Monday, February 22, 2010
Over the weekend, my sister was in an area where flash floods and landslides left dozens dead, more injured, and many homeless. As would be expected, services like telephone and internet connections were disrupted. Let me skip the details and jump to the good news: She called and is safe. We're grateful beyond words. At the same time, our thoughts are with the the families mourning losses.
I know many of you have been through this with loved ones in the military, in New York and Washington on 9/11, in the area of the DC sniper attacks, in the path other natural disasters, and (I hate to say it) the list goes on. I hope you won't think I'm trivializing those situations when I say this:
I now have a Twitter account.
A Worldwide Web
Before I clicked "Sign Me Up," at Twitter, I used all the resources I could think of on the worldwide web. The U.S. State Department site had a number that then connected me to the duty officer in Lisbon (very helpful). Google Maps helped me visualize where my sister's area is in relation to reports I found via Google Searches and videos I saw on You Tube. A topical Facebook group sprang up almost immediately, and several kind people provided information. Google Translate help interpret other people's posts and convert my own posts into Portuguese. My own Facebook friends (and friends of friends) provided their prayers, considerable good karma, and a ham radio operator.
But after hearing reports of how tweets helped broadcast information after events in Mumbai and Haiti, I didn't see how I could not try Twitter.
Please remember that I live in a fairly remote rural area with more limited resources than are found in more populated places. Cell phone coverage here is better now, but there are still dead zones. Until last October we were on dial-up for internet service, and I had never seen Facebook or You Tube. Both my husband and I are self-employed, and the faster alternative we finally chose was a stretch for our budget. I have trouble picturing how we would manage the kind of monthly bill we see advertised with smart phone plans. And while we've managed a couple of test messages on our Trac Phones, texting without a full keypad seems like an exercise in character building, not communication.
So Twitter was not on my to-do list. Until this.
I signed up and started tweeting. With zero followers and no clear idea of how things were supposed to work, I asked my Facebook friends for help. They started tweeting and their friends retweeted. At one point I almost looked for Google Translate Twitter option (what do "@somebody" and "#something" mean?), but a friend posted a very helpful crib sheet for me.
By the time my sister could call us, I was following a freelancer writing in Portuguese and being followed by friends, friends of friends, some possible spammers, and the Tehran Free Press (no idea).
Oh, What A Tangle
For my sister, this story is far from over. And as I have all my life, I'm watching and learning from her: If the road is blocked, you hike to town. I have a feeling there are other lessons, less dramatic, that I'm supposed to be getting from this, too.
I haven't forgotten how it felt to be separated from my family with limited communication options on 9/11. I haven't forgotten how in 2007, when a tornado touched down a little over a mile from our house, how I worried that my parents would see it on the Weather Channel before I could phone to say we were OK. I'm keeping the Twitter account. It might be like grabbing an umbrella after it stops raining. Fine by me.
But how to manage one more thread? Are these signs and portents that I should be writing more, which means doing less of something else? How do I best meet the needs of my students and readers and friends and family, and still make that monthly mortgage payment? After family, what is it that I do that really makes a difference in the world?
So today, when I'm feeling slightly frayed, I'm asking you to pick up the thread and help me untangle some of these thoughts. Your comments are greatly appreciated.