “following” them. I’ve had people ask if they should block strangers that try to follow them. And there’s no easy answer, other than asking someone to define how they’re planning to use their own particular flavor of Twitter right after they sign up.

    - @fitzroy (done with commenting and coffee, probably not going for a run)

  3. It is this sharing of information (some random) that can actually enable you to connect with folks you might not otherwise connect with. I actually am much closer to my brother by reading his Facebook posts (which he updates constantly). We don’t talk on the phone very much, and now I know a lot about his day to day. It has been a lot of fund.

  4. I agree on Tuesday night bar tweets! (haha)

    I think what is starting to bother me the most abut twitter is exactly what bothered me about facebook (and what led to me getting an account when I didn’t want one) — the fact that people get so caught up in a new technology that they forget about those not on it. Without facebook, I literally would not receive half the invitations out that I do, and now friends are beginning to notify each other of events and outings through twitter — which leaves one with the question, how good of a friend can they be if they will forego your presence because a phone call to a non-twitter (or facebook, or cell phone) user nowadays seems like so much extra effort.

    Eh. Plus, the narcissism gets pretty dull.

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