I downloaded my Twitter archive and started sifting through tweets of the past, beginning in April 2009. Revisiting this archive is a bit like sorting through handwritten letters in a shoebox, mixed with flipping through the pages of my old hardbound journals — grounding myself in certain moments of time and opening that magical window to ideas first thought, to emotions once felt. As I scan my timeline, my reactions range from ah, I remember this . . . to . . . I’m such a fucking idiot for saying that.
I see how I’ve changed: my shift in interests, an evolving network of friends and followers — I remember when I followed that person! — and a natural pruning of, well, me. The shaping of a more sterile, two-dimensional Cheri, admittedly, as I’ve struggled with deciding just who I was, out there in the internet wild. Freelance journalist? Travel blogger? Memoirist?
Eventually, I figured out to just share and talk about what I like. If the followers I’d collected didn’t care for occasional drunken baseball tweets or links to mid-90s jungle tracks or tangents about squirrels and mogwai, they could unfollow me. And they have. I realize the folks that have stuck around for some time follow me for me.
Twitter remains my favorite thing on the internet, though it’s taken a while for it to become something organic, and of real value — a nerve center I can dip into whenever I want a dose. Because everyone there makes sense — for whatever reason I’ve decided — the stream, while incessant and sometimes overwhelming, is never jarring, as Facebook generally is.
I suppose Twitter has become an enabler, perhaps an extension, of a hyper-sensitive version of me: on and curious and aware. I open it on my browser, latch on to no more than a few things that speak to me, then close it. Picking and choosing what I want — what I need — for that day. And ignoring everything else.
* * *
This Twitter archive, as thorough and interesting as it is, reminds me of the accumulation of stuff — that there’s more information out there that I need. I found the first tweets exchanged between me and my husband-to-be — we were fellow freelancers for a travel website then, and we liked each other’s writing from afar. I’m happy these types of exchanges have been recorded, to be able to map out how we began. Yet I see the danger of falling into these pockets of nostalgia, like when we search our GMail archive for emails and chat histories to retrace our steps: those fallen relationships, those incidents we wish we handled better, those moments of origin through which regret finds its strength.
We’re continually asked to tell and share our stories, to curate our own lives from the information gathered about us. I think of a piece I read on elephant by Rebecca Lammersen about envy and Facebook status updates, and how other people’s lives are not what they seem. There’s nothing really new in the piece, but it’s well-written, and it reminded me of my older post on alternate Facebook status updates (and what I could have said).
One line from Lammersen stood out:
. . . we dismiss the in between, the other 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds of daily life.
What we post in these moments of proclamation on a site like Facebook is a byproduct, a projection. Instead, life happens between status updates.
In a short piece on Medium on why social sharing is not publishing, Vijayendra Mohanty writes about mindless posting on social networks, and how sharing everything you do and see and like creates an “ambiguous narrative,” making it hard for your readers to picture who you are. “Life is rich,” Mohanty writes, “but it makes no sense in its entirety.” He goes on:
Great writers are remembered, not only for the things that they put out for the world to read, but also for the things they decided to keep to themselves.
I love this.
So after reading these thoughts, and diving into my Twitter archive, I’m thinking a lot about my own narrative, and how it’s been recorded — from public @reply exchanges on Twitter, to the now-infrequent entries scribbled in my handwritten journals, to the private conversations in GMail. How does my story read, and do I want my life to unfold across all of these mediums?
The ability to control.
The fear of curating too much.
We are given all these tools to tell our stories and present ourselves just so. While it’s empowering, it also makes me a bit nervous to have all that power.
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Blogger at Writing Through the Fog. Story Wrangler at Automattic.