A blog post about another web-based medium, how meta, but please bear with me. I am a big fan of Twitter. It is probably my favourite social interaction tool, online and perhaps also in real life. To me it encapsulates what the World Wide Web is designed for and it is a great leveller.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has spoken many times in the past about his desire for it to be an “open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.” (Berners-Lee, 2017) but perhaps more succinctly, during the opening to the London 2012 Olympic Games, he himself tweeted “This is for everyone.”
However, this idealism, and pure intent is not always how we experience it. There are big players online who dominate the market; Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, and Twitter itself. There are retail outlets and media organisations who have successfully transitioned from the high street to a commanding online presence; Tesco, Next, Argos, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent. These big players tend to overwhelm the smaller organisations and although the web has allowed many a small business to start up, develop and grow, the playing field is not level and there is a clear hierarchy that we all succumb to, at some level, when pottering about online.
This has led to the web mirroring in the ‘real world’ in terms of big players and small players, in terms of those that have and those who have not, and in terms of them and us. So why do I like Twitter?
I like it because to me it breaks down the ‘them and us’. In particular it breaks it down in terms of noteworthy people. Those people who are famous or admired in society for a talent or merely because they are on the TV.
I would love to say that celebrity does not turn my head, that all people are equal in my eyes, and that individuals should not be revered due to their jobs being somewhat in the public eye, but I cannot. My taste in who I consider worthy of celebration may not always be shared universally but I am a fan of a variety of people and the ability to interact with them on a forum like Twitter really makes me smile.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a stalker. I do not prowl the virtual halls of Twitter commenting on the musings of every person I choose to follow. But just occasionally I do make a comment in response to a tweet from one of my celebrity group, or reach out to them with an @ shout out, and just occasionally they like my tweet, or even better, tweet me back.
I did consider that the fact this pleases me shows how shallow I am. Why should it matter that these people notice my 140 character ramblings? But these are people I have invested my time in, people I either admire or value for what I think they bring to my life, or the world. What Twitter allows, for me, is contact with these people that only a few short years ago would have been unknown. The pedestal I place them on would have continued to tower high with no hope of me climbing a ladder to converse with them. But now I can, and I don’t even have to get up from my sofa.
Only today I received a ‘Like’ from Gyles Brandreth. He might seem an unlikely celebrity for me to have in my repertoire. Our politics are somewhat at odds. But I love the Radio 4 show ‘Just a Minute’, on which he is a regular, I also remember him on morning TV as I was growing up with his outlandish knitted jumpers and so he reminds me of a simpler time in my childhood, and finally he is a clever person and clever people often turn my head. What pleased me even more about this interaction was that he had tweeted a quote from Somerset Maugham and I replied with a quote from Ron Swanson, from Parks and Recreation. The fact that Mr Brandeth (I still don’t feel I am on first name terms with him) read my reply, and liked it, amongst the many he had received, when it was clearly generated from a different cultural standpoint was something that filled me with satisfaction.
Of course, it is not all roses on Twitter and I see no end of abuse dolled out to people, famous or not, from trolls and downright nasty individuals. People like Nadiya Hussain and Danny John-Jules suffer daily abuse which they both deal with with dignity, although in quite different ways. JK Rowling is for ever being called out for being ‘rich’ and a ‘champagne socialist’ by people who are nothing but jealous and seem blind to her philanthropy, but in general she shuts them up by writing, scathing and downright brilliant responses. I have had the, very occasional, troll attack me but I am not famous and much to boring to be bothered with for long.
I am also haunted by the fact that I fell out, on Twitter, with one of my most favourite people. I replied to a tweet made by Dave Gorman one day. It was early in my Twitter life when I had failed to realise that the restriction of 140 characters make nuances of a situation shared in a tweet hard to convey. I felt aggrieved that someone I admire might be behaving in a less than understanding way towards a fellow human being, and instead to letting it go and realising that I probably didn’t have all the facts I raised my issue with Mr Gorman himself. He replied, he was not happy with what I had said. I felt instantly annoyed with myself that what would probably be my only interaction with a fellow human being who I think is funny, clever and seems like a nice guy, would be a negative one. It haunts me to this day and for him, I am sure he forgot it the moment it happened because I am no-one to him.
Another negative against Twitter is that I have at least one friend who probably is not as big a fan of Twitter as I am, and he might read this post. I will not go into many details, as it is not my story to tell, but a Twitter account, run by someone unknown, lost him his job. Well actually incompetence on the part of his employer did that really but Twitter was the cause of his departure from a job he was brilliant at. This situation also caused me to be contacted by a journalist from The Sun, and that made me feel dirty!
But back to the good stuff. I have received tweet responses from Victoria Cohen Mitchell, a lady who needs no introduction surely; Richard Fairbrass, with whom I shared some polite but very opposing views on Brexit; Craig Conlan, a very talented comic artist; and Benny The Spaceman from the Lego Movie!
I have had full on conversations with Adam Savage and Anthony Richardson from Ginx TV, which not only pleased me but also my husband and my daughter because we are all fans. This made me realise that to Charlotte this ability to directly interact with people she sees on the TV will make her less in awe of them, which must be a good thing for her self confidence in my opinion.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that David Baddiel once ‘liked’ my response to him on something. That’s like a member of One Direction ‘liking’ the tweet of a teenage fan. David Baddiel remains one of my teenage crush hangovers. It was a very fangirl moment when I got that ‘like’.
So back to my point. Without Twitter, these little moments of joy would have been missed. Twitter pays no mind to the fact that I only have 76 followers. If I say something interesting anybody might spot it. I have had many a like and retweet from people I do not know and I am sure are lovely people which has also made me happy. That ability to reach out to people and interact on level standing must be close to what Tim Berners-Lee was wanting. It really is ‘for everyone’ and Twitter enables that. So the idealism that he started with may still live on in pockets of the web, even if many aspects of the evolution of the web have surprised or worried him. He can be proud that there are some parts of online life that have remained in line with his expectations even if, as he has stated, his biggest surprise has been the number of cat videos. (Vincent, 2014) We can’t have it all.
Beners-Lee, T. (2017) ‘I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it.’ The Guardian, 11th March [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/11/tim-berners-lee-web-inventor-save-internet (Accessed 23rd July 2017)
Vincent, J. (2014) ‘Tim Berners-Lee on creating the web: ‘I never expected all these cats’.’ The Independent, 13th March [Online]. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/tim-berners-lee-on-creating-the-web-i-never-expected-all-these-cats-9189946.html (Accessed 23rd July 2017)