Tuesday, 20 October 2009

To Tweet Or Not To Tweet: An Ode to Twitter

by Rachel Surtees (@RVSurtees)

Any Twitterers out there will be more than familiar with the pained look of a sceptical non-Twitterer. First the eyes glaze over. Then at the very mention of the words “social networking site” you get the pity stare. By the time you’ve got to “no you don’t understand, it’s nothing like MyFace” well by then you’ve completely lost them.

The irony is, anyone not yet familiar with Twitter is the one deserving of a healthy dose of pity. Twitter is the latest social networking site, and it is nothing like Facebook, but I genuinely believe Twitter could well be our saving grace.

Twitter is a way of being privy to conversations that you would otherwise never be a part of. It’s a way of getting access to the most extraordinary amount of information that you would otherwise never be able to find. Twitter is what happens when millions of people come together to create something bigger than themselves.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard of a feed aggregator. Igoogle is probably the most well known example. Aggregrators allow you to create a personalised homepage so that you only have to go to one place to see all of your favourite websites. “Revolutionary technology” not so long ago. “Technology that would change our way of looking at the web”. Except of course, that it wouldn’t because we would all still be looking at the same old stuff. Whereas Twitter, well Twitter went where feed aggregators couldn’t. It opened the doors to the expansiveness of the internet. Twitter aggregates everyone’s thoughts, links, stories, snippet’s of information, breaking news all onto your homepage.

Anyone who is on Facebook and complains about the amount of narcissism on the site has fundamentally misunderstood Facebook, and themselves. In fact if you ever want to win the “Narcissist of the Week” cup, just devote one of your FB statuses to bitching about the fact that people just talk about themselves in their own status updates. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

Anyone who says that Facebook is becoming progressively more like Twitter has fundamentally misunderstood Twitter.

Maybe Twitter is just another craze. Just another website, just another procrastination, just another indulgence, just another distraction. Or maybe it’s something much more. Maybe Twitter will be the first step towards us, (that’s you, me, your grandmother’s neighbour… your grandmother), reclaiming our moral identities. Coming together as one society and redefining all of those boundaries that we’ve allowed to become so blurred over the last decade.

This week alone there have been two high profile examples of how Twitter has united us. Actually, allow me to rephrase, there have been two examples of how Twitter has enabled us to unite. The first was how the Twitteratti and The Guardian took on Carter-Ruck and safeguarded our right to open reporting of parliamentary proceedings. The second was of course Moir-gate.

After the Jan Moir debacle, she came out and accused those of us who complained about it as being part of a “heavily orchestrated attack”. You’ve got to feel a little for the vile little woman. To be so out of touch with reality that you can believe that the 22,000 people who sent complaints into the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over weekend only did so because Stephen Fry and Derren Brown coerced them into it? Well to believe that you have to be really, really stupid. What Moir failed to see was that it was an outpouring from a society that has suddenly refound its voice. A society that has become so fractured to be able to come together and say no. To say that we are unwilling to accept homophobic slurs in our national press. That’s one moral boundary rebuilt. Twitter facilitated that dialogue.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ascribing Twitter.com with any inherent moral good. We’re the ones capable of defining what is right and what is wrong. Twitter just allows us to take those definitions out of our living rooms and put them squarely into the big bad world.

Why not give it a go? I reckon you’ll feel a bit lost and possibly even a bit bored during the first week. Then after that, when you start getting used to how it works, you’ll begin to see what the 18 million of us see.

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post


  1. I really couldn’t possibly agree more. Twitter is such a wonderful and revolutionary tool which makes the derision it gets from non-twitterers such an astonishing thing.

    I personally couldn’t tell you what my favourite thing about Twitter is. Is it perhaps the immediacy it affords me to the info I want/ the people I’m interested in/ the interesting bits and bobs that I’d never come across if they weren’t popping up in my feed? Or maybe it’s the format. 140 characters only to convey what you want to say. The ingenious ways in which links have to be accommodated, names shortened, vocabulary improved to distilled the big opinions we have in just under 140 character. Lovely!

    Certainly what I appreciate the most is how quickly and accurately it helps me to maintain my finger on the pulse. Things happen and Twitter finds out straight away. And people will report it. People will comment on it. People will get involved as Rachel’s examples clearly illustrate. This access to an involved Vox Populi is for a current affairs addict like me indispensible.

    So I’ll finish by echoing Rachel’s ode and encourage you to give it ago. Rest assured, for every grumpy critic, there’s loads of us happily taking part. Go on, give it a go.


  2. I found your article through Twitter :)

    Just this weekend I had a friend give me the social-network-pity-stare and I called him out by saying he had obviously never been on Twitter. He hadn't.

    I describe it to friends as simultaneously reading hundreds of blogs and newspapers at once.

    Well written, thanks.

  3. Good piece. Funnily enough, after the Carter-Ruck episode my daughter, who has spent the last six months deriding Twitter, 'got it'.

    For me one of the best things is the way hashtags allow you to be a fly on the wall of events hundreds of miles away - and even to take part in conversations about them. Who says you can't be in two places at once?

  4. Candice Carboo-Ofulue21 October 2009 at 15:08

    Hmmm. Unfortunately, I am probably one those people whose eyes glazed over when I was first told about Twitter - my concentration vapourised by the mention of tweets. And yes, before I got on board the Twitterwagon I was guilty of putting Twitter into the same category as the Crackbook, better known as Facebook.

    It was the most recent Twitterstorm that brought down the house of the law firm Carter-Ruck (well not quite, but I do like the metaphor), which encouraged me to join, seduced by the power of collective action, or at least the possibility.

    I agree that Twitter has transformed the way we recieve and engage with news - possibly even eroded the bounderies of space and time, enabling us to know what's happening around the world immediately.

    However, my concern is that in fitting in with our culture of convenience through quick and fast news, is Twitter another example of society's fast-dimishing concentration span? Are we now too lazy to read whole articles prefering instead to glance over our Twitter homepage for a quick news fix? And if this is the case, should be worried in era when issues such as climate change and "terrorism" demand in depth analysis - rather than policies spawned out of an inability or laziness to engage?

    I just don't know - it could be that I simply don't understand Twitter!

    One thing is for sure, our current mechanisms for engaging with the news do not appeal to the next generation, and it is arguable that the recent storms illustrate that Twitter has enabled us to find our voice.

    Personally, I'm quite happy to jump on the Twittertrain to the next stop - wherever that may be.

  5. watch what you tweet.