Mutual Influence

“I’m about to tell you something that will BLOW YOUR MIND.” I typed to my sister the other day.
“Proceed with mind-blowing.” She typed back.
Mindy Kaling is following me on twitter.” I typed.
“DUDE.  How did you get so famous?”
“I feel my existence on this planet is justified because Mindy Kaling follows me on twitter.”
There’s a slight pause as I look at the tiny “Friend” accompanied by a tiny, positive green check mark in Mindy Kaling’s feed in my TweetDeck screen. A particle of doubt enters my mind. I click on @rarariot, and the “Friend” along with the green check mark appears. I click on a sure-fire one who wouldn’t follow me, @MichaelHyatt (he wrote a blog post to this effect), and I see the little “Friend” with that blasted little green check mark.
I am considerably deflated.
“oh. Wait.” I type. At the same time, she types:
“I do not think that means what you think it means?”
“huh. I thought it meant a mutual follow. Dang it.”
“So” she types. “How is your existence.”
“Lame, Twitter, lame. ‘friend’ and ‘follower’ are way not the same thing. Mutual followers are friends.”

That got me thinking. Of course, asking “How is Twitter following like real relationships?” is something like asking “How is a raven like a writing desk?”

Still though, among various christian Leadership activities, it's a common theme to discuss how every person should seek to have the influence of a Paul (a mentor), a Timothy(a disciple), and a Barnabas (an encourager) in their lives. I suppose you don’t need just one of each, but basically Twitter works the same way. Among many others, I follow @MindyKaling. I think she’s funny, and I respect her interests and work as one of the head writers and actors in NBC’s The Office. I think she’s a woman of influence in culture, and I want to keep up with things she’s recommending and thinking. I also follow cultural influencers @cornelwest, @makotofujimura, and @funnyordie.

Thanks to a talk from @jasonboyett at a writer’s conference, I usually follow back the people who follow me, with the necessary exception of an oddball or annoying person, bots, or someone who uses hacky social networking “solutions” to hack through to my feed and my followers. (side note: if you need a solution to fix your social networking #youredoingitwrong). However, it’s curious to follow how we end up getting connected. Sometimes it's a sort of growing into a mutual-interest based acquaintanceship. This happened with many of the artists from last year’s Sketchbook Project. I joined fan pages, added blogs to my Google Reader roll, favorited Etsy items, and followed many an artist on twitter. I won a facebook drawing for a T-shirt designed by @RobJelinski, and discussed a potential jewelry comission with @Carijanehakes (I've got to get back to that...). I got hooked on Pinterest and gained followers from curating some fun, pretty “pinboards.” I can't be sure, but I think maybe artists thrive on encouragement.

I follow more people than follow me at the moment, but if I can narrow it down, people follow me because:
1.       They know me in real life.
2.       They’re interested in something I talk about often (or they are interested in the smart things I RT from the people I follow!); Art, pop-culture, food, travel, gospel, (weddings, according to and others.
3.     They found me through a common interest. We may have commented on the same blog, or connected on Pinterest or Etsy, or listened to the same podcast. Sometimes a small comment or connection will inspire a follow, just to see what happens; sometimes a life-giving conversation grows out of it, but sometimes nothing happens to foster the initial connection.

     At least, that's why I follow people.

    but it's not the followers or the follow-ees that really get the full benefit of conversation, relationship. It's the mutual followers. According to, my "top followers" are my sister @JessiGering, my friend @petiteartichoke, (which friendship has been conducted almost entirely online), and friends-of-a-feather @luzbonita, @janisecookston, and @sknep (all three artist/designer and in-real-life friends), @teenbug, an old friend first from college and rather secondarily but possibly more significantly,the post-college blogosphere, and @akimoku, my lovely writer/co-worker friend. These are the people I talk to most, these are the ones who foster mutual influence.

   It takes a mutual followership to create a true conversation. 

    For those of you who don't have Twitter accounts for the reason that it's simply another stream of cluttery data clogging up your already-too-absorbing online life...well, you're probably missing out on a lot of clutter and a few great conversations.