Months and months ago, anticipating the publication of my new book, I asked a friend in PR what I should be doing to get the word out. His advice? Twitter. Establishing a presence on Twitter would help tremendously in forming an advance fan base and a means to share information and updates about FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation. His synopsis: Facebook without pages. 140 characters a post (or tweet) from millions of people all over the world posting literally every second on a constantly updating cyber-wall.
I didn't completely understand how it worked, how you'd find people, why you'd follow anyone or how on earth someone might follow you, but, I signed up. And stared at the quickly moving wall, too overwhelmed and freaked out, to be honest, to do anything. It took a couple of days to screw up the courage to answer anyone. And another day after that to understand if you didn't include their name, and the "@" symbol, they weren't getting your message. And retweet, as in forwarding along someone else's tweet? A concept I didn't get for a month or so.
After a few days I made my first Twitter friend. Or Twitter BFF by day three. A fellow writer, who was engaging, funny, and always answered. He wanted an agent/book deal and was impressed to find I had both. We tweeted, emailed, friended each other on Facebook. And then, day five. He wrote that he'd been drinking, that he'd never say this otherwise, but he had a crush on me and needed to let me know. Hours later, when I didn't reply, his missives got increasingly angry, and accusatory, bordering on rage. By the next morning, I got the "I get this way when I'm drinking," "this is how I ruin all relationships," "please forgive me" email. I quickly blocked and unfollowed him, and moved on.
I found endless social media experts, publishing gurus, inspirational life coaches -- and those weren't the spammers, just intrepid souls who were hawking their expertise and points of view, for free or for a specially reduced rate for webinars or workshops. Spammers are more about making easy money at home, or porn. Honestly, sometimes it's hard to differentiate. So, slowly, I learned to pick and chose who I followed. And I wasn't always right. Let's be honest, sometimes I found people; sometimes, robo-generated accounts that were trying to sell me a fabulous vacation or an amazing phone deals. But, after endless hours staring at my computer (or laptop or iPhone), I began to find interesting, thought-provoking, funny souls.
And then, they're gone. Which is what inspired this post in the first place. The transience of Twitter. For a month, a day, an hour, or 5 minutes, you can have the most intriguing dialog with someone. There are moments of connection, of kindred souls flirting, exchanging ideas, empathy, support, anger. Admiration, jealousy, twisted humor, appreciation, emotion. And then, it's over. They disappear. Sometimes for awhile, sometimes forever.
Here's my question: how real is any of it? Can you establish a relationship with a tiny square photo and names that range from real life (@elissastein for example) to combos of numbers and letters that make no sense? I've had run-ins with people I think might be bordering on the edge of a breakdown. And have established relationships that mean the world to me. There are times lately, when it feels like people on twitter are more involved in my life than people actually in my life.
Is that preposterous, or is it the wave of the future?
Follow Elissa Stein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@elissastein