Linus Twitter Avatar. Illustration by Ape Lad

Twitter and the Void

What kind of sound does a single tweet make? Our writer considers the reasons she left Twitter, and what it would take to bring other lapsed Tweeters back online.

My Twitter account fell silent last April, about six minutes after I had opened the thing. I say “fell silent,” but truly it was not much more than mute to begin with. I followed some folks. Replied to a friend. Something along the lines of, “between you and me…I’m tweeting.” I wasn’t sure what to do with my extra 105 characters. I added, “no promises.”

On Jan. 13, I scrambled, with many, for information. How many casualties among my colleagues in Haiti? What condition Toussaint L’Ouverture airport? How frequent, and how strong, and how long the aftershocks? What the hell is my Twitter ID?

I googled myself to find my Twitter self. More hunting found the forgotten password sent to a forgotten email account. And then I discovered all of Port-au-Prince, transforming the landscape of its changed landscape, one GPS coordinate at a time. I found shouts and replies and very specific directions to what was needed, and where, echoing down the #Haiti line. Today I am following 64 tweeters—survivors, aid workers, filmmakers, and mappers—who connect me to the recovery in a manner I never thought possible.

I get it now. I get it.

So, yes, I am a convert—a testimonial for the utility of social media and its role as an aggregator of “cause.” But I’m also a case study for the flip side. For without that single issue driving me to the space, a need for more eyes in my removed blindness from Port-au-Prince, @eclarekiem would have almost certainly joined the ranks of other ghosts in Twitter’s indexed cemetery. My feeble attempts of last April would have found company with countless other one-offs, like @bayybgirl who, on June 18, 2009, was “chillin, hangin out,” or Woben, who was “watching Ellen” in May and, apparently, no one else.

Bayybgirl and Woben may not have needed Twitter to aid their lifestyle, but other false starts indicate that there was an initial, if half-hearted, motivation to, in the words of @sparkylg17 (October 2009), “figure out Twitter.” Last July, @limeswhy, entered a debut post: “amazing online marketing training today inspired me to get my teeth into twitter a bit more.” Around the same time, ChrisZuraik was “trying to find some people on twitter.” A for effort there, Chris.

I googled myself to find my Twitter self.When I gave Twitter that trial run nearly a year ago, I was not so much looking for people. I already knew where people were—I was hiding from them on Facebook. I opened an account on Twitter because a fellow who forthrightly refers to himself as a technology evangelist said he’d be glad to put in a word for me with a lady I hoped might hire me. And then he told me to follow him. I figured I should be the choir that Sree the social- gospel- spreader was preaching to.

In the end, I didn’t get the job. And though I’ve been “following” Sree all this time, I haven’t paid him any mind at all until now. Here he is offering me Shorty Awards tickets. And 25 minutes ago he tweeted a job opening. That’s poetry!

There are a lot of limeswhys and Chrises out there, stating the obvious and going mute. But there are plenty of tweeters whose sudden silence comes without warning. A guy whose handle was “You Look Great,” hailing from “the universe’s loving embra,” posted daily aphorisms of a mildly amusing nature from February until August before slowing. By October it was biweekly. Not too long after “We touch the lives of every person we meet; we can also touch their tushies,” the dude left a million followers without their “daily passive aggressive affirmations.”

I wonder how many people clamored, “where is my ha-ha @You Look Great?” (There are no hashtags at the universe’s embra.)

Lisaboverton’s exit was something I saw coming. A wit who knows no character limit, she could be relied on for month-long stretches of “bon mots.” But she disappears just as regularly. She was headed for a Twitter twilight just as I was coming on board. “Eyeing bridges, matches in hand,” she warned. She’s been silent since July.

When I gave Twitter that trial run, I was not looking for people. I already knew where people were—I was hiding from them on Facebook.Certain hiatuses truly make one pause. Like Jennette’s last tweet in October 2009: “but my apartment is such a mess. I wouldn’t want them finding all that shit in my apartment.”

Or Britney, last tweet, November 2008: “FOR SALE: Parachute. Brand new, used only once. Never opened. Condition: stain on one side.”

Or Kelvin, who in September 2009 posted: “I need some spiritual guideance [sic] right now.”

Did he come up short? Was the parachute not a joke after all? Did they find all that shit?

Alison’s last tweet in October 2009 asked, “Anyone know hours for Trick or Treating in Newburyport?” I salute her for putting Twitter to use as an information tool. I don’t know if she got the answer she was looking for. But I know that thousands of Haitian survivors have posted their own questions in the past month—“Anyone know who is bringing food to Jacmel?” “Anyone know where can I get coupons for rice?” “How many tents do you need?” “If I can get a truck there in the next day or two, will anything be left?” “Looking for AB+ blood urgent.”

Some may forget their profile information once their questions are answered. Or once people stop answering. And I will be honest, I may be among them. I’ve slowed considerably. Days pass and I don’t bother to see if RAMHaiti has come home from his surgery, if Pierre Cote is still tracking a child trafficker, if Carel Pedre is on air, if Yatalley got her Nikon lens. Six weeks after the earthquake, I’m admitting to myself that I’m NOT in fact there. Nowadays I feel as if I’m lurking #Haiti. I try to act cool, like I’ve got my own business to attend to. I’ve started following others tweeters with no connection to Haiti. They bore me quickly. Even Shah Rukh Khan.

When I began writing this column I thought I saw a somber conclusion at its end. I thought I would be asking, how many tweeters does Twitter gain when there is an earthquake in Haiti or Chile? Or when there is unrest in Iran or a music festival (#sxsw)?

I thought I would ask, dramatically, just how lopsided was the Twitter equation—the one that saw the addition of me in the days after Jan. 12 and the subtraction of tiphilippe90 on his way back to school?

I asked on Twitter, is tiphilippe90 gone? And in no time at all, I heard, “nah he just don’t tweet anymore. No mystery.” I just hope I can time my exit with equal panache.


TMN Contributing Writer Elizabeth Kiem is the author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy. More by Elizabeth Kiem