Some time ago I posted on here about Twitter not being real, about it being a ‘a meaningless yet useful tool for communication’. How haughty and superior I was, thinking that this thing didn’t matter to millions of people, that real connections weren’t formed in 140 characters, that people couldn’t love and hate – in equal measure – within it’s databases.
Perhaps me posting that entry was a sign to the universe to shaft me, because since then, Twitter or rather the connections made within, has been very real. And occasionally emotional and occasionally painful. If I was brighter I’d probably talk about how relationships and connections are changing in the digital world and how social media is the catalyst. We ‘meet’ people we wouldn’t normally meet. We connect with people from different walks of life. We share facets of our personality which we may hide in the real world. There’s a degree of anonymity and safety which comes from communicating over vast distances and virtual mediums. We can be who we want to be. We can fly whichever flag we choose to fly. We can put on masks, take off masks, filter, alter, amend, enhance. We can love at a distance and not get hurt. We can display hostility at a distance and from behind locked private accounts and suffer no consequences. No one is waiting around the corner to cause us harm, sticks and stones may break bones but names over the internet cannot hurt, right?
Each Twitter handle, each online personality, contains within an often vulnerable real person. A real soul capable of feelings, capable of hurt, capable of lies, capable of harsh truths. Pull back the masks and filters and alterations, amendments, flattering angles and inside there’s a Me or a You. Step away from the protection offered by a virtual medium and there’s a world of hurt in the real. We’re capable of forgetting that. We’re capable of seeing these transient connections which we make and not understanding the gravity of them. Not grasping how important they can be. To some people those connections are incredibly real, incredibly important, exceptionally vulnerable.
What’s my conclusion? Perhaps that I am guilty of not seeing just how real these connections can be and treating them with disrespect and disdain. Perhaps that I am guilty of expecting the masks and filters to translate into the real – they seldom do. Be kind, be cautious. I’m going to learn from my errors, learn from my mistakes, take lessons from very recent and very real experiences. If someone gives you a piece of them; be that in the street or on Twitter (masked, filtered or other), treat that piece with respect and kindness. Because behind that small piece of @ there is a real person who is reaching out and putting themselves at risk. They can be hurt.