Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On the Couch with Twitter: Social Networking as Therapy

Did you ever think one of those social networking sites could be therapeutic? Neither did I until I discovered Twitter.

Simple social networkingI have been an old fogey when it came to the social networking space. I have tried out MySpace but it really had no appeal to me. Nobody I knew used it, and the only people who contacted me where sleazy women trying to sell me pharmaceuticals. I have a Facebook page, too. It is a lot quieter than MySpace, but before my recent experiment it seemed just as pointless. Why would I want to worry about managing virtual friends and maintaining a separate email database? I already had a Flickr account with it’s posting and commenting responsibilities. Besides, I had a website with my own domain which I failed to maintain on a regular basis. Who has time for all that? No, clearly, social media sites weren’t worth the trouble.

And yet something bugged me. Could it be I was just bad at these sites because, frankly, I couldn’t network with people if you locked me together with them in a room and wrapped our necks together with cable? Wouldn’t it be better for me in real life if I knew how to network virtually? I wouldn’t even need to get out of my bathrobe to do it.

I, like a lot of people with Depression or AD/HD, have a hard time interacting with people. Relationships can be exhausting and fraught with mines and pitfalls, more so if one is slightly out of sync. When I discovered, I immediately noticed that it was different from the other social networks. Twitter was instant messaging mixed with blogging - a little slice of life in the form of status messages updated by web, widget, or cell phone. It was a compulsive lifestreamer’s fantasy come true. What impressed me most about other tweeters was how busy and productive they were. Many of them worked in the tech industry so I found what they said interesting, though I soon discovered that there were many different walks of life represented in the world of Twitter. I decided I wanted to be like them, even though I was “only” a homeschooling parent. (At the time I was feeling down about the oncoming homeschool year and lack of personal time to pursue my dreams. I needed something to lift my spirits.)

I decided I would not allow negativity to control how I represented my day. I would not allow myself to grouse and whine. I would try to be interesting. I would try to meet people, and I would try to think positively about myself. I would be the best me possible. Then I would see what would happen. This was my chance to do networking right. 

I began my experiment on August 4th as TheLaughingImp. I felt a little silly at first. “Who really cares what I am doing on my computer?” I would ask myself. However, I began following people who I found interesting. Then I sent replies to them (@username message). I direct mailed them (D @username message) and asked them questions. They began to reply back. I started to have fun leaving my updates. I even found services like Jott and Twittergram that let me leave voice mails as tweets (Jott can even transcribe your tweet). After two months I noticed strangers replying to my comments. My list of followers was going up. I was in active discussions with new people. All the while I kept on target and didn’t let myself slip into the pitiful Eeyore-like cadence depressives tend to do. I also kept my AD/HD foot out of my mouth. 

Over the last few months I heard about earthquakes in California in real time as my friends online experienced them. I tuned into the fire updates tweeted regularly by a California radio station in October. I learned about tech services before they were written up in the blogs. I photoblogged events I attended and tweeted running commentary during concerts for people who weren’t there with me. I felt empowered.

(cc) Douglas Cootey

Most importantly, I hooked up with local bloggers who in turn told me about events like photowalking in Salt Lake City and podcampSLC. The photowalking gave me opportunity to meet new people and do new things - to visit places I might otherwise not have. PodcampSLC has given me opportunity to use my skills for an upcoming tech conference. I designed the logo. I’ll be helping find fellow Utahn podcasters, vloggers, and bloggers and trying to get them excited about attending the event.  More new people to meet; less opportunity to stay at home sad and lonely. 

Overall, the experiment was a success. By focusing on sharing positive aspects of my life I have improved my own outlook and perhaps influenced others for good. If I am depressed one day, my committment to reflect my life positively keeps me from wallowing, with the side benefit of lifting my spirits. If you are feeling disconnected from society and are wanting for new social contacts, I heartily encourage you to open a Twitter account today. Registration is free and there are many different apps out there to help you keep pace with all the people you are following. Give it a month or two and you’ll start forging new friendships online and offline. That’s what social networking is all about.

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