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On the Loss of my College Twitter Community

May 18, 2020

This month, most of my friends still in school graduated, making me realize that it’s been over a year since I got out. What a strange thing. After graduation, I spent 6 weeks at home: job searching, job acquiring, and then packing to uproot my life and move across the country to a city where I barely knew anyone. As I thought about the unknown world on the Left Coast, I decided to try and use Twitter to avoid feeling too isolated in my new life.

In the latter years of college, Twitter was a key part of my social life. When I became active on the platform during my sophomore year, I quickly became mutuals with a bunch of fellow students that I knew and many that I didn’t. GT Twitter was its own little community, representing people from different backgrounds and a certain brand of humor. We could make jokes about the strange quirks of campus life and call attention to the lack of mental health resources on campus. That community was a source of friendship, a relationship and even some academic help (“did we have a quiz today”). At the time, I didn’t realize it, but that community gave me confidence in how I conducted myself.

A year later, that community is a lot more sparse than it used to be. Some unfollows here and there and some deactivations hurt, but the biggest change was that we suddenly had a lot less in common. Our everyday lives were no longer intertwined, and our lives were all much less interesting as we tweeted about individual pockets of the world. I miss it more than I thought I would, and I regret that I didn’t try harder to connect with some of those folks in a way that would’ve lasted. I’ve never been good at maintaining friendships, but after a few times of being the last one holding onto something that was already gone, I stopped trying as hard.

I’ve tried to get more into local parts of Twitter in the past year, but it’s a whole different world. The different design and tech and VC and whatever else Twitters that are so ubiquitous don’t hold the same whimsy that the college community held. It feels different to tweet stupid jokes when you’re tweeting them for prospective employers or coworkers. It feels weird for unnecessarily intellectualizing things to be valued over humor. More than anything else, it feels odd to feel like I no longer belong on Twitter, the place where I once found refuge as a lonely college student.

Now, without any corresponding IRL aspect to any sort of online community, I’m starting to realize that Twitter was never the whole thing. In college, it was an extension of campus life, an easy way to reach a more diverse pool of friends and people. In the Bay Area, it was an extension of the office, a way to network and share ideas about work and the future of networks and work. The reason I never connected with that community was that I wanted things that those communities weren’t meant to handle. In my ideal usage of Twitter, tweeting and interacting online is never the actual pie, just the whipped cream to continue and share the pie, the real actions that those communities are centered around.

I need to read more about online communities, but my experience with Twitter and my book club have shown me that I’ve often fallen into the trap of wanting too much out of online communities, things that they can’t possibly provide.