MUMBAI, India — My mother took it the hardest. “There must be a number you can call,” she said, practically pleading with me over the phone. “They are a company – they must have customer service.”
“I tried, Mom,” I said. “They won’t fix it. We have to move on.”
Hours earlier, while my mother was sleeping, content in thinking her daughter had hundreds of followers, I hit one seemingly innocuous but very bad button. In a second, I went from having a community of friends, readers, supporters, sources and confidants – to having no one.
I had accidentally deleted my Twitter account.
I had been trying to change my settings so that my tweets no longer automatically appeared on my Facebook page. It was a Saturday morning; I was a bit hungover; the coffee had not yet sunk in (any other excuses I can come up with?). The page asked if I wanted to deactivate, I hit yes.
At first, I did not comprehend the damage I had done. I refreshed my Twitter page over and over, but I could not find my home base. I kept getting the same message. In big bold letters, it said: “You deactivated your account.”
Where were the big bold letters 30 seconds ago? Where were the flashing lights and sirens, screaming: “Stop, you idiot! You are about to kill your online identity!”
I did not freak out. OK, I thought, I deactivated my account. That was stupid, but it shouldn’t be too hard to fix. We all know that whatever we put online will stay there forever.
I read closer. “Account restoration is currently unavailable.”
Huh, that does not sound good.
And then, as if I was not already feeling like an idiot, Twitter says: “Here is the message you agreed to before deactivating your account: This action is permanent…”
Still in a state of denial, I refused to believe “permanent” meant “permanent.” I needed help, and like I often do when I need assistance, I reached out to my online world.
I had spent the past four months growing a community of people to help me understand India and its way of life. I work from home, and my followers had become like colleagues who I could quickly tap for advice or guidance. When I wanted information on how to celebrate an upcoming Hindu holiday or clues as to why my housekeeper left empty eggshells in my windowsills, I posted a message on my page. My followers quickly offered me assistance. (Eggshells, it turns out, are intended to keep lizards away.)
When I needed to find a place to celebrate Passover, I tweeted, “Have 3 days left to find a seder .. does anyone have Jewish Indian friends in Mumbai?” A half dozen of my followers chimed in with information on synagogues in the city. One offered to put me in touch with her friend living in Pune, a couple hours away. Others retweeted my request, spreading the word that a guest in their country needed assistance.
Again, I was sure my Twitter followers would come to the rescue. I signed on using a different handle that I had recently created but never used, @HannaIngber. I typed: “I somehow killed my Hanna_India account. This is very sad. Any one know how to fix?”
But then I realized that I did not have a single follower. Deflated, I typed one last line. “I am talking to no one.”
As I futilely searched Google for answers, the seriousness of the situation began to hit me. I felt all alone.
I continued to type on my Twitter page, though it was now less like a noisy cafeteria and more like a diary.
“I really don’t want to start over with no friends,” I typed to myself. “It’s like moving to a new city and knowing no one. I have already done that.”
To keep the depression at bay, I got to work finding friends. Using my new handle, I began looking for my old community. I felt like a high school student who had lots of friends during the school year, but then went away for summer camp while everyone else stayed home and partied together. Here I was, returning in September, knocking on the door and asking if they might take me in again.
To my delight, they did. One by one, my @Hanna_India followers opened up and accepted @HannaIngber.
Though not without some teasing. “Accidents do happen, Glad no one is hurt ,” wrote @cbinoy.
“Before deactivation Twitter should ask: ‘Are you sure you aren’t sleepy, drunk or otherwise incapacitated?’ ” a fellow reporter wrote.
As messages from Twitter that people were following @HannaIngber began to trickle into my inbox, I grappled with all I had lost. In addition to an audience for my every tweet, I had lost an online record of 140-word thoughts on moving to a new land. I had been mostly using Twitter to record my impressions of Mumbai as I came to call this place home. Now, those first impressions were gone.
Luckily, though, I did not have to grieve alone. My new followers sympathized with my loss and offered condolences and help.
“You seem remarkably perky in face of such great tragedy. Many ppl wd hv got a stroke on thought of deleting SocMed accts,” wrote @c_aashish.
@polgrim tweeted: “Hey folks @HannaIngber is feeling at a loss for not being @Hanna_India anymore. Please follow her and show her some love.”
A few days later, just as I had come to terms with my loss, I got a new message in my inbox. It was the Twitter helpdesk, responding to my pleas. “Charles” informed me that they had magically brought @Hanna_India back to life. No details, no explanation, sometimes less is more. I was back.
There are many lessons to be drawn from this near-death experience. First, mom is (almost) always right. Second, nothing is permanent. And finally, don’t mess with your social network settings before the second cup of coffee.
If this column did not make it clear, please follow Hanna here: @Hanna_India