I think I have put it this way before: it is a sad sight to see a shop-keeper react to four thousand people simultaneously bursting into his tiny little antique business. He sweeps up the broken china, splintered wood and glass, eyes his ruined business and then casts me a baleful glare. ‘But you asked me to tell people about your shop!’ I want to cry out, but he shakes his head and turns his back on me and I tip-toe guiltily away feeling as if I have been the most awful bully.
Google, YouTube, facebook, Amazon – I can of course be sure of the biggies bearing up under any kind of strain but otherwise I and my two little Twitter helpers have established a system whereby everyone who wants a charitable or useful cause tweeted has to go through my website and see what you might call the terms and conditions. It involves emailing email@example.com and being told how to set about “applying” for a mention or RT. That in itself isn’t a guarantee of course. I may decide that a sponsored backpack up the Inca Trail just isn’t enough, or that I’ve tweeted about libraries six times that week and I should give them a rest for a while.
I honestly don’t otherwise know how I could run that side of twitter without constant mishap. As it is I carelessly break my own rules from time to time and will unthinkingly hit the RT button and crash someone’s site. I did it the other day to a kind New Zealand girl who had written a blog that had, it seemed to me, precisely got the point behind my most recent debacle. More of that in a moment.
Above all — and I have been dispensing this advice to people who have asked me about joining twitter since it began, politicians, entertainers, friends, journalists, whoever — I have to be myself on twitter. It is utterly useless and painfully transparent and wholly counterproductive to construct a false personality, or always to be in exactly the same mood. If I tweeted regularly, always in the same restrained, friendly, perfectly pitched and framed register, it would (in my opinion) be creepy and unreal. Twitter is a social network, and man as a social animal is a victim of moods, appetites, weariness, phases, energy loss and any number of other imponderables. I am not a machine, my tweeting is not regular, consistent, predictable or flawless. And sometimes, I tweet like an arse, without thought or sense.
There are days too when the very prospect of opening Twitter fills me with dread. I cannot face the number of DMs, the potentially upsetting insults, the sorrowful appeals for help. I keep the lid on the box closed and get on with whatever else I’m doing. There are other days (and I am going through such a time now) when I might be on a film set, in a country thousands of miles and over a dozen time zones away from home. My tweeting device of choice will have to be switched off while I’m working and when finally we wrap, it’ll be six in the morning in Britain and I’ll be ready for nothing much more than a Martini and bed.
And then sometimes, without one ever seeming to spot it, another Incident rears its ugly – or sometimes fascinatingly beautiful – head.
How did it happen?
Here I am in New Zealand, a country that I love, working on a film, The Hobbit. I have rented a little house in Wellington and it has a broadband connection provided by just about the only player in the game here, TelecomNZ. If you are British think of them of the rump of a denationalized Post Office, much as our GPO became British Telecom which in turn became BT and Cellnet and O2.
Well, I won’t take you into the full details, but one morning I found, much to my surprise, that my (already rather slow) connection had been strangulated to a crawl. A data download limit had been reached and, all unknowing, I had fallen victim to the dreaded throttle. Pioneered by the unpopular Comcast, who own so much of the infrastructure in the US, the throttle is applied here in New Zealand and over the Tasman Sea in Australia as well, to those who exceed a contractually agreed download limit. It might be 50GB, it might be 200. Now, if such a system is mutually agreed, this might be regarded as perfectly fair and reasonable, and doubtless it is in many people’s eyes. I confess that in my lazy way of being accustomed to Britain’s service (which is by no means universally perfect) it just never crossed my mind that a civilised country would do this. Maybe it’s the future and will happen with electricity, gas and water. But as a “power user” who regularly downloads new beta versions of whole operating systems (but doesn’t file share or bit torrent) and the partner in a production company I do get to down and upload large files.