Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? TS Eliot
There is more to life than increasing its speed. Mahatma Gandhi
I joined the twitterati a week ago. Admittedly my situation was a bit anomalous, as this blog’s robo-tweet facility had already amassed 4,500 followers for me to play with, but that made it all the more embarrassing that I didn’t know how to tweet. So armed with my handy internal Oxfam ‘twitter for technophobes’ guide, I stepped gingerly into the twitter torrent. What did I find?
In the remorselessly upbeat tradition of this blog, let’s start with the positives:
Good for bigging up other people and their work (e.g. tweeting from a London Citizens’ event that my son was organizing, or links to lots of good Oxfam output).
Gives you a sense of an endless conversation, with memes and new bits of research and journalism picked up, swirling rapidly into the mainstream, to be gobbled up by bigger fish or sink back into the depths. Going to take me a while to learn to navigate this one.
A sudden step change in links I liked – OMG, when am I going to read them all? Which ones am I going to put on the blog? (still struggling with division of labour between blog and twitter).
Live tweeting during meetings is yet another reason not to concentrate on what people are saying (but sometimes that’s a relief).
More relaxed and personal than blogging: people are much more willing to express their personal opinions on politics, the arts etc, even though it’s just as public as a blog. I felt OK tweeting people to urge them to vote online for my niece Stella’s class of 8-9 year olds in a song competition (on global education – hey, it’s a Geneva international school, what do you expect?), but would have felt a bit uncomfortable putting it up on the blog. But since you ask, they’re trailing badly with three days to go and you can vote by clicking on the main video……..
Oh, and no-one tweets about having coffee, or eating breakfast – that’s just twitterphobe propaganda.
The fragmented conversation is actually quite disturbing – makes me feel like I’ve suddenly contracted ADHD. Hope I get used to it, or I may just have to give up. At some point, as our concentration spans shrink towards a singularity, maybe 140 characters will come to seem excessive and we’ll all shift to a digital dystopia of nanoblogs where you’re only allowed one word – ‘hate’, ‘love’, ‘wrong’, right’ and the journey will be complete.
The endless self promotion: people retweet their retweets, even when the retweeter has added no discernible value. Why? Have I missed something or have you no remaining shreds of decorum? Looking at you @Bill_Easterly.
I tried crowdsourcing by asking for reviews on @WhyNationsFail, from the left. Result? One suggestion – the Economist.
Some people just tweet too much, so I unfollowed @Calestous Juma and @RichardJMurphy, but I’m persevering with the equally frenetic Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) – got to choose your Murphys with care, clearly. Tom seems to have twitter hardwired into his skull – he outed me within minutes of me clicking my first ‘follow’. Scary. He also memorably described twitter as a ‘gigantic time suck.’ True that.
Organizational tweets are awful (unfollowed UNDP).
And at least on the basis of my 40 something follows (how on earth do you follow hundreds and thousands of people?) I did not find it a touchy-feely horizontal democratic conversation, as described by @clairemelamed when I asked about the paucity of women development bloggers/commenters. Actually it felt like lots of shouty men showing off.
Overall, how does it make me feel? Like part of a blob – a heaving , amorphous community of tweeting, blogging, seminar-attending, development chatterers. That’s good and bad – good in that the analysis, links and ideas rain in from all sides. But bad in that it feels a bit too much like groupthink, reinforced by myriad little links and nudges – how much original thinking is likely to emerge from that kind of hailstorm? I will have to make sure I go off to a wifi-free cave and cleanse my soul every so often.
But hey, at least I got a (heavily ironic – I’ll get you for that @alexcobham) #iloveduncan hashtag in my first week. Feel the love, dudes.
So, let’s get crowdsourcing: please send in your top twitter tip (try saying that after a few drinks) and a non usual-suspect to follow (on development issues, no white males allowed – got enough of them). All answers in 140 characters or less, of course.