This year I attended what is known (in the social media parlance of us Twitterboffins) as a ‘Tweetup’. This is where a group of people, known only to one another from their exchanges on Twitter, meet in person to press the flesh, check one another out to see if they bear any resemblance to their profile pictures, and to shoot the breeze in sentences longer than 140 characters.
My wife raised an eyebrow when I explained ‘I don’t care what you call it. What you’re really doing is going to meet some people that you’ve only met on the internet’. My 12 year old daughter was concerned; ‘But Daddy. You don’t know these people. They could be weirdos’.
Our planned Tweet-up comprised a group of clinicians (and a scientist) from Australia, Germany, France, Holland, UK, the US, an Irishman (me) who were all in Berlin for a medical conference. Putting aside my family’s fears that I might be drafted into a highly sophisticated religious cult masquerading as online rheumatologists , I arranged to meet my group for dinner.
Most would probably have considered us strangers. Or were we? A number of times most days, we share clinical observations, links to publications that have interested us, shared frustrations, psychological support and even clinical advice. All of this is mixed in with a funny mix of holiday snap posts, book and music recommendations, Haiku poetry, word game posts and general banter. I had a sense, even before I met them all (I had met two of the group before), that these were already friends.
Despite the simplicity of the technology of Twitter, there is something unexpectedly rich about the social interaction it affords. By simply reading someone’s 140 character utterances over a period, and by swapping ideas and information with them, I had an idea that you got know to know someone reasonably well. But you never know….
What was upliftingly reassuring about meeting them all was that they were exactly as I had expected them to be. As warm, open, enthusiastic and eager to exchange ideas as they were online. One was a bit taller than anticpated, one a little heavier and I expect that they all thought that I was a little balder (than my carefully angled profile picture might suggest).
A stranger sitting close by might have assumed from the easy conversation, laughter and bonhomie, that they were eavesdropping on a group of old friends.
And they would have been right.