“My friend Anna’s going to be at the gig tonight,” I say excitedly to my flatmate between mouthfuls of cheap wine one Saturday evening. “It’ll be good to see her.”
“That’s nice,” my flatmate responds, feigning interest. “How do you know Anna, exactly?”
This question stumps me, for I suddenly realise that I don’t know Anna in the traditional sense at all. I know she loves lo-fi indie. I know she has a penchant for rom-coms with dodgy plotlines. I know she has an unadulterated crush on Jeremy Corbyn. What I don’t know is where she works, what her family life is like or what her most profound fears are. I’m not even sure I know her last name. Jones? Smith? Shit. I have absolutely no idea.
Anna, you see, is a friend of a virtual nature. Thanks to our mutual interests (shaggy-haired grungy quartets and dancing to angsty, guitar-driven tunes in cramped venues) I found her on Twitter – the social network on which I spend approximately 85% of my time. Today, we routinely “like” each other’s content (RIP, faves) or offer support in the form of a retweet, should our Internet musings be deemed particularly entertaining or insightful.
Later on that same night, I do spy Anna at the gig. I approach her and we talk for a while about our musical similarities, the venue we find ourselves in, and our favourite memes. Then the lights are extinguished and we lose each other in the jostling crowd. It’s a pleasant moment: we don’t feel obligated to stick together on account of our Twitter friendship, but we’ve bonded in a way that makes me think it’s all been worthwhile. We don’t have a deep spiritual connection, but we feel familiar with one another. Anna still likes my tweets. It is enough.
With millions of users logging on to the microblogging service every day, it’s only natural that a plethora of different communities should develop within the Twittersphere. Pockets of indie-obsessed youths tweet fervently about their love for Wolf Alice and Peace and will plaster your timeline with the lemon emoji. Pop-punk fans post links to Blink-182 songs, lest anyone forgets the bold, foul-mouthed majesty of ‘Happy Holidays, You Bastard’. Classical music aficionados and death metal enthusiasts and lovers of Swedish electro-pop all use Twitter to express what they’re into. Despite its faults, Twitter is a terrific medium for connecting like-minded people and, consequently, it’s likely that avid gig-goers will spot some mutuals among the crowd at a packed out show.
I’ve spoken to a good few mutuals in my gig-going life. “Wait – don’t we follow each other on Twitter?” I’ve gasped in the past, suddenly aware that the boy toe-tapping next to me is same dude that regularly posts American Football lyrics. I’ve called out Twitter handles across crowded rooms. “Excuse me… Are you @human_dis4ster?!” I once exclaimed as I filed out of a FIDLAR show. While all of my real-life interactions with Twitter mutuals have been fleeting, I know people who’ve made firm friends with followers they’ve encountered in the real world. This proves that the site is capable of building close networks and, at times, even friendships.
What, though, is the protocol when you’ve spotted a fellow Twitter Person in a venue? Friends of mine confess they’ve felt too awkward to approach those they recognise from social media. Some admit they probably wouldn’t instigate conversation. I’ve been in this position myself – desperate to talk to someone whose content I enjoy immensely, but really not sure of what to say. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who’ll bound up to someone and cheerily praise the quality of their social media presence. “The fact that I get to read your tweets every day makes me feel HASHTAG BLESSED!” It depends on the type of person you are, I guess.
My experience of seeing mutuals in venues – in arenas, bandstands, tiny converted churches – has been positive. I find it quite life-affirming, actually, to know that the people I pay attention to online are just as nice outside of the World Wide Web. Even an acknowledging smile from a follower as a roadie loads gear onto the stage can be a confidence boost, for it seems to say, “I like what you post online! And we’ve got the same music taste! Keep it up, buddy!”
I’m grateful to Twitter for allowing me to connect with so many friendly, intelligent people. Seeing mutuals at gigs is often a nice experience because it’s a reminder that we’ve been united under two common interests: our love of music, and our desire to dish out some Grade A content on the Internet.
[Morgan Laing – @sm4shingpumpk1n]