My story starts with this e-mail. It's the spring of 2009, and I wake up and I check my e-mail, and this is in my inbox: LJMCP is now following you on Twitter. We've all seen these, no big deal, right? Except this one sent a little chill down my spine. My first thought was, what? This must be a prank.
Because, as you've probably already figured out from the title of the talk, LJMCP isn't just any run-of-the-mill Twitter user. She's my mom. My slightly technophobic and very much not social-media-using mom.
Here’s a little background on us. I live here, in San Francisco, and my mom lives in Pennsylvania. And I’m an only child. The two of us have always been pretty close, but in a weekly phone call, random e-mails of funny New York Times articles sort of way. Not in a "so, what did you have for lunch today?" sort of way.
She’s also never really been what you’d call tech-savvy. When I was growing up, she was always a little bit afraid of our home computer. I was a nerdy teenager who would stay up till 2 a.m. looking at bad teen poetry message boards. She’d ask me over and over again to remind her how to turn the computer on.
Smartphones were even worse — that was almost a moral stand. It wasn't that she didn't know how to use one, she just plain didn't want one. When my dad and husband and I would all have our phones out, she'd make these little cracks like, "oh yes, I too will stare at my thumbs and not be social at all."
So yeah, Twitter was a little bit unexpected. I later found out that she joined on a dare — she's a professor, and some of her former students bet her that she couldn't find them on Twitter. She did, and then she blocked them, but more on that later.
Now, there are lots of stories about parents getting online and writing stupid stuff and sending inane text messages. Those stories can be hilarious. But this isn’t one of those stories, because as it turns out, having my mom join Twitter hasn't been a horror story at all. It's actually been kind of great.
And so what follows are some of the most important lessons I learned when I stopped worrying and started following my mom on Twitter.
Here’s the first lesson. When my mom joined Twitter, I spent a lot of time wondering what she would tweet about. Embarrassing stories about when I was a kid? Unsolicited advice to my friends? As it turns out, my mom tweets about, well, the weather, travel, cooking, Mad Men. Basically, she tweets about the same stuff everyone tweets about.
She tweets about the same stuff I tweet about. Boiled down to 140 characters, our lives are pretty much the same.
This next lesson is my favorite. Last spring, I started to see my mom tweeting about her roommate, stuff her roommate said, stuff she was doing with her roommate. We were in Miami for a wedding and finally, I was like, "mom, what's with the roommate?"
And she says, Oh, that's your father. You know. Her husband of more than 40 years. She says it's to protect his privacy, so nobody will know it's him, which I guess is fine, except that the other possible interpretation is that my mom has moved out and started cheating on my dad with her new roommate.
Roommate is also just such a young word, and that's one of the things I love about watching my mom on Twitter. you wouldn't know she's in her 60s. She uses slang, and mostly she uses it right. Her friends sometimes tell her they wouldn't get Twitter, and I like to picture her smirking, because obviously she gets it just fine. If she weren’t my mom, I’d say she seems kind of hip.
So you know how sometimes you post something on the internet and nobody seems to notice and you wonder how it's possible that not a single person has commented on your brilliance? There's one sure cure for that, and that's getting your mom to join Twitter. Believe me, I didn't do anything especially awesome to prompt any of these messages. But it doesn’t matter, because mom thinks I’m great.
Here's another story. Remember those students my mom blocked when she first joined Twitter? That's totally normal for her. She's the anti-social networker. You know the person on the reality show who's all "I'm not here to make friends”? That’s my mom. She really doesn’t want online friends.
And it's not just that she won't seek them out. People will try to follow her, and she just immediately blocks them! I'm like, mom! She said she was 60 and into reading and exercise, you might have been soulmates! And she's like, so? Her first three tweets were boring, and I don't need more friends.
What she does need, though, is contact with the friends she already has -- and this is what I think really keeps my mom using Twitter. If you look at the few followers she's allowed, it's me and a handful of my friends, people she's met in real life. She wants to know what we're up to. She wants them to know what she's up to. Twitter is a way for her to know that we're all OK.
My mom once compared Twitter to smoke signals, and once I stopped laughing, she explained that it's just a little update to let me know that she's there, just hanging out, watching out for me. So has Twitter brought us closer? Obviously, in the heartwarming spiritof this speech, I’ve got to say yes! I know so much more about my mom’s inner life now, and I think she knows a few more details about mine.
In reality, sometimes she'll ask me how something's going, and I'm like, "Mom. Do we really have to talk about it? I already told you everything on Twitter." But there is one indisputable thing Twitter's done. It's finally given us technology as a way to connect, 140 characters at a time.
So, with that, you can see how the story unfolds by following us — though you may not want to let my mom know you're doing it, because if you do, you're blocked.
Ignite SF: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Following My Mom on Twitter