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Twitter Found My Mom

It’s nice to remember the internet can be useful and not just a place to bofa and updog unsuspecting victims.
Ashwin Rodrigues
Brooklyn, US

On April 1st, my mom was supposed to fly into Seattle to pay me a visit. Due to a medical emergency on the flight, the plane was forced to make an unscheduled landing. My mom called me from her seatmate's phone, because her own phone was close to dying. She didn't give me any information besides her new destination: Idaho.

Lucky for me, I had her flight number, and took to Twitter to get some more info. I had previously sorted out an airline hubbub via Twitter when Delta decided to land a plane in Detroit instead of New York because of weather issues. I shot a quick note to American Airlines for help.


— American Airlines (@AmericanAir)

April 2, 2015

American Airlines went on to "look into" the matter for me, which was nice. This is a usual response, and quite unremarkable.

But a normal, non-branded™ person on the flight found my tweet and, incredibly, went to find my mom on the flight to provide an update. She had nothing to gain from this interaction. Still, she let me know my mom was safe and let me know that "some people have de-planed & most people seem in good spirits." This was extremely comforting, and also indicated I should probably return the Zipcar I had rented, because my mom wouldn't be getting here any time soon.

As my mom tells it, it was a very odd experience. She was just waiting in her seat, as the plane sat on the runway when someone else on the plane approaches her, asking if she's Ashwin's mom. Extremely confused, she still admitted that I was in fact her son, and they went on to have a longer conversation, sharing a shuttle to the airport to make their new flight the next day. It would be a stretch to say they are friends now, but it would be even more of a stretch to say they are complete strangers.

It's been proven that even though we're more connected than any point in history, we feel more alone than we ever have. I don't disagree with this sentiment. It would also make a great caption for an Instagram post of a sunset.

When the Memory Archival Agency uploads my Nostalgia Units into a national archive, I hope this one is filed under Warm & Fuzzy.


But my Twitter-airline-stranger experience contradicts the study. It really made me feel un-lonely, whatever that is. I felt like anyone could reach anyone else in the world if given access to the web. Not only could I reach someone, but they would reach back, and in this case, help me out. This isn't a groundbreaking claim, but it may be a nice reminder for people who've been jaded by the less helpful aspects of the web.

Is there a scenario analogous to this one, that is possible without technology? I don't think so.

Here is a small advantage of being hyperconnected to everyone. Virtually everyone in the world is reachable by a few keystrokes, and you're only limited by yourself in how many people you'd like to help. Consider the saying, "A rising tide lifts all boats." The internet is the tide. We are the boats. Really makes you think.

The fact that someone went up to my mom, on a plane, in Idaho, asking if she was my mom because of something I said on Twitter is beautiful. Before Twitter dot com, before cell phones, before the internet, these connections would not be possible. I'll be much more cognizant of this, as I feel I owe it to help others in the thankless way my internet friend Becca did.

— American Airlines (@AmericanAir)April 2, 2015

Even though this kind of sounded like they were holding my mom for ransom, I knew they weren't.

The internet, depending on where you go, can feel like little more than fedora-clad bad idea echo chambers, and backroom forums where people ask strangers to murder people for money. As someone who spends an embarrassing amount of time on Twitter, irony, snark, and profane comments towards corporate brands have become a reflex. But this experience reminded me the internet isn't just a murky crime toilet.

After our species' (d)evolves to brains in electrode-wired jars, and we bid farewell to our old, decrepit meatbags, this interaction will still resolve on the internet. My actions on Twitter caused someone to physically get up and move in another place. And the whole experience moved me. It's nice to remember the internet can be useful and not just a place to bofa and updog unsuspecting victims. When the Memory Archival Agency uploads my Nostalgia Units into a national archive, I hope this one is filed under Warm & Fuzzy.

Goodbye, Meatbags is a series on Motherboard about the waning relevance of the human physical form. Follow along here.