How Twitter changed my life, by Venkat Ananth

First things first, a big thank you to everyone who wished me for the completion of one lakh tweets last Monday, was it? Honestly speaking, I never gave these numbers a thought in the past two and a half years of my existence on twitter, tweet counts, follower counts et al, simply because they never made sense to me or curiously, if I might add, they didn’t mean much to me personally.

But such has been my twitter experience, if anything, the forum became a more than meaningful platform to sit back, spend the day over, read a lot of stuff you otherwise wouldn’t and say what you have to, because admittedly, I have a lot to say. Indeed, considering the fantastic utility of the medium for journalists and news junkies, I thought it was just imperative that I got on the bandwagon and explored it to the fullest.

Even now when I look back at these years and thanks to this wonderful opportunity to do so, I’ll take a cynical route to it, given my allergy for these numbers. To put things into perspective, I was never a compulsive blogger nor was I a journalist of any distinction, a quiet little cricket correspondent plying his trade with a national daily, which effectively meant that I still needed a platform to partly get noticed and equally, interact with professionals from my field and discuss issues I was passionate about.

That’s when twitter happened and like most of you relatively early bloomers (2008 types), the first two months was about scratching around like any new batsman would in a Test match, and settle into your innings before going for the shots. And of course, to put it succinctly, no one quite realized the importance of the medium, and hence, it was never about things that I or you do today i.e. aggregation, discussion, debating or just frivolous exchanges. When I began tweeting, I must confess, it was almost like a monologue, as say @sachinkalbag will vouch for – saying things that no one wanted to read, and those who read me, almost recognizing the childish naivete in what I said. But then, I thought the General Elections of 2009 was by far the turning point for @venkatananth.

Sitting in a dark, chilly room in the UK helped somewhat, but in a bid to start meaningfully engaging with people, of course, I needed a context. And the elections helped me a lot, given my deep interest in Indian politics. That’s where I met a few of my early mates on twitter – the likes of @thecomicproject, @surekhapillai (met her a while later, though) and @muladhara and a few other like-minded people, political ideology or just the interest of it all and started tweeting regularly with a fair degree of knowledge that there are people out there who may not necessarily agree with what you put, but are willing to give you a fair hearing. That went along well, though I took a break from twitter during the World T20 in England, which I was covering for a newspaper back home. Wellofcourse, as MS Dhoni would say, that was that, and there was no looking back per-se.

If I must thank anyone for my twitter experience, it has to be Barack Obama, for his indecisive approach in the Afghan War, gave me an opening of sorts into a subject I’ve always been passionate about – foreign affairs, and that quickly became an early interaction opportunity with some of the best pundits around – Suhasini Haider (@suhasinih), Nitin Pai (@acorn) and even for that matter, Katherine Tiedemann (@afpakchannel) and not to forget, a host of Pakistani twitter junta – the likes of @kursed, of course @mosharrafzaidi (who I’ve had the privilege of meeting in Mumbai earlier this year) and again, the most important objective being that of interaction and debate – not exactly ramming your points down their throats, but really, putting your view across and if need be, even at the cost of being vehement, agree to disagree. For me, twitter is more of a forum where fundamentally, I’d like to agree to disagree on issues that might be slightly thorny for how people (and that includes me) see.

Looking back, I’ll not shy away from putting my twitter experience into two phases – one, the early bit, if I might use the word, attention whore (we all are!), angry young man kind of a profile that I managed to build about myself in my head, and even if it sort of come off on twitter that way, I thought it wasn’t helping me go anywhere, especially, tweeting about politics.

Today, I’ll confess that those were times, I even contemplated quitting twitter, for a more meaningful offline experience and exposure, but thankfully, things happened to change ever so quickly that I thought it was worth giving another shot, with shades of the earlier phase, but not entirely that – a more mature @venkatananth, who is quite open to criticism, doesn’t feel hassled by abuses that might come his way and even not be provoked enough to reply and give more fodder to some of them. That’s where, I’d acknowledge @surekhapillai‘s contribution much, a more “mentor” sort of a role, trying to calm me down everytime a situation sprung up. And that’s when, I really thought twitter started meaning a lot to me personally and things of course started happening.

I started getting less involved with political tweets, mind you, not apolitical and all of a sudden, cricket, sport, and basically everything else I sort of downplayed during the first phase, sprung back all over again, largely thanks to one man, who I admire, respect and look up to immensely – Prem Panicker (@prempanicker), my boss at Yahoo!, who of course gave me a brilliant opportunity to turn into a columnist, and I think since then, it’s been an amazing experience to be able to express what you’ve always believed, as some dub it “a rather strong opinion” (you also draw flak along the way, but that’s welcome today). It gave me that very opportunity I was looking for – to see and write cricket from a perspective – something I might never have, if I was employed with a news media outlet and I can’t thank Prem enough.

Also, a shout out to some of the real good friends I’ve made through twitter, met them off-line and in most cases, just became closer as we got to know each other much better. The likes of Anand Ramachandran (@bigfatphoenix), Deepak Gopalakrishnan (@chuck_gopal), Mahesh Sethuraman (@cornerd), even a cricket writer whom I used to simply admire as a junior, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (@sidvee), Jyotishko Ray (@Oldmonk_MGM), Smita Prakash (@smitaprakash), Berges Malu (@Berges), Priyal (@priyal) and this list, I am afraid can just go on and on. Admittedly, I unfortunately don’t do tweet-ups or participate in gatherings, for I’d miss out a lot on knowing “twitter handles” a lot more than they deserve to be, for being judgmental on quite simply the basis of what you see on twitter is unfair to both you and the individual concerned.

I think, that’s that and importantly, keep tweeting. Most importantly, though…if you feel I am spamming/clutter your timelines, or choking them, please feel free to unfollow me. I think it’s equally important for some of you to give me a quick feedback, on not this post by the way, but the tweets. I will never claim to be the most interesting person, neither am I a “twitter celebrity”, and keeping in trend with my twitter habits, be sure to check your mentions, for there’ll be a reply.

To sum, twitter has been a supremely humbling experience for me not just because of the fact that a nobody got noticed somewhat, but because I think fundamentally, the medium has democratized communication radically, and by the way, I am no Social Media Expert, and I think I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed it thus far. One big shout out to all my followers for being there, thank you.

About Venkat Ananth: 24, Yahoo! Cricket Columnist, Foreign Affairs, Journalism professor, Indian Politics, Test cricket devotee, Manchester United, World Music aficionado & WTFs. Catch him on Twitter @venkatananth

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