When people ask what industry I work in, I usually say ‘words’. I could say editing or writing, I could say language or, the very general, education, but for me it all comes done to words. This then requires some explanation, which I’m very happy to give, and people usually seem more intrigued with this response.
Over the years I’ve narrowed down my work focus (starting with education then the English language, writing and now words). Focusing in more and more has been a very natural and easy process, and sometimes even unconscious. It’s much easier for me to express my thoughts (the words running round my head) than my feelings (often frustratingly too abstract or subjective to find a good word match).
I remember as a child writing draft copies of letters. After some contemplation I’d edit my first attempts, finding better words, adding or deleting phrases, maybe even reorganising my ideas. I think I understood, even then, the power each word has, influencing each other, building to create a whole and how they could affect the person reading them. Words are powerful tools. They can inspire, they can influence and they can move.
I’ve probably always preferred the written word to the spoken word (perhaps this is related to my control issues?). As a teenager I did spend my fair share of time on the phone (what girl hasn’t?), but, unlike most of my friends, I kept writing letters and notes. So when I discovered email it was my dream come true. I could draft and edit to my heart’s content, and I didn’t have to feel guilty about not calling. Going back to teenage girls for a moment, observing my nieces, they prefer to communicate with texts and Facebook updates than speak on the phone. If only I’d been born a generation or two later.
Anyway, this leads me to Twitter and my love/obsession relationship with it. I love it for its 140-character restriction. It forces me to express myself concisely and, I hope, more precisely (I can’t just gush out a wordy stream of consciousness, which I sometimes do on Facebook and then regret). And I love it for being able to connect with people I would otherwise never physically meet or ever have the chance of communicating with. The written word has gained some of its power back.
At last week’s 140 Characters Conference London Meetup I was able to physically meet some fellow twitterers. We heard JP Rangaswami (@jobsworth), BT Chief Scientist, touch on personal experiences of the value of Twitter’s network as an information service, which he’d talked about at last year’s 140 Characters London Conference (learning how to rescue a lost hamster and tracking down a difficult to buy Canadian folk rock album). And Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver) shared his feelings about being able to connect with people the world over, whether it’s just to say ‘hello’ or to get help unloading his car in a sticky situation.
A recent heart-warming example of the power of social networks was Wyclef Jean being able to raise $1m for Haiti earthquake victims by appealing on Twitter. Being able to reach out to a large number of people who, in turn, reached out to other people, meant the money was raised very quickly, much quicker than for previous disasters. Wendy Harman, social media manager for American Red Cross said, “I think we have crossed the threshold of novelty with Twitter. People now want to use it to get something good done.” Words turning into good deeds.
I have also felt the love and support of strangers through the words I have tweeted. Most specifically related to the death of my daughter, Sofia. While she died almost two years ago, we have had to cope with other things some time after her death. At the end of last year when there was an inquest into her death I was able to find love and support online at any time of day by typing a few words. And more recently, we discovered another very disturbing fact related to her death because of an interview we agreed to do. Again I reached out, not only to friends and family, but to my network. And the support went beyond my network. Even before we’d read the newspaper article there were people on the other side of the world tweeting it and giving us words of support. I was even sent more information of other similar cases by strangers. Words connecting people. Words educating people. Words moving people.
Some people may say my focus is wrong, that it’s not words connecting people but social online networks connecting them. I would merely say that online communication is nothing without words.
Editing Angel is named in memory of my daughter and beloved angel, Sofia Valentina Willicombe Figus (11 Feb 2008 – 14 Feb 2008).
If I haven’t convinced you of the merits of Twitter, Editing Angel offers ghost tweeting services. Contact me for more details: email@example.com