The Good Twitter Does

Twitter gets a lot of criticism, and a lot of it is well-deserved. But Twitter’s also an amazing place, where strangers can become friends, and where we can learn much from people we’d never have encountered otherwise.

It was a death that made me fully grasp the scope of that.

My friend @MeadBadger died on Sunday. His real name was Brock Cusick, and he sometimes went by Adam Blackstone, but he was always @MeadBadger. We’d known each other for years, and in that time we’d discussed politics, religious faith, technology, Dungeons & Dragons, and so much more. Knowing him enriched me and I valued our friendship immensely.

I never met him in person.

It was one of those stumble across each other on Twitter things. A mutual follow retweets, one person appears in the other’s mentions, you get to talking. You know nothing about each other except for a username, a quippy bio. In real life, a chance meeting like that, at a bar, a networking event, whatever, would be the end of it. Hi, a quick conversation, move on. But Twitter has that follow button and it’s so easy and costless to press, you can take chances without the risk of real life baggage.

Here’s a person, he seems maybe pretty interesting, so I’ll click follow and now he’s there, every day, his thoughts scrolling up my phone or in a tab in my browser or in an app in the corner of the desktop. That random person is now a presence, and a frequent one.

Then years go by and in that time, this person has become someone you interact with weekly, daily, throughout the day. Even if it’s just a like, an acknowledgment that they heard what you said or you heard what they said.

This, I think, makes Twitter friendships sneak up on you. That follow is so easy, sending a reply or hitting like so quick, that you don’t really realize how much the people there become presences in your life. Until they aren’t. Until they stop. That @MeadBadger was my friend I obviously knew that before his death, but online friendship is something we’re still all getting used to. There have been pen pals before, and that’s similar, but the immediacy, the shared stream of consciousness, makes Twitter different.

I’ve caught myself, several times since Sunday, wondering how @MeadBadger will respond to this thing I’m about to tweet. Because such responses are a baked in part of the whole Twitter experience. People who you just get used to hearing from and might at any time.

I guess I only fully understood the depth of these sorts of relationships when he died. When the always on, enriching, more valuable than I can say interaction with a man I never met but who made me, over the years, a better person through his example and words, just stopped.

I miss @MeadBadger deeply. I wish I could tell him, in a tweet, how much his friendship meant to me. And I’m glad, more than I knew until now, that this silly and frustrating and amazing Twitter platform exists to make friendships like ours possible.

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