Think of the options on how you strike a friendship. “I met her at a party.” Or “I met him at a café.” Or “We were in business school together.” And then, “I met him on Twitter.” Does the last one sound odd or spurious to you? But why should it? Friendships or relationships built on the Internet can be as real or unreal as in the real world. Social media is raging phenomenon with Facebook and Twitter bringing more contacts into your computer screen — and then on to your living rooms — than they did ever before. Alongside is an unwarranted pessimism about whether they are taking you away from the real world of friendships, relationships and conversations.
The fears may be far-fetched, but we need to understand why. There is a genuine cause for concern when online existence becomes addictive enough for real-world contacts to be underplayed or ignored. But that could be because the relationships there are more enriching in a way. So, it is a bit like asking: Has email killed the old-fashioned long-hand letters, now known pejoratively as snail mail? The answer could be a yes, but do consider the fact that short of giving you the romantic smell of paper and the visual appeal of long-hand writing, everything you did with letters can be done now with emails — and it is faster, better and cheaper. And often, richer. Similarly, conversations on Twitter can be enriching, and consequent friendships — can be rewarding.
I have said that Twitter is the new parliament and Facebook is the new café. Both social media sites are flexible though Twitter dramatically increases the probability of finding a person who is closer to your tastes, values, interests or whatever you think makes a friendship tick. The other day, one spotted a tweet that wondered why the tweeter felt closer to strangers she met on Twitter than persons she had lived with for years. That may sound eerie, like an alcohol-induced illusion, but do consider the fact that this could be because the hidden longings of the person found an echo on Twitter.
Echo is the right word. Every tweet you throw into the Twitterverse is like a stone cast into a pond. Some disappear, but some others cause positive ripples. Just as a matrimonial advertisement has often been touted in India as one for “wider choice,” Twitter throws up chances for a “wider choice” of people who can strike the right chords of empathy. The catch is that Twitter is about what you say, and like Facebook, may involve “projected selves” than real ones. But then, false calls of the kind based on projections can be as probable in real life. Love marriages can fall apart after years, while matrimonial ads in online dating sites can lead to long-lasting, fulfilling relationships. Twitter or Facebook need not be any different.
In fact, Twitter is about conversations, often in real time. In Internet chat rooms, people often take up “avatars” or pseudonyms, lie about themselves and may be living out their fantasies. But on Twitter, most people let others know who they are — more or less — barring a few with “protected tweets” that can be read only with permission.
Tweeting, is a spontaneous act,where through tone, tenor, grammar or exclamations, we reveal our real selves and could form a stronger ground for friendship. For the “non-verbal” kind, Twitter may be limited to sharing pictures on Twitpic.com — but even that could kindled shared interests in viewing the world in a certain way. Naysayers who argue about the limits of online friendships need look no further than the boom in online matrimonial sites. There is a big question: what if a real person is different from the one you see on Twitter? The possibility exists, but in real life too, one may meet a person who turns out to be different later.
There is nothing to beat a real-life friendship. But there is nothing to stop a Twitter conversation from becoming a real-life one. Direct, private messages on Twitter may yet help a tweeter get to know another one better. Like in real life, disappointments may ensure. Like in life, a wonderful friendship can also unfold.