Wow. So it was three years ago I wrote this piece about finally getting on board with Twitter.
A couple of weeks later I announced that I still really didn’t get it and was getting back off that dull suburban train...
…and a week after that I had to refute claims from a few idiot bloggers claiming the previous decision had been somehow a victory for them.
Well, having waited three years just to ensure they weren’t right about me losing my (self-employed job) for calling a spade a spade (or in the case of Michael Laws, something else entirely), I finally thought it safe to emerge from my cavern high on the Afghan/Pakistan border and once again jump aboard the Twitter train and see if the ride had improved any.
Maybe Twitter had become a bit more mainstream in the interim, had settled down from those Wild West days of 2009. Maybe more people were actually saying, you know, stuff, rather than "HI IS ANYONE HERE". Or maybe I’d finally worked out what I wanted to use it for. Because finally I saw a point to it. Everyone has different reasons for using Twitter of course (some have none, but don’t let that stop them), so here’s mine:
When TVNZ 7 came to an end, I decided it was time to do a bit of social media housekeeping. My facebook account, which has always had a fairly sizeable list of acquaintances, had got a bit out of control. It now contained hundreds of people I’d never met before. Back Benches viewers I think, for the most part. All perfectly nice I’m sure, but it meant I could no longer narrowcast a message like “who wants a beer after work?” without being taken up on my offer by some 18 year old kid in Whangarei whose profile pic is him shaking hands with Roger Douglas and smiling like it was the BEST DAY EVER.
So I started culling those folk from Facebook, and planned to migrate them over to Twitter, so I'd have one narrowcast social media, one vaguely broadcast. One conversation, one lecture, if you will, albeit with a brief Q+A session at the end.
In the three years I’d been off Twitter, about 1000 people had started following my dormant account (proof that people don’t really give a toss what you’ve got to say half the time), so it was well underway. I originally linked my Twitter feed to update my Facebook status, but I think that just made too many people angry.
So now I tweet. And how. I’m hooked. Being vaguely unemployed has helped: Nothing like tweeting in yer 'gown. So why am I enjoying it this time when I wasn’t before?
One, I’m following more interesting people, or (less judgementally) people who are saying things I’m more interested in hearing. Two, I’ve found a tone and a reason to tweet – it’s a micro-blog, a status update you think the world might want to hear. Or at least that tiny portion of the world who follows @damianchristie.
And there’s the tricky bit. I’ve worked out there are different relationships on twitter. There are people who are way famous and will probably never talk back to you. And you feel like a dick tweeting them knowing everyone can see you do it, but occasionally you think @rickygervais REALLY needs to know what you’ve got to say. Ricky Gervais has more than three million followers and has tweeted some 2600 odd thoughts.
There are people who are just, you know, people. People that no-one other than their actual, real life friends, have heard of. And they might have 50 followers, and have tweeted some 20,000 thoughts. Mostly, in my experience, many of those will be responses to tweets from people like Ricky Gervais, who aren’t listening.
The other day my number of tweets surpassed my number of followers, which are both around the 1500 mark. It was significant, because until that point I was on the Ricky Gervais side of the line (it's a big side okay, with plenty of people on it), and now I’m on the side of the line with that guy with 50 followers whose name escapes me (an equally big side). I paused for a few minutes, and then carried on. I mean, what are you going to do.
So there are the Ricky Gervais people, and the unknown tweeter guys. Then there are the people who can be described as your peers. People you know in real life, or near enough to it.
It's these people I have long back and forth conversations with, critiquing, arguing, explaining, clarifying and occasionally apologizing to. Because let’s be clear: Twitter is a fucked place to have an argument. As with most of the internet, it’s easy to misconstrue tone, but even more so because in order to fit your thought into 140 characters you’ve removed the words, punctuation etc that help make everything we say each day less ambiguous. Also, I think there’s something that just makes people want to pick fights and talk at cross purposes, even if they’re probably 99% the same. Mind you, chimpanzees and humans are 99% the same, and you know, I can spot that 1% difference on a good night.
What annoys me about Twitter – apart from the needless arguments with the other chimps? The fact there’s no easy way to split off a conversation with a peer or group thereof (the Direct Message function is crap, and limited). If I’m tweeting back and forth to @CMRanapia, well guess what, 1499 other people at my end just have to sit through that. I don’t wish that on people, but I don’t see an alternative.
Then there are some people also seem to make something of an art out of affixing a loud-hailer to what surely would be better off done by txt. “Did you put the washing on” or “what time are you going to the gym” are surely statements suited for another medium. But that's just me. Right now, someone out there is probably reading this and going "dude, I don't give a toss about your thoughts on Twitter". Everyone is someone else's "what time are you going to the gym".
And you know what? Your Twitter Account, Your Rules, Your Life. And that’s what I’m coming to terms with. If you don’t like what’s happening on your Twitter feed, don’t blame the people you’re following, blame yourself. You chose to follow each and every one of them. And insulting someone you follow, but who doesn’t you, is to me a bit like yelling at the mean Simon Cowell on the telly. Kinda sad.
Of course, unlike that example, on Twitter, the Simon Cowell does hear you. They can (and largely will and should) ignore you, or they can respond. Unless it’s truly for sport, I think the latter is unwise. When I’m faced with that situation, I think “What Would Charlotte Do?” and then do the opposite. Engaging, retweeting, absorbing all that bile, well clearly it doesn’t do you any good. Sorry Charlotte, you need to put the Twitter down and step away.
So I’m changing the channel, or at least fiddling with the fine tuning. Yes Alyssa Milano, I had a crush on you when I was ten and you were in Who's The Boss, but there’s nothing about the state of your son’s chest cough that I need to know. Don’t stop tweeting about him, I’m sure some of your two million-plus followers care more than me, and I have a feeling you’ll be fine without my patronage. I'm just fine tuning.
I’m enjoying listening in on conversations between various NZ comedians (@Rose_Matafeo and her man @guywilliamsguy are particularly droll favourites), assorted media types, the oddly addictive @PebblesHooper and just a few random people with a nice turn of phrase – I wish I could find more of the latter. I’m loving adding my two cents to the Sunday night flurry of commentary over New Zealand’s Got Talent (#NZGT), or following a breaking political story with a bunch of tweeting bloggers. Because when it works, it’s a beautiful constantly moving feast. And one day, if the stars align, and I say precisely the right thing at exactly the right time, @britneyspears might just give me that RT.
EDIT: My pal Glenn (@radiowammo) has just explained to me that only people who follow both myself and @CMRanapia are able to see our conversation. If that's true (which I'm sure it is), it's marginally better I guess but now I have to draw Venn diagrams trying to work out the intersection of people following me and everyone else I follow. It's going to be a long night...
PS. Yes, 'tis great Back Benches is returning to Prime next year, can’t wait. In the interim (and possibly beyond, who knows), I’m very pleased to announce I’ll be doing a bit of reporting for ONE News at 6pm. One or two days a week, general reportage, but once I get up to speed hopefully a few stories I have a bit of specialist knowledge about. My first shift was today, and I got to watch E! TV for three hours in preparation for an item on the Emmy’s – probably exactly what half of you assume most MSM journos do every day…
Also, I know you’ve probably all read it already, but shit Keith Ng’s most recent blog is a great illustration of my previous post about John Armstrong’s whinging. I’m charitable enough to genuinely believe the Herald on Sunday set out to try and find something meaningful behind the National Standards data. You may disagree, but regardless, unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have any statisticologists of Mr Ng’s calibre to explain where they might be going round. I think he’s got a job already, I assume he has, but god damn some media outlet could benefit from that dude being paid to work a calculator for them.