Creating friendships, 140 characters at a time

I love Twitter sometimes.

This will be a controversial statement for some people and the world is definitely divided into people that get it and people that don’t.

For some it’s the epitomy of mindless social media: for people who can’t keep their own trivial nonsense to themselves and the territory of self-regarding narcissists. For others it’s endlessly interesting, a doorway into countless lives and a non-stop snapshot of every walk of life.

But that’s the attraction for me: the banal and the epoch-making, side by side. Revolutions and riots, gossip and tedium…Twitter has it all.

I realised from looking at my Twitter profile that I’ve been doing ‘it’ since late 2008, which in Twitter terms is probably a lifetime. One of the first people I ‘met’ on Twitter (we rarely meet our fellow tweeters) was a lady who lives in Santa Monica called Nancy. Looking back I have no idea how we connected – we have very little in common and didn’t have any shared connections at the time – it was just one of those serendipitous connections that has developed over the months into a Twitter friendship.

So when we were planning a summer holiday in California this summer, I thought it would be a cool idea to hook up with her. I’ve been in the mood for doing new things recently and whilst this didn’t feel entire reckless it felt like an interesting experiment, meeting up with a person who I’d only ever met through the frankly bizarre medium of social media.

One other thing – I would have the family in tow and once I’d sold in the fact that we were meeting up with a complete stranger over 3,000 miles away (which was remarkably easy) we were on for a seriously long distance ‘tweet up’.

Nancy was up for meeting and in that typically open American way, she couldn’t wait to meet up with us and ‘hang out together’. I on the other hand took a more typically British reserved approach: what happens if we don’t get on, what are the protocols on meeting, do we hug, shake hands…the list of reasons not to do it were endless, at least in my over-cautious mind.

But it stayed in the diary.

We’d arranged to call Nancy when we got closer to LA. She lives near the ocean and we planned to stay nearby and the plan was to call her a couple of days before we met to make the final arrangements. We booked into a cool hotel on Venice Beach and I called her. ‘You sound English’ she said and I confirmed that she sounded American. It’s odd when you talk to someone who you’ve written to so many times – they become real.

Nancy picked us up from the hotel and we proceeded to have one of the best days of our holiday. She took us to a local restaurant that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, we strolled in Santa Monica and gawped at OJ Simpson’s murder house and the conspicuous wealth of Beverly Hills. Turned out that we all got on like we knew each other for years. We laughed and joked and although we’d never met before this day, it seemed like we were old friends.

It’s then you realise that the people who follow you on Twitter know more about you than you actually think. If, like me, you use Twitter to share a wide range of things from work to personal life, it acts as a window into your life that in some ways can be more informing than a face-to-face relationship can be.

This might seem weird and a damning indictment on the way we live our lives (or mine in particular), it’s just the way it is. My wife jokes that if she followed me on Twitter she’d find out more about what I’m doing than I currently tell her – which isn’t actually true, but she likes to think so .

Twitter did something very cool indeed. Firstly it introduced me to a person that I would never, ever have met and secondly it pre qualified our meeting whereby we’d both had the chance to work out whether our day would work out.

And in the end it did. But we kind of knew that anyway, thanks to Twitter.