Monday, 31 December 2012

My year on Twitter, and a thank-you letter to my invisible friends

When you get to a certain age it can be hard to make new friends. Or the ones you have aren't always around when you need them. (Three of my best friends are now at the other end of the country, the other side of the world, or have gone mad.)

So where do you turn to for friendship? The internet, obviously.

Not everyone gets why I spend so much time online. I tried to explain it once as being a bit like the imaginary friend that some people have as a child. Except that the people I talk to are real: invisible, rather than imaginary.

When you've gone through life feeling that you don't really fit in and wondering if you're a bit odd, the internet is a great place. It makes you realise that you're not alone. And not actually that odd either: one of my Twitter highlights this year was being described in a 'follow Friday' message as 'normal'. There was a time I'd have taken that as an insult, but I'm older and wiser now.

There are enough like minds out there to make a community. Or lots of mini-communities. There are people I talk to on Twitter about music, politics, what's on the telly (or, even better, the radio). There are people I share things with: jokes, memories... feelings. Yes, that too.

Yes, sometimes you can get it wrong. There's scope for misunderstanding in 140-character messages. But there's scope for misunderstanding in the face-to-face world too. And yes, you can only know a bit about a person from talking to them online. But that's true in the real world as well.

And sometimes there's more honesty. You can do small talk online (and this is why, doubters, it is OK to tweet about meals). But when there's something you need to get off your chest you can just say it. No-one has to respond. But often they do.

Twitter gets a bad rap sometimes because of  the bad people (and because a lot of the commentators don't get it). But let's hear it for the good stuff. The fun. The friendship. The support networks.

The generosity.

There are too many people to name, and I wouldn't want to miss anyone out, but here are some examples: The person who always retweets my blog posts. The person I met once who sent me a DVD. The person I've never met who offered me a book. The person who said they were 'always here', when I was going through a bad time and couldn't say what it was. The many people who gave moral support when I found out I was being made redundant. The person who wrote a blog post in response to one of mine. The people who know what I mean. The people who make me laugh. And, most recently, the person who wished happy Christmas to their 'Twitter family'.

People who have shared time, kindness, understanding, their real names (when I can't/won't), something of themselves...

Happy New Year to all my invisible friends.

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