Why am I on Twitter?

This post is inspired by several conversations with my wife. For the record – she is not on Twitter. I also think she never will be. (But she says she reads my blog, so let’s test that, haha.) In her field, Twitter is not much of a thing, and she’s not interested in it. Consequently, she also doesn’t understand sometimes why I am on Twitter, and why I often just check in for a minute or two between other things. I was thinking about why. Is it just mindless scrolling? No. I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I do mindless scrolls too, on Instagram, and lesser extent Facebook. But Twitter, at least MY Twitter, is not so much mindless, but rather mindful, and in most cases intellectually stimulating!

Indeed, my wife and I both use various other forms of social media, but she generally tends to be the silent onlooker, while I tend to engage more. (I made her Facebook page years ago because I wanted her on Facebook, and I think that I may have posted the few (only?) picture on her Instagram.) This is quite the contrary to how we behave in real life. My wife is fun at parties, while I’m just there. I think we have many friends that are mostly in it for her, and generally accept me being around. Or not being there. Fine either way. That’s also fine with me. She has many good friends. As do I. Friendships that may of course suffer when you move countries…

I for one am horrible with phone conversations, or Skype, or Whatsapp with friends. Whatever. I love social interaction, and connect, but this long distance thing doesn’t quite do it for me. Over the past two years, I have had hardly any contact with several (most?) of my friends. Yes, they’re still friends. My friends are the type of people you can see once a year (or less) and still can have good fun with the next time you see them. Most friends already lived ‘out of town’, so seeing them wasn’t a weekly ritual. I would love to see all of them more often, but with most, there’s the mutual unspoken agreement that Whatsapp or Skype isn’t for us. It just doesn’t work for me. My wife is very different in that sense. She’s calling various friends quite regularly. Some more than others. Not every friendship is the same. She’s also often engaged via messaging. I would say that even for the friends that she hasn’t seen, she’s still up to date about most. Very different from me.

When I moved to Germany, I figured that not much would change. My friends would still be my friends, and given that several already lived far away, we could meet from wherever. Visits could be planned. Whatever. It was supposed to work. Obviously, things have been shaken up a little by the pandemic. My friends, whom I hardly speak to, I also mostly haven’t met. During my PhD, I had a whole range of great colleagues, who then turned friends, and then dispersed. A wonderful network. I figured that moving countries would result in new colleagues, and new friends pretty soon. I have very sweet colleagues! But somehow, for the better part of my stay here, I have had very few interactions that turned to friendships. I have written about this before. Partly this is due to hierarchy, which is much stronger in Germany than in the Netherlands. Another part is time. We can’t find time for coffee, how else are you supposed to get to know people better? But the most dominant part is that we have been kept from physically meeting for a very long time. And maybe I have been strict. Perhaps too strict at times. I take this virus seriously, and I have substantially kept down my private contacts from the moment the pandemic hit. It is simple. I have no real friends here. I have many nice colleagues, but different life stages and hierarchy complicates things. As a result of this, I don’t talk much to people at all.

Again, my wife? Very different. She’s currently on maternity leave, and is a very social person. She’s found many people, some now good friends, via baby clubs, courses, and sports. She has a rich social life, with other mothers that are supportive, understanding, and in the same boat… It also helped greatly that my wife is a German native, so language was never an issue (but I’m sure she would have made it work in any language).

I don’t have all that. But I’m also human. I also like to engage with people. Get to know others. Ideally people that tick the same way. People that struggle with similar things. People that understand why you struggle. People that do nice things. I talk to people, but the like-minded people I had hoped to meet I haven’t found, and my friendships in German are not the most intellectually stimulating.

To be honest, this is the last thing I got on Twitter for. Twitter was just a means to an end. A place to share work. Maybe engage in a conversation about work. Perhaps see new work by others, or find job ads. That’s what I got on Twitter for, and that’s why I’m still there. In part. Most of the people I engage with are ecologists – like myself. However, in the past year or so, I’ve started seeing that there’s often more to things on Twitter than that. I’ve gotten to know great people via Twitter. Extremely kind people. Very similar, and very different people. People from all over the globe, many of whom are equally impacted by this pandemic, and probably feel alone quite often – at least that’s often how I feel.

I share every post on this blog on Twitter – and on Twitter only. I don’t know specifically who reads them. I just see numbers per country. I know of a few people that they check in regularly (love you all), but my guess is that most people that read my posts don’t know me in person, but only from there (love you too, don’t worry). In most cases, I get very few comments or likes. I don’t mind. That’s not what I write for. But every now and then there are some people that I have never heard of, that read my posts, and inspired by this, engage in a meaningful engagement. A kind comment. A word of advice. An act of solidarity.

At times like that, I remember that even when I don’t currently have many real social contacts, there are people out there. People like me, that just want to be friendly with others. There’s also a lot of terrible nonsense on Twitter, but to be honest, I don’t see much of that. My feed is overwhelmingly filled with people that are nice, helpful, kind, and looking for someone that ‘gets’ them.

And that’s why I am on Twitter.

(but it also helps that 280 characters is an attention span that I can handle with kids around the house)

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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