Twitter and Loneliness

Many years ago, when I started using Twitter, most of my friends on the east coast started making fun of me. It was 2008 and I had an old friend who recommended the site to me. At the time, I was working in biotechnology and trying to start a company in Boston. I remember a weekend away at a friend’s house and a bunch of old friends were mocking me, in a friendly way, for using Twitter, casting it aside as a distraction that served no purpose whatsoever. At that time, I didn’t know how to respond, yet I knew at the time Twitter was useful to me.

Over the past few years, after moving to the Valley, I started to understand why Twitter was so great, but it has taken time for me to put the sentiment into words, so I’ll just lay it out bluntly:

Twitter is useful (and therefore successful) because it taps into a general feeling of loneliness.

Most people wouldn’t expect others on Twitter to be lonely, but I’d bet most are. “Lonely” isn’t a pejorative word here, or something to be embarrassed about. Until I moved to the Valley two years ago, I never really experienced loneliness, but now that I live in the suburbs of Silicon Valley, the pace of life is different. And the folks I interact with on Twitter happen, go figure, to be from vibrant places like the Bay Area, south of 14th street in New York City and in Brooklyn, folks in India, and so many other places. Surely those people aren’t lonely, right?

Growing up, say in middle school or later, it wasn’t “cool” to be considered a “loner” among peers. The social implications weren’t fun to suffer. But, now, as a product, I believe that a major part of Twitter’s success, stickiness, and permanence is the fact that it provides a lightweight social outlet for folks to connect and converse with others who, at that exact moment in time, regardless of geography, social status, money, or other trappings, could be connected around interests and share information with each other.

I don’t know why I’m writing this now. So much has been written about Twitter, so I’m sure this has been covered, too — though I have yet to read anything about it. And, I’ll at least offer something for those in the Valley struggling in building their business or company, or trying really hard in their job, or trying to get noticed — Twitter creates the rare opportunity for a place to exist online where one can find others who are in the same predicament. From a product level, this is powerful, because it engenders loyalty among users (like me) who benefit from meeting new people through the service.

It’s not “cool” for one to admit they’re lonely at a specific time, yet nearly everyone — especially those on Twitter  – feel that feeling, and for that alone, Twitter is a brilliant product, and one that can persist because the urge that it satisfies is far too human to ignore. I guess many people who end up reading this would assume that I am always surrounded by people or friends — that’s simply not true.

This place, like other places, can be a lonely place, and while the Valley is the most dynamic place I’ve ever lived, I would be lying if I wrote I never felt lonely — in fact, that is how life is here, for the most part, and Twitter serves a critically important function, to create connective tissue between other networks of people who share the same interests, passions, and dreams as you do — to me, that is invaluable, much more than a “social network,” and more of a support network that bends and contorts to my needs. While others may not admit it, this sentiment is what drives so much of Twitter use — not narcissism, or egoism, those are just byproducts of a desire to want to be heard or recognized, of feeling alone or overlooked. This is why, to me, Twitter is such a powerful medium.

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