Social-media platforms talk a big game about connecting people. Facebook is always going on and on about community. Twitter is supposed to give everyone the chance to “impact the world.” But the reality, as anyone who’s been on either platform can tell you, is that online doesn’t work like that in practice. Mostly, it’s a lot of harassment and spam and abuse — if not worse, as the last, oh, three years have demonstrated.
To put it more concretely, here’s a story from Twitter this week. A woman in a Lyft is talking with her driver about struggling to explain what she wants to a hairdresser when she spots another woman on the street with the exact look she’s seeking. The driver, in a move akin to something your embarrassing mom or dad might have done to you in middle school, rolls down the window to let the woman on the street know that the woman in the car digs her look. The woman in the car tweets about this interaction. Meanwhile, the woman on the street also tweets about this interaction. She thanks “the lady in the Hyundai Sonata” for making her day.
That might have been the end of the story of the embarrassed woman and the complimented woman — Stephanie and Denice, respectively — if not for Twitter’s ability to make the world very, very tiny. Which is how a user following Stephanie happened to see her tweet and also Denice’s tweet. And then somebody following that person screenshotted them both, tweeting them together as a delightful story of Twerendipity.
Let’s call it “Twerendipity” — those moments when “characters” from the stories people tell on Twitter suddenly show up in the middle of the story. This is my favorite kind of interaction on Twitter because the real world doesn’t work like this. You can’t tell your friends about somebody you saw on the street and then just magically manifest them into your reality. The Secret doesn’t work — except online where it kind of does. Online, where you can be a teen who is so hot for Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther that you snap your retainer and have to take an emergency trip to the orthodontist, and then discover that your orthodontist has a Tumblr on which he’s written an anonymized, now-viral post about your metal-snapping thirst levels. And then have Jordan weigh in, too, offering to cover the cost of the broken retainer.
Twerendipity doesn’t have to be pure sentimental glurge — sometimes it has shades of darkness. But it usually has a happy ending. In August, a woman in Waco, Texas, overheard a guy talking about cheating on his girlfriend, “Hannah the nursing student in Dallas.” She tweeted about it and then, one day later, Hannah appeared and let everybody know she had dumped his loudmouth ass.
This week, in addition to the lesbian-haircut Lyft saga, Twitter also connected a college student, Zoey, and her professor. Zoey frantically emailed her professor after realizing she’d submitted a paper with his name listed as “Professor whats his nuts.” (Professor Hendel was what she was looking for.) Professor Hendel tweeted that he’d received her email apologizing and wasn’t particularly concerned until he looked more closely at the heading and saw the moniker Zoey had given him. Zoey saw the tweet, calling it a “series of unfortunate events.” She says class this week was canceled, so we’ll all have to wait until next Thursday to find out what happens next.
So much of Twitter is a cesspool. A place to watch the republic burn. To be subjected to reliving your past traumas as they play out in the national news on the daily. To generally feel bad about yourself and the world around you. It casts these brief moments of fun — okay, so it probably wasn’t super fun for Hannah to find out via tens of thousands of retweets that her boyfriend was a cheater, but you get the idea — into a much-needed, sharp relief. Professor What’s His Nuts and his embarrassed student blessing your timeline makes it just a little more bearable to read the (likely terrible) news above and below them. Professor What’s His Nuts and his embarrassed student are what keep us coming back to Twitter, even though most of our experiences there would indicate that we might be, on the whole, happier if we didn’t.