Friday, April 30, 2010

Making connections

I am not on Facebook for various reasons, although I've debated signing up for it. I hesitated to use Twitter, but I've found it to be a really terrific tool with unexpected benefits. That was never more apparent than last week while I was out of town at a film festival.

Example #1:

I arrived early at my destination and had time to get something to eat and pick up a few things that I needed. Newspaper-less, I caught up on the messages in my Twitter feed and found that an online outlet was asking if anyone was going to be at the festival and was interested in writing about it.

I was already there and intending to provide coverage on my site, but if someone was willing to pay me, who am I to say no? I responded to the tweet and then returned to my plans. OK, so I kept checking for a reply that never ended up coming, but this kind of opportunity would not have presented itself any other way.

Example #2:

I set up a column in my Twitter client to follow all hashtag activity for the festival. I was able to access the flow of comments about the event while in the middle of it, which was an interesting way to experience it. There have been things about the festival I've enjoyed and been irritated by, but I didn't necessarily have confirmation that others agreed. Some of the hashtag "conversation" supported what I felt worked and didn't work.

Example #3:

I am part of three voting bodies that gives year-end awards in cinema. Obviously I know the people in the local group, but I've met very few fellow critics in the other two. I knew that one of them was also at the Illinois festival, so I posted a tweet as a heads up to let him (#1) know who I am and that I would be seeking him out. (I believe he's based out of Seattle.)

Meanwhile, one of my followers in New York (#2), who I've "known" for several years through a film discussion board but have never met, saw my tweet and suggested I also say hello to someone he knew who was also at the festival. This guy lives in Istanbul (#3).

Person #3 saw #2's tweet and sent me a message telling me where he was at the moment. I replied that I was on the way outside but was held up on the stairs. (I should point out that I knew who I was looking for because #3 had been involved with panels and post-film discussions.) By the time I made it outside the rain was coming down hard, so I missed him. I posted another tweet with information about where my seat was and that I'd try to catch him later in the day.

A few hours later I was able to meet up with #1 and #3, as well as speak briefly with someone else they knew whose name is familiar from the community of film critics. I had a really good chat with #3--good thinking #2--and plan to keep in touch.

But what does it all mean, you ask? One criticism of the internet and social media is that it distances people from actual interaction. I won't deny that there is truth in that argument. In this instance, though, Twitter facilitated interactions that never would have taken place without the technology. (Insert various caveats about being smart and cautious.) It allows for connections to be made that may not have occurred to us or may have been difficult.

In other words, Twitter isn't just about letting the world know what you had for breakfast, although it can be that if you want.

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