The Conversation – Now That I Have Your Attention

21 08 2009

Newspaper editors!  A small request?


Please stop allowing your writers, who have no little to no idea of what they speak, to submit pieces on Twitter and social media. It’s embarrassing. You’re allowing them to embarrass themselves. Jackie Ashley’s piece in the Guardian last week was a classic example of the condition. She writes maybe a thousand words on Twitter and makes it painfully clear that she simply does not know what it is.

Like many people, Jackie Ashley knows how to make her PC do the one thing it needs to do to enable her to make a living.  But beyond, in her case, firing up Microsoft Word, she’s at a loss. I would imagine that when Jackie “surfs the net” , she has to wait patiently for each page to load because she doesn’t know about tabbed browsing yet. I would also guess that she doesn’t know how to edit a wiki…or set up a simple website…or write and save her work online…and that’s fine!  I have a few blind spots myself! For instance, I don’t know how to use Photoshop at even the most basic level. So in the same way you would not let me write about Photoshop, I would ask that you not let Jackie write about Twitter .

I would in fact go even further and say that if a journalist doesn’t know how to do any of the things mentioned above,  he or she is no longer capable of writing about the modern world. And if they can’t keep up, for heaven’s sake keep them out of the way.

Like a lot of Web 2.0, Twitter is as good as the people on it, and uninformed pieces like Jackie’s continue to fool otherwise bright people into thinking that it’s some sort of “I’m having a sandwich” announcement service. Certainly, there are people on Twitter who might use it this way…and more power to them if it makes them happy… but there are also journalists, scientists, humorists, magazines, newspapers, authors,  and Samuel Johnson. There are Mums, Dads, soldiers, doctors, nurses, firemen, base jumpers, astronauts, old people, young people, builders, boxers, cops and at least one tank (don’t ask). And what are they all doing? Sorry, what are we all doing? We are sharing links to thought-provoking articles, we are making each other laugh, we are keeping each other up to speed on current events…we are communicating with each other on a platform that encourages good manners, that rewards us when we’re interesting and lightly smacks our hand when we’re not. For the first time in history, the human race is having a global conversation, and despite all our differences, we actually seem to be getting on quite well.

Meanwhile, the dying newspaper industry sits on the sidelines and sneers.

My experience of Twitter is slightly slanted, because of my limited, bogus celebrity , so I won’t go into the many ways that the service has enriched my life because I’m unrepresentative.  The one thing I will say is that it has made it very easy for me to do polls. So last week I asked the Twittersphere a question (The Ignoranti is my term, a collective noun for the pundit class, and the #whatTwitterdidforme hashtag is…well, do we really have to keep explaining that?). Here are just a few of the thousands of replies.

(I realise that the following sounds like an infomercial. But you’ll notice that no-one’s trying to sell you anything. One of the things the Ignoranti likes to sneer about, in their confused way, is Twitter’s seeming inability to make money, as if that remains a useful way of assessing value after the diddling we’ve recently received from The Masters of The Economic Universe.)

“Through Twitter… I’ve been able to feel more connected with the world, despite living in the middle of nowhere.(via @skwirl42)
…I saw Eddie Izzard practice his new show in London for a tenner (@kezzamcfezza)
…I raised £1k towards post-production of short film. (@dstack30)
…I saved time on research, hassle-free customer services, connection to interesting people, and a free book. All last week (via @somerandomnerd)
,,,I’ve met the most amazing guy who loves me and I love him (nikkig57:)
…I’ve been to 2 TV shows, 1 radio shows, and many many gigs I heard about thru Twitter. Also got sent an audio book! (via @blakeconnolly)

,,, I now write for a film news website. I’ve attended premieres and press conferences also I’ve had the opportunity to interact with a huge range of people whose work I enjoy, and thank them for it. (via @montimer)
Twitter…gave me a direct line to my local council, who got planners to review the traffic sitch outside my kid’s school (@sladey66)

… won me an appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, has led to development of 2 books and a host of short story ideas. (via @jfderry)
…gave an at-home Mum chance to communicate with adults about something other than motherhood during my 10-hour work day (via @Scriblit)

…taught me how to condense my thoughts while retaining their meaning. (@giantlawnmower)
On Twitter, I ask and answer questions related to my work – saving me having to read up on things not central to my job (@brenstrong)
Twitter has introduced me to some amazing people, one of whom I am helping with writing a book (@nikkig57)
…made nights spent in strange cities so much easier, as people recommended places to eat and drink (via @ianwalker)
…let me connect with relatives, friends, authors, actors, artists, and new folks I’d have never met otherwise! (via @jpants)
…connected me to some really AWESOME internet friends and even a sister that I didn’t know I had!! (via @Adrein)
One more.
A method of SMSing my daughter that costs zero pence (via @alnapp)
Sorry, just one more.
I have been housebound thru illness for ages. Twitter has made me feel part of the world and not so isolated (via @Ita99)
All right, last one, I promise.
Twitter got me out of jail…one short message mobilized all my friends to help get me out! will always love Twitter.(@zorak303)
If you want to hear any of the stories behind these tweets, join Twitter and speak to the people I’ve named. It’s incredibly easy to talk to them once you get past the site’s admittedly arcane entry point (why has no-one made Twitter easier to understand for new users yet?)*

Of course, many people replied with the words “not a damn thing”, and that’s OK too, because the beauty of Twitter is that it is only as useful as the person who is using it wants it to be. It is such a simple and flexible service that everyone who uses it does so in a different way. Not only that, but it’s a meritocracy. Not only that, but Karma seems to have something to do with it. If you use it for good, you will be rewarded, if you use it for evil, you will be blocked. As a result, it’s leading to some remarkably civil conversations between ideological enemies. If the inventors of Twitter never win a Nobel Prize, they wuz robbed. Because as far as I’m concerned, they have enabled us all to take a major evolutionary step at a crucial moment. At a time when the human race faces not one but several extinction threats, we suddenly get the ability to talk to one another.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are having The Conversation.







* Joining Twitter is like signing up for flying lessons only to find yourself sitting at the controls of a passenger jet..but I envy you that moment when it ‘clicks’ and you suddenly realise the possibilities. There are many Twitter guides for beginners out there. If you are one of those people who opened an account and then gave up in disgust after fiddling about with it for ten minutes (which Janet Street Porter actually admitted to doing in her Independent piece), then have a look at one of them

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