Live-Tweeting Life: Laurie Kilmartin and the Connective Power of Social Media

March 06, 2014 / by / 10 Comments

People are quick to decry the impact of social media on society. They use terms like “the selfie generation” and point to such tweets as “Ate a bagel this morning. It was delish #blessed” as signs of how the ability and desire to share every bit of our day-to-day lives is a detriment to society and only encourages narcissism. However, this demonization of social media overlooks the many personal and societal benefits of such systems. It ignores the ability of social media to bring people together, and the stories shared through the platform that inspire and touch others – stories like that of Laurie Kilmartin.

For the past two weeks, Laurie Kilmartin, comedian and writer for “Conan,” has been live-tweeting the final days and passing of her father and the effect it has had on her family. While some may assume this an insensitive of inappropriate act, the heartfelt and revealing tweets prove otherwise:

 

 

The tweets, humorous and painful, have been an amazing expression of what it means to lose a loved one and how people cope with loss. Their immediacy has struck at the raw emotions of a person truly dealing with pain and loss, and they have inspired countless responses from fans and empathizers across the globe.

Kilmartin’s tweets also reveal the capacity for real human connection and expression through social media. While Kilmartin could have simply written down her thoughts and delivered them in a stand-up routine or possibly written a book about her experience, to do so would have lessened the impact of her words. Through getting to experience Kilmartin’s emotions in the moment, seemingly unfiltered, Kilmartin’s followers are able to see the progression of her emotions and understand each of her thoughts not as a prepared statement, but as an honest reflection on the difficult times she is facing. Touching on day-to-day issues and broad ideas of death and loss, Kilmartin’s feed gives a sobering and comedic impression of what is going through the mind of a person facing one of the most difficult times in their life. And thanks to social media, we are able to share in this experience and learn and relate.

Kilmartin’s experience echoes the value of social media in telling important human emotions, not in simply updating people on recently discovered middle school pictures. She is also not the only example of someone using Twitter and social media to tell a truly emotional human story.

In December of 2013, Boston Globe reporter Billy Baker told the story of George Huynh, a Vietnamese immigrant whose father committed suicide and whose mother suffered from mental illness, and his fight to succeed and get an education. The narrative took readers through George’s early struggles, his family suffering, and his continuous pursuit of his goal to attend Yale University. It concluded with the reveal that George, through all of his hard work, had just been accepted to Yale through their early admissions program. It was touching, inspiring, and unavoidably tear-jerking. And it happened on Twitter. It was not manufactured or planned, but merely the reflection of an observer and mentor who had just discovered amazing news about a friend and mentee. Brilliantly told, the story would have likely gone unheard by many if relegated to the world of “normal” journalism, as Baker recounted many of the events on Twitter from his phone and reporting protocol could have delayed publishing of such an in-depth piece for several days.

Stories such as those of Laurie Kilmartin and George Huynh reveal that, despite the propensity for mindless sharing that afflicts many social media users, social media systems also have the potential to bring real emotion to life, to connect people across the world with honest human expression. There are a lot of unfortunate and useless things that emerge from the world of social media, but there are also many beautiful and inspiring ones.

The systems are what you make them, and if we are willing to tell our real stories on them, they made just do what they were intended to do: connect.