About 35 years ago, (yes, I am that old) I was a young girl eagerly awaiting a letter from a show called Big Blue Marble telling me all the details of my pen pal. I would be assigned another young girl to write to and become friends with. And so began what is now my most enduring relationship other than the one I have with my brother or my grandma. At 6 I’m sure my letters were lame. But I waited so eagerly for my letter from R. R lived in a suburb of Detroit and she was just like me in so many ways. We wrote letter after letter.
For years our only communication was in letters, cards, boxes of baked goodies at the holidays and special little gifts. I honestly don’t remember the first time I ever spoke to her on the phone. I’m sure it wasn’t until I was 10 or 11. And when we did finally talk on the phone it wasn’t very long. Back then long distance calls were very expensive. And because we didn’t have much money, long distance calls were a luxury we couldn’t afford. But I never minded. And neither did she.
But now, who needs letters and phone calls and patiently waiting weeks to hear back from someone you really don’t know? Today, I can chat with R whenever I want. I have instant messenger, texting, Facebook, Facebook chat, Google Chat and a whole host of ways to be in touch. But that’s because I know her. Well.
As I’ve spent the last year connecting and engaging with Twitter, I’ve come to realize that it is just the modern day equivalent of the pen pal. Without the need for a pen. Or waiting.
I’ve met, talked with, laughed with, bantered and generally engaged with hundreds of people. Without regard to who they were. It’s hard to really size someone up on Twitter except for their basic bio and often a link to their website. Usually, though, it’s not all that much more information than I had 30-some years ago about R. But you go with it.
And people do become friends. My friend Diana (@AdamsConsulting) is a tech superstar. Earlier this week she wrote about how she became best friends with someone she met on Twitter. It was her story that got me thinking about how technology has brought people together just like a Saturday morning show brought me and R together. That as long as there is a common thread to connect people, strangers can form lasting relationships.
There aren’t many ways though. You can’t really do that on Facebook. There you connect with ‘friends’ or people you know or people who know someone you both mutually know. It’s not about connecting strangers. That’s what Twitter does best. It connects people who otherwise may not have met in real life. Not because we don’t have common ground, but because we’re very dispersed. I know people all over the world because of Twitter. I talk to them, often in real time, about topics ranging from A to Z.
There is so much power in the written word. Add a heavy dose of tech to it and make the exchange real time and relationships that may have taken years to solidify become rock solid exponentially faster. They’re not superficial. These are ‘I will give you my kidney’ type of relationships. And they’re forming every day because people are putting themselves out there and being themselves and making friends in a new way.
The interesting part is that if you’re not feeling the connection, the investment time is shortened. And, because there are multiple conversations happening at once there is an opportunity to learn a lot about other people and their views, hot buttons, passions, character and ethics very quickly. In some ways it’s harder to hide the skeletons now.
The only drawback I see is that forming these relationship doesn’t happen as early as it did for me and R. And it’s because we’ve been friends since early childhood that she knows everything about my past. She lived my life with me and shared all the milestones throughout my youth. There’s something powerful about that.
For adults though, we often lose sight of the importance of connectivity. It’s a lot of work to find people you really want to be friends with because of who they are not solely because they are close in proximity and therefore convenient. Twitter makes it possible to hold that big blue marble in our hands. The world becomes smaller.
Pen and paper are wonderful for connecting. But as an adult it’s impractical to send off random letters to strangers. Twitter, though, has come up with a way that in 140 characters you can form strong and significant relationships with people who would otherwise be strangers.
I’m sure you’ve made great friends online with people you otherwise may not have met. Isn’t that just phenomenal? If we aren’t connected on Twitter or Facebook, please click the little buttons at the top. And comment or send me an email so I can make sure I’m following you back on Twitter.