Twitter made me do it – my thoughts on the .za Geek Retreat

The past few months have been an important story in soul-searching for me.

After being shoved gently out of the international non-profit I helped build for three very long years in August, I looked beseechingly to my fellow South Africans. ‘Tell me you’re not as cruel as the rest of the world?’ I seemed to be saying.

Volunteering to judge the SA blog awards was one of my first attempts to re-enter a community that I’d never quite felt a part of. I was a global citizen – a citizen of the world! One toe in South Africa and the others vaguely placed ‘overseas’. I used my citizenship when I needed it, but I was not quite fully committed to the place that only made me sad and frustrated.

The awards only deepened my sense of alienation. A post pointing out what the results of the awards said about the lack of diversity in the South African blogosphere was highlighted by the award-winners, and its henchmen moved swiftly over to hblog to tell me that I should shuddup and go sit on a traffic cone.

As is the case with these debates, a lot of people joined the fray – ranting about the South African circle-jerking mentality and the continual back-slapping of a few at the expense of the many. I made new friends through the ordeal, but it didn’t do much to restore my faith in the local Internet community.

It was at this point that I found Twitter. I’d had an account for a while but never really understood it (Twitter really does make a bad first impression). But as I got over the fear that no one wanted to hear my banal postings, I started experiencing the most beautiful thing. For the first time in my nine years of working online, I felt a sense of community – a sense that there were people out there who genuinely cared – not about what I said – but about who I was.

Twitter is different from blogging that way – you can’t post anonymously, you have to be brave and it enables an amazing sense of connection to the people around you. Every day (and oftentimes at 2am after my morning pee) I open Tweetdeck on my phone to be greeted by an absolute feast of greetings and ideas and people news – news about people’s state of mind, their health, their personal musings on the world around them. In other words: I feel less lonely, less like I’m on a mission that no one knows or cares about.

It was during one of the euphorias of tweeting on a Sunday afternoon that I posted a note about wanting to do something cool with the South African Internet community before I left. I was going to have a few ideas, but when I posted idea number 1 about the Geek retreat, I realised that that was what I really wanted to do: to go away – far from the pressures and egos that define who we are and who we speak to in Johannesburg – to connect as human beings.

And then a wonderful thing happened: people responded – not just with replies that it was a good idea, but with two of the most precious things in the world: with trust and their time.

It was such an easy process that I only cried once! (I almost cried when Eve said that she would drive me, in the rain and late one afternoon, to the Elephant Sanctuary to help me check it out, but that kind of crying doesn’t count.)

Driving to the event on Friday afternoon, I was filled with that nervous excitement that keeps me doing these events. I asked myself a question that I have found difficult to in the past: what do YOU really want to get out of this? How will YOU know that it’s been a success?

The weekend of the 19th of June 2009 answered my questions, along with others that had been in the back of my mind for the past six months or so.

I will have fun.
I will see people inspired to do wonderful things together.
And lastly, as Seth Godin says in this powerful TED talk: I know that I will be missed when I’m gone.

5 thoughts on “Twitter made me do it – my thoughts on the .za Geek Retreat

  1. Nice Heather 😉

    Keep going, onwards and upwards. And remember, the people who do things in life are the ones who are awake doing; and you (and Justin and Eve)) did an awesome thing making the retreat happen.

    PS. TED link needs an edit 😉

  2. And this great post reminds me why blogging is still better than Tweeting… And, FWIW, I think the online community is very lucky to have you, Heather. There are not too many out there who are prepared to dedicated their time, resources and money to making ‘the internet’ a better place – and even fewer female geeks who are making a difference. So, yes, thanks – and respect – from me too 😉

  3. Really great article and highlights a few of my experiences too. I blogged for a while and was never accepted by the “community”, until I ran for the Blog awards and almost won. ChrisM from iMod openly admitting that he thought I would beat him was just the cred that I needed to finally be accepted.

    A Sunday Times article and 3880 Tweets later, I consider myself to be part of a family now. 🙂

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