like swimming

What good is Twitter? What’s the practical use of it?

I’m leading an eight-week course for artists on how they can use a combination of new and old media to promote themselves and get the word out about their art, and tonight one of the artists asked me that question. (You can visit the class blog here.)

I explained that I use Twitter to create new relationships with people I don’t already know, and to strengthen relationships with those I do.

Then we went off on a long tangent about how to actually get started using Twitter, because it doesn’t make perfect intuitive sense to many people, and you do need a critical mass of people on your “follow” list to really get the hang of it — and many people are stumped about how to go about getting that critical mass.

So we looked into using various search terms (artist, art, dance, painter, etc.) to try to find like-minded people. I showed them twitterpacks, and twitterkarma, and even gave them a quick tutorial in cruising your friends’ follow lists to find new friends.

When we were done, one artist followed me into my office to tell me something I had forgotten to mention:

The best thing about Twitter to me is the community — the support I’ve gotten from everybody on Twitter after just a few days. I had no idea that was a part of the deal!

So yes, I guess I neglected to mention that.

Twitter is a place where I have found, begun, nourished, and maintained, real relationships with real people.

To me, that part is taken for granted, like air.

It’s like: trying to describe to somebody what breathing is. You can talk about lungs filling with air, and arteries and capillaries and red blood cells all carrying vital oxygen to all corners of the body, and explore ways to breathe deeply and fully and usefully during exercise.

You might still forget to mention that you need it to live.

Do I need twitter to live? Of course not. But I do need community, and friends, and new thoughts and ideas, and support and encouragement and testing and challenging of my ideas.

Like oxygen. Like a fish needs water.

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