Twitter, the Guardian and more

This is a four part thing that started with an annoyed comment on the website and ended up with me in the middle of The Guardian, The Register and several freelance journos.  I thought I would save it for posterity just for interest.  The comments left on my original blog have been preserved.  The bottom of the page has links to the next bit.

The story so far.  I blogged the other day about Twitter, or rather, an article on the Guardian website which was so up its own arse, it consumed its own kidneys.  The blog attracted the attention of the Internet’s very own Mister Bacon, aka the most excellent Richard Gaywood, who made [url=http://www.micait.co.uk/mikelanders/comments.aspx?postid=87]this rather eloquent and excellent rebuttal[/url].  In the spirit of those rather nice multi-letter conversations, I’m back for another go, and Doctor G will probably respond.  So read the article, then my blog entry, then Richards comments.  Then this.

Done that?    Good.

I am not against Twitter as a piece of software and I’m not saying it is useless.  As Richard rightly points out, it does have excellent uses to quickly spread information to friends.  On the Guardian comments, one bloke, a taxi driver, mentioned he used it as a way of informing his colleagues of traffic info.  This is precisely the sort of thing that Twitter is good at and can become a valuable tool for.    My Facebook comparison isn’t totally left field – it is Facebook’s status updates.  That isn’t a bad thing. Twitter is a blog with an RSS feed.  That is it.  People are coming up with innovative uses for it, because that is what people do.  But it has been hijacked by the Shoreditch massive who are presenting it as some sort of fucking revolutionary breakthrough because for them, being seen with old tech is not on.    I’m not entirely sure that the 140 character limit is all that much of a blessing.  It certainly seems to be a facilitator towards banality.  “@Mike is unsure what to have for lunch.”  “@Mike has settled on the bacon and egg sandwich”.  Who the fuck cares?  You can take the moral high ground and consider each one of your 140 character missives to be crafted to a degree that would have Martin Amis looking on in awe, but experience shows that won’t be the case.  In fact, for fun, I looked up chief Twitter flag-waver at the Guardian, Jemima Kiss.

“Right – off to a comedy night. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Just practicing.”

“I wish the controls in this building were Twitter controlled. @kingsplace TURN THE HEATING DOWN! And ditch the annoying fire alarm tests.”

“I’ve put on 6.5kg in three months. Bring it on!”

Earth shattering stuff, I am sure you agree.    Famously, Stephen Fry Twittered when he was stuck in a lift.  A world looks on in awe.  But why?  Replace Stephen Fry with, I dunno, Jade Goody and we’d be going “Oh for fucks sake, is there anything she won’t tell the world about?” Just because you are Britains Greatest Living National Treasure doesn’t mean it is any less, well, pointless.  And more importantly unnewsworthy.  Yet, as I write, it has still got a picture and link on Guardian Technology despite happening 13 days ago.    My main problem with Twitter isn’t Twitter itself, it is something that will come up as no surprise to anyone who has spent, oh, about 30 seconds in my company.  The reason I so strongly objected to the original Guardian piece was the fact that it was pissing on my back and telling me it was raining.

The piece was about a worldwide festival organised online and seemed to be full of “Gosh, aren’t we so great and wonderful for arranging to meet”. As I commented, Twestival was reported as a bunch of people who are forever seeking the current zetigeist, using the current zeitgeist in order to be… zeitgeisty with each other.  But so what?  People have been using forums, email, bulletin boards, MUDs, Usenet, IRC, blogs and so on to arrange meetings in Real Life for as long as the technologies have existed.  Why should this one be an example of something new and revolutionary?  Why should this be, as Alex Hoye pointed out in the comments “colliding the online and offline worlds”.  There speaks a man who should be introduced to his uphisownarsedness via the medium of a cricket bat to the face.

Twestival, the “Live Aid of the tech world” aimed to reach $1 million.  As of today, one small piece of it – Twestival.fm – was running at $4,800 out of a stated goal of $20,000.  Having grown by $600 in the last four days.  No numbers are available from Twestival.com itself.  Despite being promised three days ago.  The Guardian commenters point to the charidee aspect as some kind of justification, trying to turn a mutual circle jerk into something for a good cause.  If you have to point out you are doing it for charity, you probably aren’t doing it for charity.

Even the speed of the organisation of Twestival is nothing new.  I remember the astonishing money raised after the Tsunami in 2005, where by the time people got big events organised, grass roots efforts had already raised something like £100 million.  By the time the bandwagon got rolling for celebs to jump on, it was too late.  (I remember a big comedy gig in London to raise money taking place in, um, March, I think.  Had been to and taken part in several fundraisers by then.)

The most worrying aspect for me is the emergence of a Twitter Hive Mind.  It was incredibly instructive watching the reaction of the aforementioned Jemima Kiss to the comments on her piece.  The Guardian system allows the original writers to react to the comments, and Ms Kiss deigned to post her first rebuttal as

“I notice that Twitter is full of people slating all you naysayers this afternoon. But I guess that’s just a conversation you’ll never hear.”

Just so us little people who weren’t in on it all get the point, she then retreated back to Twitter, to post abuse like

“You can rip the piss out of twatty commenters all you like on Twitter. THEY CAN”T HEAR YOU IN HERE!”

It wasn’t limited to Kiss, while myself and others were pointing out that their shiny new toy was in fact as naked as a Woolworths shop dummy

“It’s so easy to sit in your bedroom sniping like Beavis and Butthead at everyone else. It’s harder to stand up and say ‘I want to create something exciting’ in the world.”

Other commenters compared Twitter to the invention of the mobile phone and publishing on the Net itself.  I mean, for fucks sake, get over yourselves! It is a fucking tool, not a cure for cancer.  I wrote to a journalist who has covered Twestival and some of this stuff, and he said

“for this lot, it’s all they know, they never meet people who don’t work in Noo Media or at an Ad Agency or in marketing – so anyone who criticises it must really look like an alien.  […] When you chuck in an ersatz social “movement” and the quasi-religious aspects you’ve got an entire hyperreal world, all the reference points are there. It’s an off the shelf belief system!”

Twitter is a handy tool, though I have no idea how they are going to make money.  Probably through the time honoured Web 2.0 tradition of racking up massive bills and selling to some sucker before the bailiffs come in.  By that time the Jemima Kisses of this world will have moved on.    So my complaint is not with Twitter itself, but the coverage and presentation of it and the people doing the cheerleading.  Twitter is being hijacked by the same twunts who inhabit the more distasteful end of the Apple fanboy spectrum, where any dissention from the Approved Word is enough for excommunication.

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