Think Virtually, Act Locally

Jim - West Chester, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 8, 2011
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I believe in the power of a virtual community. Yes, I know Twitter is a silly word. But don’t judge a book by the cover. Or in this case, don’t judge a social media by the brand name.

I first logged in to Twitter to learn about the publishing and writing business. I followed published authors, aspiring writers and literary agents. The internet can often seem like a black hole, with google as the impersonal entrance point. One of the most valuable aspects of Twitter is that a person can post a link to an article. As I followed interesting people, I found interesting links. Thanks to twitter, I have learned all sides of the arguments in publishing: E-readers vs. Paperbacks, Kindle vs. iPads, traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, Hocking vs. Eisler, Toni Morrison vs. Snooki.

But Twitter led to local revelations as well. I found (and was found by) locals in and around West Chester, Pennsylvania. The early adopters are an outgoing sort, and soon a community formed of local tweeps. We occasionally meet each other for a pint of beer. We applaud each others’ successes and console each other when life hits the inevitable road bump. We have found common interests but also learned from our differences. We have formed a loose knit group that shares local news, restaurant reviews, traffic updates. We are likely to hear the news from one another before it hits the radio or television.

Because I was a fan of the Moth storytelling podcast, I asked one morning on Twitter if anyone knew of a suburban story slam. A few friends replied they loved the idea of a local storytelling event. Their encouragement provided the spark. Two months later, twenty-five people arrived to trade stories in my living room. A few of these people I had never met in person before that night. Now, the West Chester Story Slam is held monthly at Ryan’s Pub in our small town. Some months we have 60-70 people in the audience. I’ve watched these monthly attendees get to know each other, friending each other on Twitter and Facebook, learning about their common passions and interests. I’ve seen newfound friends sharing the names of their favorite authors or bands, swapping books and CDs with others they’ve recently met. And I marvel that this new community began virtually. The seed was started with a single tweet.

I find it hard to explain Twitter to the “non-believers.” The idea of connecting with a virtual stranger – whether in your hometown or in Kuala Lumpur – is a revolutionary concept, but it is happening every day. I agree that not every tweet is a short burst of brilliance, but these digital communities will continue to be refined. They will evolve. As humans we strive to make connections, to share ideas and passions, to learn and laugh together. I believe social media is only a tool, but one that is enabling us to shape a brave new world, a virtual global community.