Last week I celebrated my twitterversary. And, as with all anniversaries, it was a time to look back across our relationship and see how we’d begun, what we were and how we’d grown.
I like that it was in January that I started. That means twitter’s seen me across a full calendar year; and it was a turbulent one. I wonder occasionally, given the diary-like nature of twitter, whether we’ll one day be seeing post-humous autobiographies published, all laid out as someone’s tweets. If that happens, I would probably skip 2009’s chapter altogether, if it weren’t for the fact that it was the first.
I’m not sure what it was that made me sign up at all. I’d been a bit of a twitter-sceptic up until then (isn’t everyone, at first?), although I’d seen it put to good use during the Project Chanology raids on the Church of Scientology, with people at the protests reporting back to those at home with on-the-spot news. I suppose, what I was seeing there was an early example of twitter’s incredible power when it comes to breaking news. When anything happened then, I knew immediately, much as I did more recently during the Iran election and the mass civil unrest that followed, during the breaking of the Trafigura vs. The Guardian news story, and (most importantly) during the X Factor final. Which I couldn’t watch, as I was out celebrating my birthday. Sob.
It’s now my main source of news (breaking or otherwise), trivia, gossip, updates on my friends’ lives and pictures of cats falling over. If I want to know the answer to something quickly when I’m out and about, I’m as likely to ask on twitter as I am to open up Google or Wikipedia. I used it to collect ideas for a job interview. I used it to try to find a name for my sister’s goats. I even used it to find a cashpoint in Holburn once (thanks Shreena!).
Truthfully, it’s completely changed the way I interact with the world around me. It’s even changed the way I think; which was always an vague sort of third-person narration, but said narration is now spiked throughout with hashtags. It’s an odd thing, to find yourself compartmentalising your thoughts into separate threads like that, and quite possibly I have gone mad.
The reason it’s changing the way I think is because I’m tapping into a collective consciousness. Twitter is a mess of thoughts, buzzing away perpetually in an enormous hive mind. That’s exhausting, but you can turn it on and off at will, dipping your cup into the stream whenever you’re a-thirstin’. It’s also a meritocracy (not a mob, as some journalists would have it), much like Digg: if your idea or cause or pun or hashtag is a good one, it will be picked up by the masses and retweeted to all and sundry. That’s how outrage about Jan Moir’s piece on Stephen Gately spread, that’s how Graham Linehan got us all to describe why #welovethenhs and that’s how Alan Rusbridger cannily managed to get an injunction against his newspaper overturned within 24 hours of his mentioning it. And those are the events that make up the milestones of my year, now, when I trace it back. Well. Those, and Doctor Who specials.
Another thing I find fascinating about it is the ability with which it lends itself to some of the aspects that I value most about the internet as a whole: namely, collaborative innovation, and a sense of fun. Ever since we started communicating in large part via our computer screens, we’ve begun to play around with language a lot more, which is quite brilliant. Partly that was because the landscape of the internet had so many new things that needed naming. Partly that was to do with factors such as brevity. Largely, I suspect, it was to do with desire to create a unique persona online, where all real-world considerations were stripped away; something to express your character with when you didn’t have clothes or body language or hair to do so. Interaction online is playful; fleeting; full of rickrolls and roflcopters. In a word, it’s lulzy. The speed of communication over the internet has in turn sped up the evolution of language, bleeding out into “real life” in a barrage of WTFs and FTWs and OMGs. Both this innovation and this playfulness are apparent on twitter, with portmanteaus rife amongst its lexicon (“tweeple”, “twitosphere”, “twitterati”), regular wordplay games spreading like wildfire (some I’ve enjoyed recently have been #dullhaiku #norsegodbands and #coldfilms – I think I hit a personal best with “It’s a Warm Duffel Life”) and projects like The Longest Poem in the World, which is being composed “by aggregating real-time public twitter updates and selecting those that rhyme”.
In amongst all of this play and revelry, a society is settling down. Twitter has its own kings and queens, subjects and followers. It has its own clubs and cliques, and even its own parties (remember Simon Pegg’s wild #peggparty?). Rules of interaction or “netiquette” (internet etiquette) are still in the process of being defined (for instance, when retweeting, to how many degrees should one cite? I feel that one should always try to cite the original source, but have seen people flouting this “rule”, and yes: that offended me). That’s something that’s absolutely incredible to watch, and to be an active part of: seeing people more connected and more collaborative and more social every day. These are the things about twitter that are captivating and worthwhile, no matter how much the old, worn-out media insist that we’re all just tweeting about what we had for lunch.
It was goulash, actually, but if you follow me on twitter then you’ll already know that.