So What's Twitter?

We were sipping on something smooth, watching the sun slip down in the west, and visiting with those we love when one of our guests suddenly asked, "So what's Twitter?"  The guest list last night included the in-laws who are actively living their eighth decade, travelling regularly and stopping by periodically to connect with their children and grandchildren.  As you can imagine, asking what Twitter is can be a conversation stopper and a conversation starter.

At first, all went quiet as those who had elementary knowledge of Twitter took a deep breath while determining the best answer.  Trying to explain Twitter in that setting had similarities to the parent of a ten year old venturing into the sex talk.  How much knowledge was appropriate?  What would they understand?  What might alarm them unnecessarily?  And, the most important question of all: how much time did we have to explain and were demonstrations required?

Once we had collectively sucked the air out of the room, the answers started to bounce back and forth in fragments only serving to confuse the person who had asked.  It was past my bedtime and I was already slumping down in my corner of the couch stifling yawns, but it woke me up enough that I was able to enjoy the entertainment of three fifty-some year old adults with enough Twitter knowledge to be dangerous trying to explain it to our esteemed octogenarian.  Where were those kids when we needed them?  The situation was now unfolding more like the scenario of getting your sex talk from a band of teenagers instead of a parent - again just enough info to potentially be dangerous!

The guy with the loudest voice was the same fellow who asked last week how to Star something in his Twitter feed, but hey bravado can work in some settings.  After some initial confusion our guest demonstrated the wisdom of her years by asking follow up questions -  a sterling communication technique.  With a little direction the conversation took a turn to include examples of how each of the other guests used Twitter to follow sports, weather, news, or whatever their personal interests were.  The examples seemed to help a bit but it struck me that I had witnessed the digital divide and that there was a growing need to help those who want to cross it, cross with safety.

A small part of the work I do is helping companies that I call social media fledglings to put dip their toes in the edge waters of the digital divide.  I'm learning as I go, and sometimes I am intimidated by the complexity and the speed of change in the digital world but I am also intrigued by the opportunities in it.  Last week in Edmonton, we witnessed the use of social media to alert the public to stay away from an area of town where the police were working to secure a volatile situation.  In that instance Twitter was at its best with its real time bite-sized notices.  Lives were probably spared because people were warned to stay away.  When the tragic shooting of Constable Daniel Woodall happened, the city of Edmonton showered social media with an outpouring of support for his family.  Mayor Don Iveson demonstrated a breadth of humanity that was refreshing and reassuring when he took to the airways.  Public shows of respect for our police officers cropped up in many different forms driven by the relationships and contacts that citizens were able to leverage through social media feeds.

Maybe today, we will have a chance to have another conversation about Twitter by the light of day when I am not nearly sliding off the couch.  With a little extra energy I might be able to be more than an amused spectator.  I could confess to our octogenarian that my baby, who is fast approaching his third decade, recently made fun of me because I called a hash tag a pound sign.  Whatever!  But the point is that no matter our age we can learn this stuff, we just learn it a little differently and we may use it differently.  We haven't been marinating in social media since birth like the young 'us but we have something valuable to contribute and we can give each other a helping hand across the digital divide.