Browsing the internet generally feels exhausting for me. Mostly, it’s because everything is bad. The websites I once visited for “fun” are now saturated with reminders of society’s collapse, brands making painful jokes, lies, outrage and actual Nazis. I only visit these websites out of habit and poor impulse control.
But I’ve recently joined a welcoming community on the internet that doesn’t drain me of my joy and energy. It’s a place where people with similar interests can connect, share interests and experiences, and foster friendships despite distances — the things social media sites always claim they do and always seem to fail miserably at. I’m talking about Bird Twitter.
On its surface, Bird Twitter is just Twitter users who tweet about birds. Many share pictures that they’ve taken, post weird bird facts, or recall sightings of special birds in real life or on TV shows.
Some people make jokes about the silliest bird names — have you ever heard of the southern screamer? Ornithologists join in with interesting findings like how band-rumped storm-petrels might be split into several similar-looking species. Writers post odd stories like the one about the gulls that fell into vats of curry. A lot of it is just friends helping friends identify the species of bird that they saw in the field (or commiserating with blown identifications).
But it’s more than that. I’ve made plenty of actual real-life friends just from taking part in Bird Twitter, people I now hang out with every weekend and people who have shown me around their city when I’ve come to visit, like in Portland, Maine this past winter, where a Bird Twitter friend met up with my partner and I to look for razorbills, black guillemots, and harlequin ducks on the Atlantic coast.
I’ve been able to follow along with other people’s birding exploits, like when my Bird Twitter friends started sharing the lists of an Australian birder visiting the United States just to look at the gulls.
I’ve found a place to clear my head when I’m stressed by my impending deadlines or when a troll emails me a death threat. It’s what I wish the internet could always be.
Obviously, you should use social media to discuss things you like and follow people with similar interests. But this is harder than it sounds. The corporate infrastructure of the internet has replaced internet communities. Social media encourages us to lump our interests and friends into one place, mixing our hobbies with our professional lives, and has made me feel like I can never really end my workday so long as I’m using the internet.
It shows us things the things we enjoy alongside the things that upset us, sometimes on purpose. The content we’re supposed to enjoy is