Little Birds…

My mum always used to use that expression. “Little birds, in their nests…” She never actually finished the sentence, just left it hanging. We all knew what she meant. Stop squabbling. With twin older sisters, there was always plenty of that. All of us, jabbering away, vying for attention, making little pacts and partnerships to make the other one jealous. The combinations were limited – but we always wanted in. So it went at school – and now the forum has exploded. Now, we have Twitter.

Margaret Atwood described Twitter recently as being like having “fairies at the bottom of your garden.” I can quite see how, being the amazing Margaret Atwood, it may well seem like that to her. On a good day I love Twitter – as another writer put it, it’s the only true social networking site – all the others are just ways of keeping in touch with people you already know. Twitter unites total strangers. It certainly has its benefits, and I’m sure I will wax lyrical about those another time. But for now, it’s the other, murkier side of the coin I’d like to consider.

Given validation by the stars, Twitter is the geek’s paradise. At university we had chat forums, in the dark old days before we really knew what e-mail was for and before the internet could have saved us 2 all night essay crises per week. There were just the very basic chat rooms (IRC is the one that springs to mind) And given a few pints and a lack of cash for any other more interactive experience, we’d often crowd into the computer room and get typing. And yet we were laughed at – it was underground, it was geeky and sad – we enjoyed it, but we played it down, made out that we only did it for a laugh. But we met people, we connected, we had real conversations. We just didn’t know who anyone was. My best friend was more voracious than me, and ended up inviting people to stay – one of whom became her longest-term-to-date boyfriend, and is still one of my good friends. But back then, we denied how we’d met, and we were ashamed. These days things are so very different – yet is Twitter really that dissimilar to the old fashioned chat channel?

Well, there’s one glaringly obvious difference. On Twitter, you are chatting to real people. OK, most of the time you’re chatting to real people. It has become a marketing tool, a PR vehicle, a straw poll, a networking arena and – let’s face it – a celebrity love-in site. All us mere mortals who just want a tiny slice of that celebrity glow to warm us as they type near us – we just watch as they exchange jokes and notes on the fabulous parties they have been to, the hugely expensive things they have bought, and nod earnestly at the important causes they tell us to support. Why the hell do we bother?

There are several reasons. Twitter is bursting at the seams with wannabe writers, linking up with agents, publishers, editors and journalists left right and centre, hoping that someone is going to spot their enormous, raw talent and sign them up to a life of fame and fortune (yes, the same life of fame and fortune I have, to now, been criticising. Hey, I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite) At the very least we’re hoping for pointers, ideas we can use to further our own embryonic careers. Others are observers – but very few are on there purely for social reasons. We all have an agenda – even if that’s just to radiate in reflected fame when someone we admire sends us a message (it’s like knowing them personally,  just for a second – not quite long enough to realise they’re just normal people too) or to experience a moment of pleasure when a respected writer retweets something you have said (sadly, that doesn’t happen often)

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and criticise, to mock those of us pecking around for scraps at the feet of celebrity. But we are all there for a reason – not just the people who’ve already made it. Perhaps Stephen Fry checks his follower numbers every night to measure his popularity, or perhaps Chris Evans uses it to check how well his show is doing. Who cares – they’re on there, and we want them on there because, cynical or not, we can’t help being drawn to them. Even if they don’t reply to your messages. We all want in with the cool kids, the cliques that in real life we’d never get close to. They’re the glossy fashionistas sipping cocktails on Charlotte Street while we trudge the village lanes in our wellies sloshing round a grubby cup of tea. But with Twitter, whilst on a bad day we may feel like the lumbering fat kid in the playground who no-one wants to speak to – we’re all in the same nest, and we can be whoever we want to be. In that respsect, those of us who aren’t known in the world of celebrity are a lot more free than those who have a cover to maintain.

Or am I being naive? After all – we all have a cover, don’t we?

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~ by DelightingintheDetail on April 8, 2010.

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