Two Million Reasons To Be Cheerful

Dear Stephen, now there are so many of us, could we invade somewhere?

© Tony Husband

About a week after I arrived I was at a party at the Paramount, a new club that had opened on the top three floors of Centre Point at the junction of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road and the Charing Cross Road – more or less on the site of the old St Giles rookery, eighteenth century London’s most notorious slum, whose gin houses were I suppose the equivalent of today’s crack kitchens. I digress. Been doing QI too long. Anyway, I get into the lift with my web and online partner Andrew Sampson: demigod, @sampsonian, and what should happen but the lift gets stuck. It was, as the cliché has it, but the work  of a moment for me to whip out my iPhone, photograph the five or six of us in the lift and tweet our predicament to my followers. Page after page of instant replies filled the screen of my phone and astonished my fellow captives.

For some unknowable reason that episode was a kind of tipping point for Twitter in the UK. Up until then the press had been either wary, contemptuous or ignorant of it, but the lift incident and the amazingly instant response of my followers provided just the kind of easily assimilable narrative that the press thrives on and brought Twitter to life in the minds of many readers.

A month or so after that I was a guest on the Jonathan Ross show, helping him off the naughty step after his twelve week suspension for his part in the Russell Brand/Andrew Sachs brouhaha. At the interview @wossy, by then a keen twitterer himself, asked me about “this here Twitter” and I explained it as best I could. The lift incident and the Jonathan Ross appearance caused a flurry of signings up in Britain and forever indelibly associated my name with Twitter’s in the minds of some members of the press and public. This was amusing to begin with but soon became a thundering bore for all concerned. Every interviewer or journalist I met for months asked me about Twitter and then every newspaper, quite understandably, wondered why I wouldn’t shut up about it.

Twiiter has hardened my heart

With a great following comes great responsibility. It is not hard to see why so many people with goods and services to sell, charities and deserving causes to promote and ideas to disseminate want to piggy-back on the shoulders of those who can guarantee them eyeballs, web traffic and mouseclicks.

For the last two and half years, as the number of my followers has increased, so has the number of messages and emails I daily receive begging me to tweet or retweet on behalf of something or other. I occasionally comply. I wish I always could, but I do not think my two million would be very entertained by my filling their twitterspace with endless charitable messages, no matter how deserving. If my presence on twitter were to become no more than a kind of worthy parish noticeboard, I would be deserted in droves.

Ah, and you fear being deserted, do you? Well, I try hard not to make Twitter a contest. I am not in it for bragging rights and kudos (honest), but I am human and I would be odd if I didn’t get a glow from having so many followers. On the other hand…

Twitter is a social service, but it has hardened my heart. I have to be deaf to so many hundreds of entreaties a day, I have to bite my tongue and stay my hand when goaded, I have to attempt gently to dissuade the more needy amongst my followers to stand off a little and let me have air.

The secret of twitter, or at least the secret for me, lies in coping with the trade-off between the need for the sensible management of twitter and the need to try as hard as possible to be me, actually me, not a public image, not an image-massaged celebrity, not an on-display simulacrum, but the “real” me, warts and all.

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2 comments on “Two Million Reasons To Be Cheerful”

  1. mobijack says:

    Dear @stephenfry

    I thought your letter was exquisite, but was worried when the first tweet I saw ended “Eat sh… ( I wasn’t sure if I should click on the link. I’m glad I did).

    I am new to twitter (1st October) and only have the one account. As you suggested I initially thought what’s the point; until convinced by @ewanmcintosh at the 10BigThings event in Edinburgh. He encouraged the audience to sign up, get tweeting with each other and get chatting in person if you shared any interests. Since then I’ve been a convert.

    I was very impressed with the latest #freebees challenge, getting from Land’s End to John O’Groats through the power of mobile social media by @documentally. He masterfully demonstrated some of the other social tools such as audioboo and gowalla. (Given my family life and day job, I haven’t opted into these yet, but @documentally makes strong arguments for them).

    Likewise I’ve seen the downside of twitter, when a twitter wall was used in a conference – there’s nothing worse than getting heckled by tweets.

    BI stands for Business Intelligence (yes, yes, an oxymoron). It’s a term used for making sense of all the data that companies acquire, and turning it into Information, and in turn it may move higher up the chain through Knowledge and Wisdom. A hierarchy eluded to by T.S.Elliot in “Choruses from ‘The Rock’”

    Where is the Life we have lost in living?

    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

    I am currently doing a part-time Masters in BI @DundeeUniv, whilst also doing a full-time job, as my twitter profile suggests. My undergraduate degree @DundeeUniv was during the period that you were rector.

    Dundee is my adopted home after originally coming from across from Northern Ireland to do my degree; 16 years on I am happily settled here my wife and three daughters.

    Many congratulations on reaching 2 million followers. I’m sure there will be many more to follow. Congratulations on the way you have leveraged this social media tool for the power of so many good causes, as well as entertaining everyone. Yes I’m late to the fold in terms of Twitter, but glad I’m here now.

    Many thanks for the mention (I must say it’s been a bit daunting receiving so many mentions as a result, I can’t imagine how your twitter client can cope).

    Should you ever be passing by, be sure to tweet.

    Warm regards,

    *and a hug back*

  2. bridgid says:

    Hello! My name is Bridgid, I’m from Ireland& I just wanted to say that I absolutley love you! I love QI,my boyfriend & I just sit their & craic up! I’m facinated by your incredible use of vocab! Your so elegent to top it all off! Sorry if I’m not making sense, but I’m not on twitter so I found your website just so I could leave this! Keep up the good work! As we say in Ireland ‘your class!’, Slan go foil!

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