I woke up with a sewing needle lying on my bedsheet, not three inches from my eye. I’m not sure how it wound up where I found it. Regardless, I’m struck more seriously by the Twitter feed I left agonizing over attacks in Tehran, Qatar losing touch, a vanished Burmese military jet and it’s over 100 vanished passengers, a new FBI director announced bright and early this morning.
Sleep finally came after that tidbit, around 6 a.m. my time. I woke up at 11, to a total of 777 updates in the feed. Last night was my first attempt at building a reliable and informative Twitter feed in hopes of one day joining the national conversation. I’ve been unusually hesitant to join this specific social platform for years. Facebook entered my conscious behavior, exerting influence at the onset of my high school years. Since then, I’ve stuck with it intermittingly, never one to post without due cause. I have also since become active on Instagram and Snapchat. MySpace was slightly before my time.
Twitter always appeared to me as the lowest form of mass communication. Perhaps it was the strict 140-character limit that led me to this bias. More likely, it was the quality of the earlier user accounts, touting ill-sourced and ludicrous conspiracies against President Obama. I witnessed a revolution on this medium with the Arab Spring, along with the rise and transformation of an underdog Democratic candidate into the first black President of the United States. Quick change served as the catalyst of this medium. Crowdsourced input broke the traditional news cycle. Anyone could make the news and all news was digested in blocks of the same size. A story from the Times takes up exactly as much space as one from a personal blog written by a dissatisfied constituent or a citizen under siege. We entered into a new informational age of conflation.
By the time I first attempted to utilize Twitter, I was still unconvinced of its efficacy. My earliest explorations had tainted the prospect of using the platform as a daily source of news. Twitter began patrolling spammy accounts and bots in efforts to bolster legitimacy. The result was a cleaner feed, not necessarily one with higher quality content. I just couldn’t stick to it, something seemed cheap about the whole place. Politics appeared as a game of insults and biased reporting. Baseless theories proliferated and actual journalism was tasked with keeping up and breaking through. The system did not allow for the cream to rise to the top. Important news pieces were left dispersed and suspended in a tall glass of muck.
My persistent political involvement had sharply dropped off in the year following Obama’s inauguration, an event I am lucky enough to remember attending in person. Before this milestone, I can recall a busy girl pouring over news bulletins and press releases. Breakfast was accompanied by no shortage of newsprint: The New York Times brought us the world and Newsday brought us the town. The evening news was a communal engagement in my family. We scoffed, we chastised, and most importantly, we discussed. When discussions reached a point of relief, we sought channels for action. My father began a charitable collection at our church for active military personnel in Iraq and Afganistan, called “Operation: Gift Box.” He was inspired by our Pastor’s husband Mike, recently reunited with us after a tour in Iraq and gearing up for another deployment. Mike brought back vital news from the front lines, less strategic and more emotional. It was the little things, he said; An insufficient amount of toothpaste, a dismal selection of snacks, nothing new to read.
My father sought to address these gaps in the military budget, with his focus always trained on empathy. “Love the soldier, hate the war.” It was a small effort, but significant enough to garner a marginal amount of local press coverage. On the side, I accompanied my father on night outings in which we plastered anti-war messages across town. My father taught me that even those without a platform can create their own. Before Twitter, he recognized that the world isn’t so large that your contributions go wholly unnoticed.
A good message is worth fighting for.
In January of 2008, my politically-minded liberal father succame to a particularly invasive form of Melanoma. The women in my family, my mother, aunt, and grandmother, were each lost in a sea of broken hopes. Instead of despair, we channeled our frustration with the world into our desire to see it change. Barack Obama represented so much to our family and still does. When a family loses a battle with cancer, it can seem like every fight is a useless expenditure of one’s time. Yet this is backward. Every funeral should eventually serve as a call to action. Reexamine your loved one’s life and route out any unfinished aspirations for the world they left behind: yours.
This does not, nor should not, take place in the funeral hall or place of worship surrounded by mourning friends and family. Each person in attendance should have the right to draw their own conclusions from such an event. Don’t force an understanding. Let it come to you when you least expect it. Let the world’s dispatches remind you of work left to be done. Imagine the world they would have created had they survived. If your beliefs align with theirs, imagine they are next to you while you watch and read the news. Keep an ear out for their voice in your head. What would strike a cord with them? What would pique their interest and spur their civic action? Let them lead the way and speak out.
The comfort of the Obama administration has left us all a bit nonplussed. The world is as scary a place as it was to me in 2008, without the compass of a living father to guide me. It’s been nearly a decade since he left us. Sometimes it seems like it is increasingly impossible to be an informed citizen. I find myself picking and choosing the most pressing headlines in an undying search for subtlety. The pace of breaking news is not conducive to critical analysis. It used to flurry outside every once and a while. Now the most trusted outlets begin each day bracing for another avalanche. I can no longer avoid Twitter. Serious writers cannot afford to miss the opportunities for engagement that it provides. I appreciate at least that the site encourages you not to “like” a person but to “follow” them. I will follow Donald Trump in the sense that one follows a local traffic report on the radio: reluctantly scanning the airwaves for colossal wrecks and slowdowns.