On Tuesday 20th December, at 5:30 pm GMT I stood up and stretched, working out a crick in my back which had settled after 9 hours in the same chair.
The work call had just ended, with my next post set up and scheduled, ready to go the next day automatically.
“@Ben__Mulholland Hi Ben Mulholland”
This message from Gabriele Palmer seemed a little odd, mainly because I had (and still have) a paltry amount of followers – I’m not important enough to make spam worthwhile or to inspire any real interest in striking up a conversation out of the blue.
Plus, his name didn’t match his Twitter tag – Gabriele Palmer vs Lukina Aprelina.
Still, I replied, hoping to get some sort of sense of who this account could belong to.
Then, like any of you might do too, I checked out his profile. My theory was that if he was some sort of spam bot, then I would see it.
Things didn’t look promising.
Not only that, but after refreshing the page I saw that he was now called “Hilary Shaw”.
Yet, despite all evidence, a small thought stuck in my mind. What if…
Deep in a Twickenham basement
Hilary Shaw was optimistic. He’d never used “Twitter” before, but he was looking forward to making new friends and chatting about what was “trending” in the world.
He didn’t get out much – a bit of a social recluse – so he wanted to keep things simple by sending a quick hello to people he thought were interesting. There was the guy who’d written a review of a movie, someone called “I WIN BIGTIME” (Hilary liked winning big time) and a few others who’d made him smile.
The hard part was following up on the initial “hello”. He didn’t know anyone yet, so he wasn’t comfortable sending a second message. Maybe he should’ve done something different – a fair few people blocked him straight off the bat.
It hurt to be rejected like that, but he expected it. Living in England had gotten him used to disappointment, and the general reaction when saying hello to those who minded their own business and kept it just as neatly.
He thought that the anonymity of the internet would soften the blow – he didn’t know them and they didn’t know him, so it wasn’t personal – but if anything the opposite rang true. The unknown element made first contact more exciting; this could be anyone from any corner of the world that he was talking to, making it all the colder when that anticipation was shattered.
The movie person replied to him.
Oh, frabjous day! He was all afluster.
Someone actually replied to him, and it wasn’t to throw abuse. He’d found someone to talk to, to have a conversation with, to while away the long hours of solitude.
Now he just had to think of a reply.
Above ground in rural Lincolnshire
Screw it, I wanted to take that chance – maybe Hilary Shaw truly was just a lonely Twickenham basement dweller, putting himself on the line by reaching out to a bunch of new people.
Sure, I’d make time for that. All it took was 30 seconds and a happy demeanor, and I could potentially make someone’s day. So, waiting for a reply, I shut down for the night and looked forward to the new day.
One month later I remembered Hilary Shaw – I’d heard nothing from him since the optimistic, if tentative and basic, outreach. I went to check his profile again and, to my horror, my fears were confirmed.
Goodbye, unknown friend, may you have moved into an above-dirt apartment and left Twitter behind.
Farewell Hilary Shaw.