Twitter is currently the second largest platform of Social Media, and is rapidly dethroning FaceBook as the most popular site. Many things are special about twitter. Unlike Facebook, you have a 140 character count to get your message across. No more rants from your grandmother or some crazy political extremist. Also, you are able to follow Celebrities and other popular figures. You can interact with your childhood idol or just about anyone else you please. This is what draws people to Twitter. The feeling of being connected via 140 characters to anyone in the world.
Social Media also has the bad stipulation of people being afraid of real life interaction with strangers. Years before smart phones, people would be having conversations with others in public places. Now, everyone seems to be looking at their phone and avoiding contact with others. People are starting to lack the simple social skills everyone possessed years ago. Older generations look down upon Social Media and think its foolish and a waste of time. But can someone actually make real life friends via sites such as FaceBook, Instagram and Twitter?
Chances are, if you’re Mormon, have twitter and are between the ages of 13 – 25, you’ve probably heard of @TheMormonProbs. The account is directed towards pro-Mormon humor. An example of a “#MormonProblem” would be something like “Can’t hangout with my friends tomorrow because it’s Sunday”. Nothing antagonistic towards the Mormon church. Just funny little problems Mormons encounter in their daily life.
Well, @TheMormonProbs was created by Derek Scharf in December of 2011. About 2 years and 7,600 tweets later, it has a following of 31,400 people. Thats enough people to be the 2nd largest city in Vermont. Now, if everyone that ever followed the account never unfollowed it, its estimated it would be at 50,000 followers. Now, on average, a #MormonProblem tweet gets an average of 100 retweets. And the average follower has 260 followers. That means, that on average, 26,000 people not following @TheMormonProbs will see each tweet. It adds up.
SPOILER ALERT: I am Derek Scharf, the creator of @TheMormonProbs. And here’s where everything comes together into a Social Experiment I secretly conducted.
I love to travel. I love road trips. I love seeing friends. So, this week I went on a road trip. I went from Hayden Lake, Idaho (90 miles from the Canadian Border) to Rexburg, Idaho to Logan, Utah to Ogden, Utah to Salt Lake City, Utah to Provo, Utah and back. The catch was, I had no idea where I was going to sleep or what I would do while there. Sure I had an idea of who to see and where to sleep, but I relied off the help of Social Media, mainly @TheMormonProbs, to find shelter, food and friends.
My first stop was Rexburg, Idaho, home of BYU-Idaho. 7 hours into my trip I arrived and met up with Sydney Brereton and Brittney Zundle. About exactly a year ago, I met Sydney on Twitter thanks to MormonProbs. One of her friends had followed me for months and we started talking, and she then introduced me to Sydney over Twitter. A simple birthday shout out to her, and the rest is history. Brittney is her bestfriend and roommate. So, I picked them up and headed to dinner.
Upon arriving at the restaurant, we were looked at oddly. Confused, we went and ordered our food. We started eating, forgot about the weird looks and then tweeted a picture. Turns out the weird looks were because several girls inside recognized me from Twitter. We got several tweets as such following the picture:
Turns out, i’m Mormon Famous.
After dinner we went back to their apartment. People were coming and going and the girls thought it would be fun to introduce me as @TheMormonProbs and not Derek. Several knew of me and one even wanted to just touch me. The best was Sydney’s friend @TylerHill55 who offered to let me sleep on his couch rather than in my car.
The next day, I was off to Utah. Google maps suggested I take the scenic route through Logan, the home of Utah State University. Lucky for me, I have Twitter friends @FerrisRBall and @DavidDenverBall who live there. Fun Fact about Ryan and David is that they’re Fradentical Twins (they look almost identical but aren’t actually identical). I met them for the first time on twitter last year when I was in Rexburg. I tweeted off MormonProbs about being in Rexburg. Turns out they were too and invited me to hangout with them, but I never did.
I stopped off at their apartment for about an hour. Turns out, Ryan is going to China next semester. I was able to answer lots of his questions and suggest where he should go. Changzhou is the place. After, I tagged along to the USU campus to do a couple things. One of those things, was to meet up with Braden Thompson. Braden is the creator of “Project #365 Aware“. Basically, it’s where you blitz the world around you with random kindness. You meet one person new a day and learn something interesting about them. Amazing project. Look into it. Make someone’s day better and make a new friend or two. Anyways, after loading up my car with cases of ReBull, compliments of David, I was off.
My next stop was Ogden. Ogden is home to Nick Eccles, Ethan Christensen, Sydney Christensen, Ellee Hall and Zach Calton. I first met these cool kids on Twitter late one night when randomly looking through people tweeting into me. I decided to tweet at one of them, and then they all started tweeting at me and we had a giant conversation going about Denny’s and women. Ethan and Nick met me at McDonalds and fed me some McChickens and then took me to the girl’s soccer game. After the game, we all went to a lame bonfire, ditched and played some GTA until late that night. These kids are some of the funniest kids ever and are extremely friendly. I most likely would have been in their friend group if I had lived in Ogden.
I left Ogden, said hi to some friends from China in SLC for a minute or two, and headed to Provo. I arrived in Provo around 2:AM. Lucky for me, my buddy Brian Quick is a night owl and had an empty couch for me to sleep on. I know Brian through my friend Bryaden Schoonmaker who I met through other people I knew from Twitter. Brayden is currently serving a mission in Riverside. Anyways, Brian introduced me to some cool people like Shannon Titensor and Sam Gurksnis. Two extremely friendly people with excellent taste in clothes and music.
The next day was the day of the BYU football game. My goal all week was to snag a ticket. So after seeing my old boss and my childhood friend Jessica Foster, who I ran into on campus, I met up with a stranger who someone referred me to on twitter, and got their student pass to the game.
At the football game I met up with Corey Tyndall and Jamie Robison. I know them through one of my best friends Amelia Knuth (who is now serving a mission in Idaho Fallz). I met Amelia on twitter after I followed her based on her good looks and then tweeted at her because of her humor. Amelia and I ended up having a freshman fling, but due to distance, we would only see each other when I would visit Rexburg or she would visit Provo. When she did visit Provo, she would invite her friends, and thats how I met Corey and Jamie. After the football game, we went back to their apartment, met their awesome roommates and watched 500 days of sunshine. I spent the night on another childhood friends couch who lived right next to my friend Brian. #SmallWorld
Saturday, I hung out with my old friends, and one of them who is getting married was in town so we all went out to eat. After a lowkey day of relaxing and not doing much, I had a date. I went on a date with the beautiful Andi Allred. I know Andi via EFY, but only kept in contact because of @TheMormonProbs. After some catching up and some Ice Skating, I had to meet up with my newly engaged friend to meet his fiance. He picked a winner.
Later that night, I met back up with Jamie and Corey, as well as our friend Brittney Bartlett. We went to a wanna be coffee shop and talked for almost 3 hours. We talked about Missionary Girlfriends, Amelia, Amelia’s Mom, making out, and about everything else. But just like anywhere else I went in Provo, if I was there long enough, someone would recognize me.
After being creeped out, and laughing harder than ever before, we called it a night. I said goodbye to the girls for 2 years. Hopefully, they’ll be able to keep MormonProbs in control for me while i’m gone.
The next day, I went to church with the friends I stayed with, got recognized by several girls, left and went to a church BBQ. Then I was on the road back to Rexburg. Stopped along the way to visit and Aunt and Uncle, then back to Rexburg for the night and to see Sydney, Brittany and Tyler. Thanks again to Tyler for letting me sleep on his couch.
The next morning I was off and headed for Home. That was the end of my road trip sponsored by the followers of twitter.
I learned that just because you don’t physically know someone, doesn’t mean that you can’t be their friend. It may be awkward for the first minute upon meeting them, but you’re still the same people you were on twitter. People need to stop hiding behind their devices and use their devices to help them make real life friendships. We have the power to become friends with more people than ever before. We need to use it to build real life, healthy relationships rather than it be the downfall of our social life.