How Twitter has made me a better person
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When I first joined Twitter at the end of 2009 I didn’t really get the appeal, especially after the novelty of knowing my favourite musicians’ habits wore off and it seemed impossible to keep up with the pace. During 2010 I went back-and-forth in my relationships with Twitter, un-following the people I thought would have added value, and organically coming across new people who it seemed were interested in the same things I was, and were having engaging and intelligent discussions about them.
Over the past two years it is through these people on Twitter that I believe I have become a better person. They are not famous – at least not in the traditional sense; most of them are not academics or experts; and I do not know them in the so-called offline/real world (although I have subsequently met some).
What they do have in common is that they are intelligent, engaged and have convictions – and what they have done, and continue to do on a daily basis, is to challenge me and to stimulate my critical thinking. There are many among this pool of my Twitter connections with whom I do not agree on many topics; but by engaging with them, or following their arguments and reasoning I am able to sharpen my own opinions or come to understand why they feel the way they do – and this makes me a better person.
It has also been wonderful to see how over these two years my Twitter “community” (the people I follow and the people they follow and re-tweet) has transformed and how the plurality of voices is growing, bringing new angles and insights into discussions.
Twitter has often been criticised for being too brief a platform for meaningful discussion, but I don’t fully agree. Yes, 140-character ‘thought bites’ are perhaps not the most ideally designed for discussing complex issues such as gender, race, governance and poverty – face-to-face debates would be much better. But Twitter is flexible, accessible at all times, and exposes you to people you might not normally come into contact with in the offline world; and the 140-character really teaches you to get to the point.
My advice is to keep an open mind, and to think and read some more before you plunge head first into a discussion on Twitter – to avoid becoming embroiled in ‘twars’ (twitter wars). Some of the arguments might make you emotional but keep a cool head and don’t resort to online fights and trolling. And remember – when you post online you post to the world.