There was a gag going round last year, maybe even earlier, that YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were going to agglomerate into one vast social network called You Twit Face.
I’m a YouTube agnostic. It’s a rich source of fuzzily grabbed videos of old pop songs but I’ve never lingered on the site. I find I get a bit despondent at the low level of discourse that attaches itself to everything in the comments section. Gosh, what volatile people there are in the world. I’m happy to believe any arguments about it being a powerful democratising media tool. I’m just not always convinced that pure democratisation is that good of a thing.
Leave it to the people to decide and we’d have televised executions of paedophile suspects. Hospitals would be run by homoeopaths who’ve bought their degrees off the internet and laws would only be passed with the assent of the Astrologer Royal.
I like my democracy tempered with a bit of despotism, just so I know somebody motivated is in charge. Kind of like what we’ve got really.
Anyway YouTube. There it is. I’m in favour of it. I just wouldn’t want to live there.
Facebook is more my kind of thing, though as I’ve mentioned previously it took me a while to get the point of it. It’s basically, for me, a subset of the people I actually know or have met in the real world. It’s given me richer and deeper relationships with people I have only fleetingly met and it has enhanced a lot of my long term existing friendships in directions I wouldn’t have anticipated. Quite a lot of it is quite silly, but, you know, hooray for Facebook.
And now Twitter is slowly winning me over, but I’m still not quite sure what it’s for exactly. The service providers obviously had something specific in mind but it’s opaque to me what it was. It’s free to use. You can “follow” as many other Twitter users as you like and they can “follow” you, though you have ultimate control over who your followers are. You can post anything you like but each post or “tweet” can only be 160 characters long.
Second things first: this “following” thing initially made me uneasy. I’m just me. Not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution. That’s how I roll. No debts. No strings. In the words of almighty Bob “Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parking meters.” Well, maybe not the bit about parking meters. Basically I am not messiah material, and I’m a titchy bit too defiant to be a good disciple.
The first couple of followers I had, ones who I didn’t know at least, really freaked me out. Who were they? What were they expecting? I suspect some of them of being porno-lady spam-bots what with their strange tweets and zero followers. I’ve got into the habit of deleting them.
Mainly though my misgivings were not to do with humility or grandiosity. I just could not embrace this brevity thing. I have something of an issue with prolixity and an ugly inclination towards the sesquipedalian. 160 characters, man that’s a challenge of haiku proportions.
It takes me 160 characters to clear my throat. Give me 500 words and I can just about suck in the breath to manage the aspirate at the beginning of the word “Hello”.
Eventually I have just chosen to use it. JFDI as one of my more impenetrable Regional Managers used to say. (75% of the letters stood for Just Do It, maybe I wasn’t a great employee.) I follow some friends, some comedians and journalists I like, some Scottish news sources and Eden Court. When I post at all it is usually just to advertise this blog or change my Facebook status. It feels quite intimate seeing other peoples’ tweets though, and now that I’m used to it, that’s intimate in a nice way.
Occasionally I feel a little humbled by the fact that Twitter has been used by peoples of oppressed countries as a communications tool to subvert totalitarian regimes. When I see stuff like the Iran elections last year and the extent to which Twitter was responsible for real information getting out of the country I am a little crushed that all I use it for is mindboggling fatuity, but mindboggling fatuity is pretty much all I’ve got in the cupboard I’m afraid.
Most of my tweeting happens on my iPhone and I’m still unsure which platform is best. I used a thing called Tweetie for ages and am still quite fond of it, but I’m currently experimenting with Tweetdeck and Twitterific. It’s Twitterific that is going to win the race I think. It has a button marked “Nearby” which gives a stream of tweets from users who are geographically proximate regardless of who they are or what they are saying. I think.
If I was worried about my public asininity beforehand this stopped me dead. It’s like opening a magical door into the Land Of The Idiots. It is, perhaps, a major argument against Twitter that it makes people feel inappropriately important. Like vox pops on the news, public access TV and Radio and the letter columns in local newspapers, it lends people a sense that they are at the centre of something and that their opinions matter. Even when they haven’t really got opinions.
I sit and read them though, so maybe they do matter. And who’d have thought so many people have scrambled eggs for their tea in the Inverness environs and then choose to boast about it?
It was my presumption that the name Twitter was a bit of a bad one too, but I’ve changed my mind about that. I had been under the impression that twitter as in bird chatter was somehow related to the word twit meaning fool or idiot. How wrong I was.
Twitter and tweet are both imitative words, onomatopoeic representations of birdcalls. The word twit though apparently has its origins in an Old English word witan meaning to blame. Well I never. I shall now use the word twit (as I do about a dozen times a day, often not in reference to myself) with more of a confident flourish.