Please Don’t Drag Me Into Your Life

I am a stranger.

This morning, as part of my e-mail routine, I checked the list of new Twitter followers. As I’ve said here and elsewhere, I don’t follow many people on Twitter, but I do check out all the new followers I get. Although most are spam these days, occasionally I find one interesting enough to reciprocate the follow.

Today’s batch included one that made me stop and think. About 75% of this person’s recent tweets were about the deteriorating health of her mom. Heart failure, lung problems, pneumonia. She was tweeting from the hospital, she was tweeting after discussions with doctors. She was keeping her followers apprised of what certainly seemed like the impending death of her mother, right down to details about how her father was taking it.

There are a few things that struck me about this.

Should strangers be expected to care?

First, I find it hard to believe that a good percentage of her 1,000+ followers really care enough about her and her life to want to read the grim details of the family health problem unfolding for her and being broadcast on Twitter.

Sure, if my mom went into the hospital, I’d likely mention it once or twice on Twitter. But if she got really sick and I was spending a bunch of time at the hospital as she lived her last days, I don’t think you’d find many blow-by-blow tweets about it. In fact, I don’t think you’d find many tweets from me at all. I’m not very close to my family, but I’m close enough to spend important time with them and to keep it mostly private. I have 700+ followers on Twitter and I’m positive that very few of them need (or want) to know about the things in my life that are real downers.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve followed folks on Twitter who have tweeted about their health problems or the health problems of family members. That’s normal; health problems are a part of life. But if any of them became absolutely consumed with the problem and tweeted mostly about that, I had to take a hard look at the situation. How well do I know this person? What can I do to make it better? How do I feel reading about this day after day, alongside tweets with links to yodeling cats, health care reform analysis, and cartoons? If the person was a stranger and I’d already said the comforting things I could and the tweets were making me feel like shit every day, I’d stop following. I’d have to. I cannot allow my emotional well being to be dragged down by the misfortunes of strangers who, for some reason, need to make their physical or emotional pain a part of other people’s lives.

So no, I’m not saying I stop following people who complain about a bad back or tweet briefly to mention a loved one with a health problem. But if I don’t know you and that’s just about all you tweet about, please don’t blame me for turning off the volume and getting on with my life.

I guess my point is, there’s just some things you shouldn’t expect strangers to deal with.

Can a person’s priorities be this fucked up?

The other thing that struck me is that this person was going through an ordeal with doctors and hospitals and family members, yet she still found time to follow me on Twitter. Are her priorities fucked up or what?

Now you might suggest that she followed me using some kind of automated tool. Lots of people do that for reasons that are not always in the best of interest of the Twitter community. (I don’t think she is a spammer, though.)

When I checked the time-stamp on the follow notification, I saw that she began following me at 5:47 AM today. My last tweet last night was before 10 PM and my first tweet this morning was after 6 AM. So I hadn’t tweeted anything that could trigger an automatic follow at that time of day.

So that leads me to believe that she’s surfing the Web, reading tweets, and interacting on the Internet. She’s somehow found my Twitter address and has decided to follow me.


While her mother is potentially on her deathbed.

Or is the whole family thing exaggerated? Just a story to make her sound more interesting to people who like to read that sort of thing?

I really don’t know what to think.

I’m not knocking anyone…Just trying to understand.

Please understand that I’m not writing this to knock a specific person dealing with a family problem. I’m just floored by the whole situation, trying to understand how someone’s take on “social networking” can be so incredibly different from mine.

And I’m wondering how off-base my thoughts on this matter are. How do you feel about strangers you meet on social networking sites detailing the sad parts of their lives? What is it that you want from your social networking activities?

6 thoughts on “Please Don’t Drag Me Into Your Life

  1. I guess there’s an off chance her mother was asleep and this woman couldn’t sleep, but was still at the hospital. So to kill some time she’s surfing around the net maybe? I mean, we’ve all surfed aimlessly in the midnight and early hours right?

    Maybe she just needed a relief from all the drama and she was using the net as an outlet. Look at it this way, at least she found your content interesting enough to add you right? Or maybe she was just one of those people looking for an automatic reciprocal follow.

    My random $.02.

    • Jonathan: You’re right, of course. I’m just so cynical.

      It also has a lot to do with my Twitter and social networking philosophy. I don’t care how many follow me. It becomes meaningless when the signal to noise ratio gets too high. I think it’s a total waste of time to put so much effort into collecting followers I don’t reciprocate — unless the new follower is someone who seems interesting, someone I’d want to tune into. The health problems of a stranger’s mother wasn’t something I’d voluntarily tune into.

  2. I think people just look for a way to cope with a situation they are un-familiar with… it was probably because it was in hand… I agree with you 100% on the Twitter thing. As you know, I have a whopping 6 follower’s maybe? I follow…about a dozen…

  3. I’m not on Twitter, but I’ve seen some of the conversations. One example was the day the plane landed in the Hudson. I saw a whole string of Twitter conversations about the topic. 75% of the messages were “Isn’t Twitter Great.” I looked at a string today about Iphones, and someone twitted “My cat is snoring.”

    I heard on the news the other day, that a women was in a bank as it was being robbed. Instead of calling the police during the robbery, she twitted “I’m in a bank that’s getting robbed.” She didn’t even mention which bank.

    I feel sorry for this woman who’s mother is about to die, but pick up a phone and talk to a friend. That will help her out emotionally a lot better.

    I also feel that for some people, (Not all), twitter is nothing more then the latest thing to do, and if you ain’t doing it, you’re nobody. So keep that twitter close to you at all times. You might have something to twit about. “Isn’t twitter great.”

  4. Yes the person may be a little screwed up, but have a heart, all of you.. you can turn off your gadget for a minute, right? If someone’s real life situation is too much of a bummer, you could always: play a video game.. Kind of like the financial world, when the idea of what real people might be going through becomes too much, take what you can and run.. we used to call people like you YUPPIES, and this mindset is what killed New York City culture..

    • Lighten up, Virgina. You’re saying I should follow this STRANGER and allow my Twitter stream to be filled with the tragic updates of her mother’s impending death? Why on earth would I want to do that? Who benefits? As far as I can see, no one does.

      What do you mean by “turn off your gadget”? What the hell are you talking about? I don’t play video games — never said I did. Twitter is about the limit of my time-wasting abilities.

      And don’t tell me about NYC culture. I lived there, I know it. And I can clearly see you’re clueless about what a yuppie is.

      Seriously, you can take your angry, disjointed rants elsewhere; they’ll only get laughed at or deleted here. Give it a rest.

What do you think?