THE BLOG

My Love Letter To Twitter, On Its Tenth Birthday

21/03/2016 09:06 GMT | Updated 21/03/2017 09:12 GMT

There seems to be a consensus these days that social media is eventually going to lead us all to our undoing. That we no longer know how to talk to each other, or how to make real connections anymore, because we're all too busy double-tapping each other's selfies and trying to cram our anecdotes into a digestible 140 characters.

Apparently, we're shuffling towards a Black Mirror-esque dystopia, so slowly that we won't even realise it's happening until it's too late. We've become zombified creatures who can only express our emotions if there's an appropriate gif of Kim Kardashian to sum up the situation.

With respect, I'm calling bullshit on this.

What I've found is that the people who are most up in arms about sites like Twitter destroying our society and turning us all into robots, are the people who not only don't understand it, but have no interest in learning about it either.

As a perfect example, I've lived in London for two years now, and the vast majority of my circle of friends are people I first met on Twitter. Telling people this at parties usually gets a mixed reaction. Often intrigue and a lot of questions, but there are also occasions where I get a look of disdain, equal to if I'd strolled in and exclaimed: "Oh, have you all met my friends? We met at a Nazi memorabilia auction. We bid for the same cutlery set and we've been pals ever since."

For some reason, even though online dating has become so accepted it's practically blasé, people can still often be dismissive of friendships forged online, as if they're somehow less valuable or meaningful than friendships that stemmed from working on the till opposite someone at Tesco 15 years ago. Or those with someone you just happened to have been sat next to in French class when you were a teenager.

I don't mind admitting that when I first moved down to London from Newcastle, I found it all really bloody scary. I was 22, fresh out of uni, and miles away from practically everyone I knew. Fortunately, I already spoke to a load of people who lived here on a near-daily basis on Twitter, and, more importantly, I knew for a fact they had the same interests as me.

Once I'd told them I was coming down, they were kind enough to take me out and show me around and give me important advice, like not standing on the left hand side of the escalator, and how much time I'll save if I go through the 'no entry' bit to get to the Central Line at Tottenham Court Road station (though obviously this is not something I endorse) (although it will honestly save you a shitload of time).

And they've been my friends ever since. Real, proper friends I can laugh with and cry with. That I've made memories with, and made mistakes with. Just like the friends I have from school, and from uni, and from work.

When I heard Twitter's 10th birthday was coming up, I started considering all the ways that something as trivial as a website where people share what they're having for brunch every Saturday morning has impacted my life. And when I thought about it properly - BOLD AND POTENTIALLY WANKY STATEMENT AHOY - I owe quite a lot of the person I am today to using Twitter as much as I do.

There's a lot of talk about how constant exposure to the online world is turning us all into brainless jellyfish, whose only interests are videos of fat people falling over, porn and photos of cats wearing top hats and monocles (actually scratch that last bit, it does sound both adorable and hilarious).

But the fact is, there's so much more than that to the internet. For all people furrow their brows at the "professionally-offended" on Twitter, it can actually be an invaluable place to inform yourself about important social issues that are often overlooked by other media.

Twitter, after all, is like any other part of life. If you hang around with smart and informed people, you're going to become more smart and informed. And if you follow smart and informed people on Twitter, guess what, the same thing is going to happen.

The same is true of confident people, and funny people, and generally decent people - all qualities I feel are stronger in myself through being on Twitter. I've learned and grown as a person because of things I've read, articles I've been linked to, and all-round trash-bag behaviour I've seen the people I follow call out.

So on this, Twitter's 10th anniversary, let's stop worrying about social media putting up walls between us. Twitter isn't a place for us to hide from reality, or block ourselves out from the real world (or, at least, it shouldn't be). When it's at its best, it's a site that allows people to connect and grow and challenge one another.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll get a couple of likes on that photo of your brunch, too. And you can't ask for better than that, can you?