Are Buildings Secretly Judging You…?

I has blog up on the Independent today. Took a break on feministing (I STILL HEART YOU FEMINISTING) and wrote about… erm, buildings having twitter accounts. And sentient lives. And romances.

As you do.

Battle of the Buildings: If These Walls Could Talk…

At last count, I am following 16 buildings on Twitter. Sixteen! How did this happen? Buildings didn’t used to be something I had to worry about the interior thoughts and feelings of; I was more concerned with, well, their general interiors. Now it seems like every block of flats and its stairwell has an opinion on the latest celebrity divorce, the situation in the middle-east and whether or not the Olympics is a good thing for Britain or not.

From what I can tell of the Shard’s Twitter feed, for example, he (for something so enormously phallic must be a he) is very keen on photography, and the architecture and writing of Jean Nouvel. The Southbank Centre’s Singing Lift is a big fan of the arts (this is presumably why it applied for the job in the first place), and has sadly been under the weather this week with a nasty bout of ‘silencing lift pox’. The Pembury Tavern in Hackney seems, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a bit of an old alcoholic with a penchant for real ales.


And then you’ve got the jobsworths, who do simply what they’re supposed to do, day in and day out – @big_ben_clock, studiously booming out over the Twitter -sphere on the hour every hour, and @twrbrdg_itself, whose steady rhythm of opening for a boat, closing for a boat, opening for a boat, closing for a boat, marks the ebb and lull of the passing days.

Suddenly, I feel like I’m walking through a sentient landscape of structures that peer down on little old me going about my daily business, judging what I’m wearing and perhaps chucking me a cheeky retweet every now and again.  Nelson’s Column lists its twitter bio as “keeping an eye on London”, which can either be taken as strangely reassuring or strangely ominous, depending on your worldview – but no matter which way you tend, it’s definitely strangely strange. There’s almost something panpsychist (the view that all matter has a mental aspect, a unified centre of experience or point of view) about it; or, if you’d prefer, we’re all just taking our obsessive anthropomorphism to new and ludicrous levels.

Still, if we are going to welcome buildings into the sentient universe, then here’s what I want to see:

1. Some existentialism

What’s it like, being a building? I’ve never been a building. I once wrote a poem about being a lift, but it’s hardly the same. What’s it like, that static existence? Do we look like ants to them? Do they envy or scorn our vitality? Do we move faster, with our tiny concerns, living and dying like mayflies as they watch?

2. A thrilling romance

Because, come on, who doesn’t ship the Southbank Centre with Cleopatra’s Needle? Imagine the looks of longing across the Thames; destined to forever glimpse each other’s frontages but never touch. Those stolen moments of quiet in the sunrise, before the rest of London has woken up. And you just know that the Globe Theatre and the Gherkin have been exchanging filthy DMs behind our backs.

3. A Twitter spat

No time spent on Twitter is complete without a thorough public falling-out – the properly juicy kind, where everyone can pick a side. I want write-ups in the Daily Mail and fevered speculation in the gossip blogs. I want endless discussions about it in the office and on the bus. I want to see people wearing “TEAM HADRIAN’S WALL” t-shirts.

Of course, if we are to forge a collaborative future, there are going to be human rights issues arising – should the equality of buildings be enshrined in law, for example? What’s the Church’s stance on all of this? No, not that Church – I’m talking about the actual church itself. If they are denied equality, we must bear in mind that they are – broadly speaking – much bigger than us. They could crush us with one flick of a girder.

I, for one, welcome our concrete overlords.


Putting on Another of These Bloody Things

If you’re sick of them, imagine how I must feel.

Anyway! This is (probably) going to be the last one until September/October time, as Question Time is off-air during parliamentary recess. You know, that time when, despite having no governance or instruction from the hallow’d halls of Westminster, the country still manages to keep pootling along.

So if you’ve been meaning to come, you should probably come.

COMEDY FROM… Tony Law! Grainne Maguire! Nadia Kamil! They are all ace. Plus all the usual: Dimbledancing. The BBCQT Drinking Game. Tweeting. Yelling at the screen.

Wear your most lurid tie.

Tickets here.

BBCQTwatchalong Website

Flabberghastingly enough! I’d never navigated the rocky terrains of purchasing a domain & finding somewhere to host & building a website before. It turns out it is not too difficult, as long as you you have a massive twitter support network to get advice from. Which I do. Lalalalala. How do people who aren’t on twitter ever get anything done?!

So I’ve made a website for the BBC Question Time tweetalong wot I put on “every” “month”, you can read about things that are happening soon there if you like. I’ve bunged the BBC Question Time Drinking Game up on there as well!

The entirely wonderful Tom Humberstone (or Tomberstone, as he is now to be known, FOREVER) has also done me a new poster slash avatar. AMAZE.

How Twitter is Putting the ‘Social’ Back into Social Media

I tried to flog this piece to The Guardian Comment is Free, but they sent it back and said it was “a bit too meta for CiF”.  I thought that this was literally the funniest thing anyone had ever said to me ever.

There’s been a slew of articles of late about how Twitter is revitalising television viewing; recreating the shared experience of watching telly together that’s been lost since families stopped arranging their lives around the TV schedules, and transforming we lonely couch-potatoes into sparkling social media butterflies who can amass hundreds of followers just by saying something sarcastic about [INSERT POP CULTURE REFERENCE HERE].  Lucy Mangan wrote about it in The Guardian (‘How Twitter Saved Event TV’), as well as Simon Kelner in the Independent (‘How Twitter Has Become the Virtual Sitting Room of Our Time’).

There is, I can attest, something about the shared experience that makes everything televisual suddenly far more entertaining, as long as you can handle the necessary multitasking element.  Suddenly, I can’t remember how I ever managed to enjoy a TV programme without knowing which of my peers are watching at the same time and what their views are on the latest plot development.  And it seems almost impossible to believe that we ever tuned into unabashedly crass, lowest-common-denominator telly (the sort of thing tedious people tediously like to refer to as a “guilty pleasure”) without the opportunity to snigger behind our laptop screens at it, retweeting pithy one-liners from people far funnier, hotter and more cuttingly satirical than us.

Admittedly, a lot of it’s to do with ego; even the hardest of souls can’t fail to be compelled by the self-esteem boost that comes from making a particularly good joke and then seeing it retweeted to all and sundry.  There’s just something beautifully ephemeral about that perfectly-formed 140 character thought being passed on, and passed on, and passed on; until it develops a whole life of its own and goes off dancing and spinning through the meme-pool, sparkling like a gadfly for one heady moment in the sun.  But it’s also to do with community; feeling as though you belong.  So what if you’ve always felt a bit alienated from the rest of your peer-group for enjoying listening to The Archers omnibus of a Sunday?  Here’s a ready-made peer-group for you, all under one handy hashtag and all raring to discuss the goings on in Ambridge as they unfold.

Lately, however, I’ve been noticing a pull back in the other direction.  People are enjoying this new communal experience so much that they’re beginning to (in a step that can be seen as strangely regressive and counterintuitive) bring their online conversations back into real life (or ‘meatspace’, if you want to use the more derogatory term).  I’m not talking about anything so crass or simplistic as actually communicating verbally (after all, what would be the point? There’s nothing ‘social’ about that; you can’t even Like it), but about enjoying Twitter whilst also spending time with other people.  As in, actual people, who exist in all three dimensions and everything.  I’m talking about putting the ‘social’ back into ‘social media’.

That’s why the BBC Question Time tweetalong I run each month at Hackney Picturehouse is proving so popular and (can I actually write this word and still forgive myself?) zeitgeistig; people want to take their online experience and transform it into something more tangible and sociable.  We all enjoy sitting at home, yelling at the telly with a bottle of wine in one hand and a smartphone in the other – and it’s just a small step from that to doing it together, in a room full of like-minded people.

I’m not alone in having picked up on this trend.  A cursory glance down the list of upcoming shows on the SRO Audiences website reveals a new panel game presented by @wossy (Or ‘Jonathan Ross’, as he’s more commonly known IRL) called ‘Trending Topics’, as well as a show BBC Comedy are producing called ‘@cuff’, billed as a “night of live improv and stand up where your tweets and status updates make the comedy happen – the only gig we know where you are told to keep your phones on throughout!”.

At the BBCQT Tweetalong, we try to make it a bit more a mixed bag in terms of entertainment: comedians and political speakers kick off the night, there’s time to hobnob with each other in person between acts and (most important of all) a fully stocked bar.  But there’s no denying that it does make for a slightly strange atmosphere at times; even though you’re physically in the same location as the people around you, you only really feel connected to them when you open up your twitter client and tap in the appropriate hashtag.

So where is this leading?  There’s more than a smidgen of the Black Mirroresque about the idea of people sitting in rooms together, staring at a large screen on the wall and communicating with each other only via handheld devices.   But the school of thought that says modern technology is making us more and more antisocial is a complete nonsense; we’re simply moving towards new, more fluid models of interaction where there’s less emphasis put on the importance of face-to-face conversation.    And personally, I welcome that.  In real life, I never know what to do with my arms.

#BBCQT Watch & Tweetalong (or, how to crowdsource a whole event in a fortnight)

NEW AND EXCITING NEWS!!! (is new news a tortology? yes. probably.)

I am putting on a thing!

I didn’t used to watch Question Time, or indeed be particularly politically engaged at all. This all changed completely (as did many things) when Twitter came into my life.


Now I LOVE it and I literally read the news every day. I just cannot get enough of the news.

Twitter has a clever knack of making live events, and shared events, much more fun; even if they’re things that, perhaps, on your own, you would find mind-numbingly dull. I’m not talking about Question Time here; obviously I’m talking about X Factor. I in fact watched all of last year’s series of X Factor, simply because the shared jokes and japes and piss-taking on Twitter made it such a joyous experience. And it’s the same with Question Time (probably the first time anyone’s compared Question Time to the X Factor in any way ever???); even the dry bits and the awful bits are a lot more fun with a feed full of people doing SATIRE and making JOKES and getting ANGRY AT THE GOVERNMENT. Normally, all on their own, in front of their computers slash tellies, yelling at the screen, drowning their political anxieties with whatever liquor comes to hand.

So! I thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all this together, sometime? The drinking and shouting and laughing? “When I move to London,” I thought, “I might look into that.”

Then! I moved to London.

I met Mediocre Dave (@mediocredave [otherwise known, occasionally, as Martin]) in a pub after we had both been to a myth-busting talk that Zoe (@stavvers) & some other people were doing about anarchism. It was a nice talk and I liked it!! I was concerned, however, that the fact that it was on a Thursday might make me miss Question Time. I DO NOT LIKE MISSING QUESTION TIME! IT IS MY FAVOURITE TIME OF THE TWITTER-WEEK. I mentioned this to Dave…Martin….Dave….and we got onto discussing the idea of holding a watchalong/tweetalong in a pub somewhere, with everyone in the room’s tweets projected onto one wall and the programme itself onto another. AMAZING, we thought. “Is this just a slightly tipsy pub-talk,” we said, “Or shall we actually do it?”


Question Time is on fairly late, though (10:35! Practically bedtime!) and I thought that this would be an odd time of night for something to start. “We could have political speakers, and comedians, beforehand!” I said, “To get us in the mood! We could play the #BBCQT Drinking Game!” My friend Chris Coltrane (@chris_coltrane) runs a lovely night called Lolitics, which I’d been quite inspired by, though I didn’t want to centre around stand-up comedy too much – I wanted more of a “Twitter on a Thursday but IRL” feel.

I went onto Twitter and crowd-sourced the rules of the #BBCQT Drinking Game, since everyone has a different version each week. HILARITY ENSUED. This was the result. I’ve since pruned it just a *tad* and you can read the finalised version here: BBC Question Time Drinking Game.

Dave & I contacted some politicos that we thought might like to do slots and they thought it sounded nice! This was encouraging. Becky Luff (@speckl) allowed us access to her massive brain-library of comedians and helped us get in touch with a few likely people. I found a lovely venue in Islington, The Compass, who were very keen to get involved, and said they’d give us the room for free if we brought in a successful, regular night. The wonderfully obliging Steve Maclean (@steven_maclean) whipped up a poster. John Rogers (@lampyjohn) and Mike Hillier (@mikehillier) offered their support on the tech/audio side of things. DIMBLEBOT (@dimblebot) thoroughly endorsed the project.

Anyway, without further ado, I present – the first #BBCQT Watchalong/Tweetalong.

#BBCQT Watchalong Tweetalong

Twitter, I love you, and you are all fucking stunners.

See you there x

There’s No Such Thing as Social Media

A piece I’ve written for the Ixxus blog on why it’s unwise for organisations to ignore social media.


It’s time we all accepted the inevitable: social media isn’t going to go away.  It is not a fad.  It is here to stay.  And – bear with me here, whilst I go out on a limb – it doesn’t really, actually, exist.  At least, not in any truly meaningful way.

Almost half of the internet-using population interact with social networking sites on a daily basis.  The biggest and most pervasive of these is Facebook, which has over 500 million active users and more than 30 billion pieces of content shared each month.  To put that into some context: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third-highest populated in the world (the first and second are China and India, with America trailing far behind at a measly 311 million).  On top of that, some 10 million users create 1500 new tweets every second, and the list of other social networking sites grows ever longer by the day; just last week, Google+ joined the ranks of Myspace, LinkedIn, Diaspora, Quora, Tumblr, Formspring, and all the innumerable others jostling for position.

Quite understandably, this new influx of user-generated content – a tidal onslaught of opinion, debate, humour and plain whimsy – has many organisations running scared; particularly those that have always relied on the more traditional forms of engagement and promotionAnd the picture is only going to get more complex: the rate of change and growth on the internet is getting faster all the time, with myriad new platforms and trends to keep an eye on if you want to stay ahead of the game.  As self-styled internet guru Clay Shirky puts it,  “The old models are breaking before the new ones can be put into place”.

Personally, I believe that the answer for organisations and businesses lies in embracing openness and the online; in particular the willingness to engage with and participate in discussion online rather than operating above it or in isolation.  Dipping your toes into the fast-flowing waters of social media can seem daunting in the extreme, and with good reason; but there’s one very important thing to bear in mind at all times – and it’s this:

Even if you think you don’t want your company to get involved with social media, it probably already is.

Chances are that someone, somewhere out there, is talking about you right now.  It’s up to you whether or not you decide to get involved in that conversation, but if you choose not to then don’t be surprised if you suddenly discover that people have been talking about you behind your back – and don’t be surprised if, lacking that valuable input from you, they’ve got the wrong impression about your company or services.

The digital generation is one that is mistrustful of authority and highly sensitive to corporate interest (Don Tapslock, Growing Up Digital), so new approaches must be found: it’s no longer enough to simply throw tired old imperatives and calls-to-action into people’s faces, no matter how persuasive your type-face might be.  Dictating to the digital generation what they should like, what they should buy, and who they should aspire to be may not go down as well as expected: online, anything too corporate, too staid or too sales-y is likely to be derided, torn apart or (perhaps worse) completely ignored.

If this all sounds like too much gloom and doom from a marketing perspective, there is an upside; and I’d argue that it’s an upside that leads to far better places that traditional models of marketing and promotion.  At a business level, social media gives companies the opportunity to communicate, engage and build relationships with customers and consumers like never before.  For perhaps the first time, we as businesses have a chance to be more than simple faceless entities and develop far more personal and human relationships online – whether that’s with customers, clients or consumers; whether that’s with potential partners, the public or the press.  Of course, creating long-lasting relationships is great news for brand loyalty – but it’s also great news for all of us, as living and breathing human beings.

And this is what I mean when I say that ‘social media’ doesn’t really exist, in the true sense of the word.  Wherever there are people, be it online or offline, they will always find ways to engage and interact and enthuse about the things that interest them.  The web has always been about communicating and socialising, ever since the early days of IRC and Usenet newsgroups – as time goes by, we simply find better and faster and more multimedia ways of doing it.  At the end of the day, it’s just people doing what they’ve always done.

‘Social media’ is just people, talking to other people – about the things that they like, and the things that they don’t like.  We ignore it at our peril.