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Everyone Needs A Tap Code? What’s Yours?

By Liza Sperling

I recently watched PBS's  This Emotional Life, a series focusing on humans' emotions.  One story, that of Bob Shumaker, stuck with me. Shumaker, a former Vietnam POW who survived three years of solitary confinement, credits his survival in part to the Tap Code, a social network comprised of tapping letters of the alphabet on the prison walls to communicate, educate, inform and provide support.  Shumaker and his fellow POW's overcame structural obstacles and taught eachother new languages, discussed how to fix broken gadgets and provided one another with moral support by tapping out letters of the alphabet on their cell walls. As Shumaker explains, the Tap Code was an integral part of making three years of solitary confinement, well, less solitary.

The POW's resilience and tenacity were extraordinary, but their basic need was ordinary:  the need to connect.  Call me Twitfaced, but I was struck by the similarity of how the POW's used the Tap Code and how I use Twitter. People use Twitter for a variety of reasons, but many of us have found Twitter to be our modern day version of the Tap Code. It does not replace real world connections, in fact, for many it enables more offline interaction.  Chris Brogan noted one advantage of Twitter is that he will never have to eat dinner alone in an unfamiliar city. I have far fewer connections on Twitter than Chris, but I have Twitter friends all over the world, and we meet in person at conferences, meetings, and informally in dozens of cities. My family, friends and colleagues who either do not use Twitter or who use it to communicate with people they already know, are appalled by my behavior and warn me to beware of stalkers and rapists. Yes, there are inherent risks in interacting with humans in any scenario, but after months, sometimes years of communicating, l feel pretty safe. Please note: the same people who warn me about Twitter meetings advocate online dating, an online means of connection that even I haven't tried.

Given a difficult economy, an increased emphasis on careers, and people marrying later in life, jobs determine where we live.  Many of us find ourselves isolated in unfamiliar cities, without our families or an immediate network of friends. Sheer distance, multiple timezones and long work hours make traditional means of communicating a challenge. Phone calls and face time have become scheduling nightmares, and emails lack intimacy or real-time immediacy. My solution: connecting with friends in real-time when we are mutually available, no matter if it is 2am or 7pm. Twitter has become my Tap Code.  Sure it requires investing time and energy to develop these relationships, but in return I am rewarded with a sense of connection.

Both Shelly Kramer and Anna O'Brien recently wrote blog posts about women in social media, and the dozens of conversations and comments that followed included many listing those who inspire them online, often people who have never met in person. While science may suggest that women are hardwired to seek out such relationships, both women and men are finding inspiration, advice and support on Twitter from people our parents call "strangers".

As PBS's This Emotional Life contends, science has proven that human beings' survival is based in part on connection.  Modern day circumstances strain traditional means of connection, but technology provides more options than ever to connect with friends, family, and "strangers" any time of the day. Frankly, everyone starts out as strangers, online or offline, but, as the POW's tapped on the walls, we tap on our laptops and phones, and soon strangers become friends.

Everyone needs a Tap Code. What's yours?

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