I should have known I was in trouble. Before I arrived home for a regular family visit, my dad asked a special request of me: “Katherine, since you are such an expert on social media, I need to sit down with you for a tutorial when you're in town.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “I’ll be happy to show you some things.”
My dad, while perhaps not always great at operating gadgets, has always been an early adopter. He was the first person I knew to have a BlackBerry, and he rushed out to buy an iPad when it came on the market. And he's always been keenly interested in the influence of technology. While I have friends who giggle about parents who share a joint email address and find text messaging wildly complicated, I thought: “Good for Dad. He’s really making an effort to learn.”
My dad had signed up for Twitter but was a little baffled by some of the finer points. Would I mind showing him if there was a way to see all of his followers clearly? And how does one retweet? As promised, I sat down with him and set him up with TweetDeck. I showed him how to use the retweet button, linked his Twitter and Facebook accounts, and added a column for the Twitter account of a student website that he oversees. “This is so cool! And helpful! I really feel totally set up now. Thanks so much, Katherine,” he gushed. All in a day's work.
When I set up Dad's account, I noticed that because he followed so few people, it was mostly just filled with my tweets. Some time shortly after that, I realized that my dad seemed to be reading every single thing I tweeted. If I tweeted something that had anything to do with my life, like asking for a restaurant recommendation, mentioning I was going to a concert, or making an observation about a business meeting, I’d receive a prompt email with his two cents about where I should go, or telling me to have a great time, or asking me how the meeting went.
I initially found it funny that my dad seemed to be watching my movements so closely, and it was sort of sweet how I would receive an email rather than a message back on Twitter. I asked him how he managed to always see every one of my tweets and respond so promptly. “Oh, I set up an alert to get a message to my BlackBerry every time you tweet.” It was then that I realized I had created a monster. His interest in Twitter had gone from curiosity to enthusiastic parental monitoring tool.
The idea of my dad hovering over my electronic movements perplexed me. My parents have never been prying helicopter parents. They’ve always encouraged my brother and me to be independent, travel alone, and make life decisions for ourselves without their nitpicking. They are always enthusiastic to talk about anything, but I’d never describe either of them as nosy. Twitter quickly changed that. My boyfriend and I were toying with the idea of taking a vacation to Beirut, Lebanon. I tweeted a question if anyone had visited or had recommendations. I quickly received an email from my dad, “I hope you mean Lebanon, Pennsylvania! You can’t seriously want to go to Lebanon.”
Our phone calls increasingly began with a 10-minute rundown of everything that he'd seen me tweet about since we last talked. My dad has always been an indefatigable cheerleader and PR agent to the point of embarrassment to his children, and it became clear that he was less trying to hover and more using Twitter to mine exciting life details that he was, perhaps, overly enthused by: “You met Norah Ephron!!” “You got to go to Facebook headquarters!!!” “You had a picnic this Sunday!!!” “You made roasted duck!!!”
While I mainly tweet things related to work and the news, the one in every 10 tweets that had something to do with my life seemed to provide my dad with a steady stream of insight that he'd been deprived of since I left for college.