Tweet, Drink and Be Merry
An open letter to @mobijack
“Eat shit, a hundred billion flies can’t be wrong,” the old graffito used to say. “Follow Stephen, two million tweeters can’t be wrong,” I say.
Now, it so falls out that you are the two millionth person to follow me on Twitter. I do not know, cannot guess and have no business asking your reasons for doing so. It may be that you know who I am as a writer, broadcaster, actor and so on, it may be you have followed me on someone else’s recommendation or indeed it could simply be because you wanted to be the two millionth and timed it perfectly. I know that your name is Jonathan, that you live in Dundee (a city I love and of which I retain the fondest possible memories after six happy years of occupying the Rector’s chair at the University) and that you like BI, whatever that might be. Business Informatics, Wikipedia suggests.
It’s as possible that you are someone with a dozen Twitter IDs as it is that you are an absolute newcomer. Nonetheless I am going to assume that you are a relative newbie and use this occasion, ultimately adventitious and meaningless as it is, as an opportunity to tell you about Twitter, my relationship to it and feelings for and against it, after three years of stormy marriage to this extraordinary creature.
I first heard about Twitter a month or so after it had been launched on the world and with my usual perspicacity mentally consigned it to the dustbin of history. ‘What a simultaneously hysterical, banal, footling and useless idea,’ I remember thinking. Be honest Jonathan, you almost certainly thought the same when you first heard of it. Everyone does. Those with long memories will remember when people said exactly the same about email. “Don’t get it. What’s the point? Strictly for the geeks.” I remember trying to convince everyone I knew that email was a brilliant thing: my agent, my accountant, friends, the director general of the BBC – they all thought I was mad. I say this not to boast about my powers of prophecy and insight, for they are truly feeble as my original contempt for Twitter shows, but to remind us all that when technological breakthroughs and social game-changers come through, almost no one recognises them. The messiah gets just one John the Baptist for every hundred thousand stoners, jeerers and nay-sayers.
I have always been an early adopter, and many of the services to which I have ardently subscribed have come to nothing or are yet to take off, Buzz, Orkut, FourSquare, Diaspora and Maphook spring to mind … one moribund, the other mostly Brazilian, the rest reasonably hot, but like bubbling under and waiting to erupt.
Facebook I joined enthusiastically in 2007, but soon realised that it wasn’t for me. Etiquette demands that messages be answered, that friend requests be attended to and the whole thing cultivated and cared for: I soon received too many requests for me to handle and disappeared into a secret squirrel FB identity that only my friends know and that, even if it were guessed at, is plugged too tight to penetrated, like a … well, provide your own simile, Jonathan.
The early days
Anyway, along came Twitter. It and I got along pretty happily for a while. I signed up in 2007 but didn’t use it for a year. On the 10th of September 2008 I sent this earth-shattering communiqué:
Hello Twitterers. I’m About to fly to Africa for a new project and will be tweeting whilst I’m filming. By the time I landed in Nairobi I was astonished to find that I had gone from about 5,000 followers to 11,000. The more I tweeted the more I got. I returned to England for Christmas by now captivated by this extraordinarily simple and yet intriguingly subtle new toy. Twitpic had arrived and allowed the sharing of photos and Audioboo was around the corner but client apps were primitive by today’s standards. Nonetheless I was rapidly becoming addicted, fascinated and bewildered in turns.