Borderless conversations – a Twitter dynamic?

May 12, 2008

A tweet (a note on Twitter) just came in about a guy who happened upon his wife’s body laying on the floor of their home.

Seemingly while giving her CPR, he was tweeting about the event on Twitter. See the sidebar on the left.

Where do the boundaries begin and end now that we’re ensconced in a lifestyle that is built on oversharing and building intimate relationships with avatars and 140-character interactions?

I’m not trying to be callous here, and the guy did comment that he’d not be online for a while, but if you or I found a loved one dead on the carpet wouldn’t we focus on the ‘real’ people in our lives before typing in a broadcast text message?

With just a basic knowledge of psychology from a college course and a series of $15 checks paid to a shrink a few years ago, I can only surmise that this fellow’s support network is actually a network. One built on wires and servers and people he only knew via usernames and profiles online.

While it’s sad, there’s also a redeeming quality to the strength of relationships built on content and not on personality. Immediately after his tweets came through, people had organized fundraisers and donation paths to help this guy out.

Would we do the same for the guy next door who lost his wife? Would we even make the effort to go downtown to get a Hallmark card and drop it in his box?

On the other hand, just by refreshing the twitter page I saw that his plight had been scrubbed from the front page – replaced by weekend tweet-up plans and new videos on YouTube.

Perhaps it’s the ease with which we can click a paypal donation box or send off our own 140-character condolence that makes Web2.0 a compassionate construct. Or maybe it’s just enough distance that we can care without getting too involved.

I’m not sending any money to Burma or to China, but those aren’t my people. This poor sap is right here in the United States. He’s an aspiring writer and he likes science fiction. There’s a whole bucket of similarities between him and me.

Except I haven’t found my wife dead on the floor.

Apart from that, we’re the same guy – at least in the eyes of the hundreds of people who follow our tweets. And read our profiles. And digitally thumb through our blogs.

So will I give him money? Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s also the beauty of Web2.0. There’s a lot less physical accountability. If the perception is that you care, it doesn’t matter if you don’t.

I’m invested in his survival and his coping with this tragedy. But maybe only because he’s now become interesting. I bet this one event does more to boost his followers than any blog post, published book or other event could have…short of his own death.

That’s also saying something about where our values are headed in this Web2.0 world.

More to come…If you’re just reading for the first time, subscribe to my RSS feed.