On Audience

Of the social media platforms I use, I am by far the most active on Twitter. For a long time, it’s been the place where I’ve blathered on and on about whatever’s been going on in my life at any given time. I started using it in 2007, pretty soon after it started. I’ve had at least 4 different usernames that I can think of. I’ve always followed and been followed by a mixture of people I know in person and people I know online. I’ve strengthened friendships there and I’ve forged new ones, too. I love Twitter.

Lately, though, it’s been a little hard to manage. The fact that I talk with different circles there usually doesn’t bother me. For the most part (though not without exception), my friends who don’t run can still put up with my running-related tweets. People I didn’t know in grad school aren’t awfully bothered by my occasional Achewood references. My (admittedly small) number of male followers don’t seem, as far as I know, terribly put off when I post the obligatory complaints about my Special Lady Time.

The exceptions, though, seem to come more and more often to mind, and seem more and more able to vex and occasionally silence me on topics I wish I could talk about.

A non-Twitter example: I don’t post anything personal on Facebook (I tend to share articles and occasionally talk about local races I’m signing up for), but a while back, I posted a link to this article. It’s sort of an in-joke for fans of The Decemberists or, at least, for people with at least a passing familiarity with their catalogue. This is the kind of post I fully expect to be ignored my the majority of my Facebook friends, but that I hope will be appreciated by the group of friends I know to be fans of the band. What wound up happening was that the post elicited a comment from my dad along the lines of “I have no idea what this is even about.” I know that Dad. I know. You are not a fan of the band. That’s okay. This post is not for you. You are not in the intended audience. Feel free to ignore it.

Pop culture related posts are like that, aren’t they? They’re written in a language of references that work like a not-so-secret handshake for the people who are affiliated with whatever element of culture is being indirectly named. (Never directly named, because of course not.) Reference a “Scranton Party” or a “Red Wedding” and people — certain people — will absolutely know what you’re talking about. Others will wonder what you’re doing in Pennsylvania or at a whore’s wedding.

Running is the same. If I’m talking about hill repeats or Yasso 800s or my weekly LSD, I am speaking the language of the recreational runner who likes to imagine she takes her training seriously. The person who reads Runner’s World and sets time goals for every race and enjoys reading and writing and thinking and talking about running on the regular. If my other friends don’t know or care about a specific track workout I’m referencing, it’s nobody’s loss. It’s just not their conversation.

Similarly, when I’ve been feeling the urge to talk about women’s health concerns on Twitter lately, I have a certain audience in mind and I’m writing in a language I know they understand. I know if I complain about the madness on the TTC boards, or my nervousness about an upcoming HSG, or the sheer number of OPKs I have floating around in every single bathroom drawer, that I have a veritable army of women on Twitter who will have something to say to me. They’ll understand those terms and they’ll commiserate or empathize; they’ll offer me a virtual hug or promise to send me thoughts or prayers; they’ll joke with me about some of the ridiculousness of the situation. They’ll, in short, just be my friends. I really need that.

Being able to connect with others, whether it’s to talk about a shared passion or a shared worry, is so incredibly important. I’m always grateful I have all of these folks I can reach out to – no matter the topic at hand.

But when the Twitter equivalent of my dad’s Facebook comment happens, it makes me self-conscious. It reminds me that, hey, these posts aren’t just going out to people in this community who have these shared concerns and speak this common language. They’re going out to everyone I know, basically. ALL my Twitter friends just read whatever I was saying about my monthly cycle. Ooof.

I once read an analogy from someone — I forget who now, but it was for sure one of my wise Twitter/blogging friends, maybe Jonniker or TemerityJane? — who compared the situation to being out at a bar with your friends. Sure, everyone else in the bar potentially can hear your conversation. You’re in public; that’s the way it is. Some of those other bar patrons might also be inclined to jump right into the conversation, too. They’re your friends! You all know each other from the bar, or from the neighborhood, or whatever, right? So they’re gonna jump in! So if I’m sitting in a corner booth talking about track workouts with my running friends and another friend pops over and is all like HEY MAN WHAT ARE THESE YASSO 800s ANYWAY? What’s the problem there, right? My friend just overheard part of a conversation and is curious. No problem.

On the other hand, when a friend who doesn’t fall into the community who shares experience with trying to conceive pops over and is all WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT OVER HERE DOES THAT HAVE SOMETHING TO DO WITH YOUR UTERUS? It’s a bit awkward, to say the least. It’s a little more awkward than having to explain The Decemberists or a track workout. And it makes me not want to talk about it. It makes me wish I hadn’t posted whatever tweet they’re replying to, because hey, friend, I love you but I wasn’t trying to talk about my uterus with you. I forgot you might be listening. I kinda thought you were over there at THAT booth with our OTHER friends and I was going to come by and say hi to you in a minute, so, like, let’s pretend this never happened, okay? Uter-what? I don’t even KNOW THAT WORD.

I suppose this is something we just have to get used to unless we whittle down our social media contacts to only the smallest niches — which is something I don’t really want to do. And of course, the friends who jump into our bar conversations when they pass by the booth are just doing the same thing we are — reaching out and trying to connect. It’s well meaning and kind, almost always. But it’s still hard sometimes.

I don’t know, what do y’all think?


  1. Man I understand this so completely, though I’m feeling it more about my blog lately. The audience has slowly grown to (unfortunately at times) include people I work with and honestly, it’s not that I am all that different at work (in “real life” I am totally a person who would tell a stranger my life story so I’m an open book at work) but every once in a while I’ll be writing a post and think “Would I be having this conversation about body image or my weight loss woes my feeeeeeeeelings with this person at the water cooler who only knows me as their friend’s boss?” #awkward It’s paralyzing at times but I just keep telling myself what you said — it’s important to cultivate community, and support and sometimes that means being vulnerable and well this is 2014 and we all talk on the internet and I just have to keep going. (And maybe delete and old post here and there, who knows 😉


    1. Ohhhh man, yeah. Work people. I don’t mind if people I work with read here, for the most part. I certainly am less forthcoming about my feeeeeeelings when I remember they might be here.

      It means I not only can’t blog about work (which I wouldn’t do anyway because, am I some kind of idiot?) but it also means I can’t say much of anything about my husband because we work together! People I work with = people he works with. Even if I want to humorously comment on how he loads a dishwasher, just for example, I totally don’t feel comfortable doing that in front of people he works on a committee with or who would be voting on his tenure/promotion, you know?

      I recently made my twitter account private and removed people from work, so that is at least a semi-safe space to talk about certain things. But, as this post details, still not ALL things. Sigh.


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