Twitter as Stranger Lab

ThinkKit January prompt: Share a story about a stranger. Have you had an interesting interaction or observation involving a complete stranger? 

Twitter seems to be all about strangers. It’s a place to interact with people you might not otherwise run into, and to share opinions, and your opinions of their opinions. You can wash in and out of these interactions like the tide, and other than those who closely monitor their unfollowers or who are your blood relatives, there is little expectation that you’re committed to be twitter-connected to them for the long-haul. On the flip side, as with face-to-face interactions with strangers (performances, sales calls, blind dates), you have to earn strangers’ following — by being interesting, bringing valuable content, and at the very least by not being offensive or annoying.

Where Facebook is a tool to re/connect with people you know or knew (and a vital lifeline to home and family when we’re far from them), Twitter feels more to me like an invitation to talk to people we haven’t met yet. And as with strangers, there’s no history, and potentially no future. So there’s a chance to be present in the moment in a way that doesn’t always seem possible in the face-to-face world of work, after-school sports, established relationships and bedtime routines.

There’s a downside to living in the moment, though, and to interacting solely with strangers, and that is the temptation to view interchanges as discrete and temporary, lacking continuity or consequence. That may be the pitfall that leads us to glib replies to important topics, or to undervaluing or underestimating the power of our words. And while that’s a real danger, it’s not greater than the rewards of new connections, and of being open to seeing and hearing a new viewpoint from a stranger’s stranger friend.

On the one hand, it’s a great tool to connect with those who share my views (being a Democrat in Hamilton County can be lonely). On the other hand, it presents an opportunity to connect with and hear from people who are not the same as me. This requires a conscious effort, and it’s immensely rewarding. It serves as an encouragement to me to do the same with strangers in my “real” in-person life.