Last week, I witnessed a fun and touching piece of performance art. Its impact didn’t hit me at the time, and it might have had I participated in it more. But since that day, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I had the satisfaction of watching a magic trick which, even though I have a vague idea of the preplanning behind the scene—or especially because I do—I have an even bigger appreciation of its execution.
Early in the morning of Friday, October 17, Laura Fitton, a power-user on Twitter going by the name of Pistachio, read the following short bio of another user, whose name is probably Ben K. Weller:
This inspired Laura to post the following “tweet”:
Some things you should know before we proceed, if you’re new to Twitter:
- “#FTT” is a Twitter code Laura also made up on the spot. It starts with a hashmark (#), making it a hashtag, which makes searching more tightly focused. When you put a hashtag code into search.twitter.com, you get only those tweets with the code. (She clarified herself a little in some other tweets.)
- Laura follows many people via Twitter. But that Friday demonstrated how many people follow her—listening, going to sites she recommends, looking up people she may be conversing with who we ourselves may not yet be following. Yes, I’m among them.
As the morning progressed, I saw some retweets of Laura’s invitation. (A definition here: when I read a tweet from Laura, I’m aware of people who follow me who may not follow her; if I retweet her message, the readerships of two members are made aware: hers and mine. Yes, there’s some overlap, but folks understand. Worthwhile messages get retweeted over and over, to an ever wider audience. This one was, as I could see from my stream of messages. Retweeters make sure they label them as such.)
Then, an update from Laura herself, as she reveled in the responses:
That “tinyURL” (compressed to better fit into the 140-character limit of Twitter) brought you (probably not any more; try this) to a page showing all the people who answered Laura’s question.
Scores of people. about 90 in all, counting many retweets and Laura’s reminders, over that day and most of the next.
Such a range of people, from all walks of life. And the responses ranged from self-promoting and businesslike to unashamedly altruistic, from snarky to deeply moving. Each singing a verse of a worldwide song.
- hearing my boys giggle
- a cool and sunny day
- proper Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut
- a hot shower
- splurging when shopping
- intellect, sense and geniuses
- laughing so hard I snort
- sharing information with other professionals in my business
- my kitties, who still crack me up every day
- my luck in living at this time in history
- friends who tell me my links are broken
- iGoogle, TGIF, Red Sox, Plumber, Obama
- bacon cheeseburgers
- my support team
- my grandma
- sunshine in the fall
- organ donors
- believing in people and watching them do things they themselves didn’t think possible
- Krispy Kreme donuts
- puppies and cupcakes
By far the most popular answer was family—spouse, kids, parents. Variations thereof.
As I paged through the responses, I realized that they, and potentially hundreds of others, were seeing the same variety. The snarky responders were reading the moving responses. The altruistic were reading the businesslike responses. Each got an idea of their position in the cosmos that is Laura’s “followship” (my word; feel free to steal). And all the participants had a link to their bios, their stream of updates—their little corner of the world, which anyone was free to visit, get to know, maybe start to follow themselves. There’s no way to measure how much of that was spurred by this one notion.
There are precedents for these memes, which flare up over a few days, satisfy a popular urge, then die off. Still, Laura had another shoe to drop.
Then, later that day, we were treated to the answer from the questioner herself:
(That above code definitely won’t take you there; try this.) Connected to the other side was a treat: not another 140 characters. But a video. Recorded on a service called Seesmic. With her laptop out in an adjoining hallway, we see Laura taking a seat, waiting for a few seconds. Then three figures enter the picture, two of them children.
They run up to her, she scoops them up, there are hugs and kisses, and talk about the absence.
We’re witnessing what I can only assume is some formal visit, or revisit. A bit of her reality, made even more touching if you’ve been able to assemble her unofficial biography from little 140-character glimpses, easily missed admissions of vulnerability, as the weeks and seasons unfold.
And just like that, we’re swept in. The fifth person in the room is us. And all five of us are beaming.
Laura has spent a few minutes, dispersed through the morning, telling us a story. In one sense, it covers the moments of a visitation transition, culminating in the video, played out with a cast of three or four. In another sense, just as real, it’s a drama that unfolded over two days, involving a cast of hundreds and hundreds: the original responders, plus subsequent connections, as people saw each other across a crowded search result page. Like a story told or sung by someone standing by a fire, surrounded by a ring of listeners, all of whom are visible across the circle to exchange a smile, or a shrug, or a finger-down-the-throat barf gesture.
The story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. she had the end in mind all along, and the wifi all checked, even as she told us about the bio that gave her the idea. We were the middle. The part of the story that introduced us to each other may not have ended yet. And this is just the first “FTT” day. Laura would never claim ownership to it. Who’s next?
As far as the social media or business or networking implications of Twitter, I’m still a student, though because of my circumstances of late, I’m learning fast. What I think I know when I see it, is art. I’m not privy to the lightning bolts she and the rest of the Twitter pantheon are hurling far above my head. But I can tell you that Laura is a successful and talented multimedia artist. And if it turns out that the marvel of the happening is lost in my telling, well then, you just had to be there. Join Twitter, follow Pistachio, and watch your updates.
And follow me too. I could use the followship!