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facts & arguments

Jorge Silva/Reuters

Twitter is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have met more people in the year I've been tweeting than during my past 30 years in Vancouver. It has made me a nicer person. It has also made me a liar.

The problem began right from the start: Use your real name so your friends can find you.

Use my real name? Not on your life. What if my boss finds me? Or (gulp) my mother?

So I plucked a name out of the air. Sally. No last name required. After all, I was never going to actually meet my followers, was I?

I began merrily tweeting away. I only had one rule - never mention where I work. It's not that I despise my employer - quite the contrary. It's just that I don't think anyone can really separate their Twitter persona from their work persona, and who wants the big boss phoning you in the middle of the night to say, "Sally, you're fired."

I do occasionally mention "the boss" and the tedium of life in an office, and my profile does say I am a "diary secretary," a term for executive assistant that I rather like as being ever so English.

Over the year, anyone interested could probably have pieced together my bus routes to get a sense of where I might work, but in reality everyone is too busy with their own lives to be much interested in what exactly I might be doing. Right?

That was, of course, until a few followers suggested a "tweetup." It seemed churlish to say no to meeting, especially since I liked these people, despite never having met them.

So one hot sunny day I trotted down to the Vancouver Art Gallery, along with someone I did know as my crutch.

"Hi Sally!" they all shouted.

"Hello!" I shouted back.

It might have been a good time to set the record straight, but I didn't. I didn't want to come across as a liar right off the bat, especially since: (a) they all used their own names; and (b) it was no secret where any of them worked.

On the way home, my crutch observed, "You can't keep this up forever, you know. One day it will all come tumbling down."

Fast forward a few weeks, and me and my crutch (well me, really) decided we needed the free cupcakes TransLink was handing out for the first anniversary of the Canada Line.

"Hi, Sally!" shouted one of the TransLink employees, recognizing me instantly from my photograph.

Seemed a bit pointless setting the record straight at that particular moment, what with the cameras and cupcakes and all.

Then I had a real dilemma. Someone from the previous tweetup wanted to meet me for lunch. Honestly, I was going to confess then as to my real name, but the opportunity never came up.

"You're doomed," said my crutch on hearing I had chickened out.

I have now managed to avoid, on three separate occasions, mentioning anything about where I might work from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (I am beginning to think CSIS should hire me.)

Much like a successful cheating lover, it isn't what I say but what I omit that tells the whole story. I tweet about my sister, my parents, my cats. But I have never told anyone on Twitter that I have a son, and rather a grown-up son at that. Not only do I not want my whole life exposed on Twitter, it fits my online persona better to be single with two cats.

My son tweets too, and occasionally we tweet back and forth. There was the unfortunate time we tweeted while sitting side by side on the couch watching a movie, which led to someone thinking we were dating, but we met that person a few days later and she got the connection instantly just by looking at us.

Still, on Twitter, as far as everyone is concerned, I'm just a girl with two cats and a rather humdrum life. I have never asked my son how he thinks about being completely disowned on Twitter, but I suspect it's rather a relief to him.

As for Twitter making me a nicer person, when I started out I was mostly being "just me." But now I have to think before I tweet, because there are people I have grown fond of and I don't want them to think less of me if I swear, make one of my famous sarcastic comments or give a put-down to a total stranger.

Every day I probably type out five tweets, look at them and think, "Oh, Sally would never say anything mean like that." And so I don't post them. Twitter is limiting my free speech but it has made me more pleasant, a trait I now try to carry over in the hundreds of e-mails that make up part of my daily life.

On Twitter, I find myself asking people how they are - and really caring about the answer - supporting them in their ups and downs (and there are many) and actually being friendly. As a result, I am now more polite and friendlier in real life. Well, most of the time - it's been months since I swore at the photocopier.

I tried to stop tweeting this past summer. I was busy with holidays and family and life and I didn't have time. But then one of my favourite Twitter friends from England said she missed my tweets. What could I do? Sally couldn't let her audience down.

Helen Pearson lives in Surrey, B.C.