Tuesday, January 14, 2014

5 Years on Twitter: What I've Learned

That was my first tweet. January 12, 2009. I had no idea what to expect after I got convinced to join Twitter by my friend Bree. I remember thinking "Is this just like posting status updates or what?" and it'd be a fad I'd give up since I was so into Facebook.

Five years later, Twitter's become everything Facebook was back in 09-10 and more. A news source. An outlet of emotions. A way of interacting with people you'd never meet everyday. A community. And for me, it's been as much a part of life since 2009 as anything.

Back in 2009, I was looking for a spark. 2008 was a huge year for my newspaper and I wondered what the year would hold now that Barack Obama was President. Personally, I was slowly recovering from a breakup and wondering how I would start meeting people outside of work. 2 1/2 years out of college, I still had yet to find a consistent circle of friends to hang out with besides church.

That's when Twitter came along. I only knew that one friend and I ended up following President Obama and Dart Adams, a writer who had inspired me with his site Poisonous Paragraphs. I didn't know what to expect but I figured it was a bold new world. Plus I was just about to start this blog so the timing was perfect.

The Super Bowl that year showed me it had potential to be a great livestream. By March/April, I was starting to interact with more people and by June, I had a nice little circle of folks around the country that I interacted with frequently in addition to trying and convince my friends to jump on this new thing.

(Those convos went like this - "So Twitter is like Facebook. Except it's just status updates".... "If you love Facebook, you'll dig it but if not, no worries".... Needless to say, some I convinced but most of them gave it up over time. Even when I used it in 09 to find out a ride at Disneyland was broken before word came out, they still thought I was weird.)

Over the next 5 years, I've met folks from Twitter that have become great contacts and actual friends. I've built relationships where if I traveled to another state, I know I could hangout with people. I've hung out with my friend Shane in two different states and I made more connections in San Diego. Before I left NABJ in New Orleans in 2012, I spent a few minutes with a good cat from Texas I knew.

My big brother Keith was first a basketball writing connection over Twitter and now he's become a trusted adviser.  I've traded sportswriting advice with folks around the country like LaMar, James, Zach (who I've watched grow from a HS senior to the editor of his college paper) that I treat as brothers and sisters in the media. My friend Lori started out as a random friend I met in 2010 but she has become one of my closest and our conversations have helped me grow up, even as I dealt with her Lebron hate.
When my uncle passed in 2009, I got condolences on here that meant just as much as phone calls. My weight loss journey was inspired in part by connections I met via Twitter. I got turned on to The Morning Jones radio program by my man Isaac and that started a growing respect of Bomani Jones. One of my favorite moments here is when I wrote a piece on the show's influence and Bomani retweeted it out with thanks and appreciation.

Another cool part has been interacting with folks in Canada. I've met some great people around that country who have expanded my mind and also showed me how similar we can be. Some have even inspired me and I have to give a hat-tip to folks like Sarah, Tyler, Kristin and especially Jodi for exposing me to great, fun minds up North.

Twitter also introduced me to something I had heard about but never experienced. People who use it as an escape of who they really are. One person had me and others fooled for nearly a year and another was slowly exposed when I foolishly tried to meet them and got stood up. That grew me up a bit and made me aware of when to be skeptical of who's being real and who's just frontin behind a computer.

That aside,  I've seen it grow from a quiet cool community to an influential storm perfect for our times. I went from Twitter on my Blackberry to TweetDeck to Seesmic to UberTwitter to now Plume/Twitter for Mac/HootSuite. I've found some surprising ideas here (People really loved "808 and Heartbreaks" and Steve Nash.) yet that's the beauty of Twitter. You see a lot more than you normally would see.

Five years in, I still look forward to see what people post and share. I look forward to seeing what news breaks and how people react. I'm curious to see how traditional media keeps adjusting to it as they've begun catching up to what most of us have seen. As quickly as Twitter has broken news, it's also a literal reminder that a lie will travel around the world before the truth can catch up.

Most of all, Twitter is still a place to speak my mind. As a writer, it's almost a perfect way to capture snapshots of your thoughts and it's a growth chart of you as a person. I started Twitter as a 24-year-old and now I'm 29 so it has been a place where I can see my evolution as a man.

Over 188,000 tweets later, some might call me addicted. At the same time, when Twitter is your news source, place of self-expression, and a way to catch up with folks, it's not an addiction as much as it's taking advantage of technology to best suit you. Yes Twitter is a lot of fun and it can be crazy but it can also be a powerful window to seeing people grow, struggle and evolve.

That's the part of Twitter that means more than just information, sharing news or spouting opinions - seeing folks grow as well as yourself. So five years in, here's to seeing what else happens, who else I meet and what else I can learn.

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