The Tyranny of Twitter

20 01 2010

Pretty much my first ever blog was entitle Twitter Ye Not.  At that time I was unpersuaded that I needed to know what everyone in the world had for breakfast or where they were off to for lunch.

In the months that have passed I have been forced to reconsider my stance as having a presence on social media sites such as twitter and facebook is, I am assured by people who are paid to know these things, essential to the growth of my business.

So I now have a twitter acoount, which I am probably contractually obliged to ask you to follow at, and have been shocked/amazed/horrified to discover how enslaving it is. There is a constant, nagging need to check for tweets. It is becoming increasingly difficult to control the urge to check to see if anything has changed since I last looked.  And it is not just me.  My bedroom is below that of my son and most nights I drift off to sleep to the electronic bleep of new messages arriving into his laptop from MSN.

And with social media being used more and more as a tool to promote businesses, the boundaries between work and home are becoming increasingly blurred. It was bad enough in the days when the pager made it possible to be called into work at the weekend but now the mobile phone means many of us are on call 24/7 and the laptop means that our work is always with us.

Technology, as presented in the old BBC programme Tomorrow’s World, was going to make our lives better. But has it?

Certainly it is hard to argue against labour saving devices such as the automatic washing machine over the washtub and mangle but are we endangering the quality of life by ceding so much control of our lives to technology.  Well, people today experience more depression than previous generations and there is a wealth of papers to suggest that people who place value on material goals are unhappier than those that don’t and that lack of a clear division between our home and work environments damage our personal relationships.

Here’s a personal observation. When I was a youngster I would head off in the morning and play out all day, just round and about with friends, maybe coming home for lunch, maybe not. As long as we were home before it got dark my mum didn’t worry. It’s not that she didn’t care but knowing that we were out playing, that we would stay close-ish to home, were pretty sensible and that we’d come home when we were hungry, was enough information. My son, in common with the vast majority of teenagers,  has a mobile phone and we can keep in touch whenever he is away from the house. This should make us modern mums feel more  secure about the safety of our children, knowing that they can get in touch if there is a problem. In fact it has made most of us feel less secure as because they can keep in touch we think that they should and we feel compelled to check for messages all of the time. We feel less secure as we have less control.

It is my belief that, if we are going to take control of our lives we need to take control of the technology we need to think more clinically about what we need to know.

We are available via laptop, phone and via TV 24/7. Most of us will not be able to change that basic situation but it is essential for our mental health that we become better at responding to the valuable and dismissing the useless rather than reacting to each stimulus that the technology sends us as if everything had equal merit.

While I have been writing this I have received 5 new e-mails and 2 linkedin messages. There were 54 additions to my facebook live feed and 78 tweets.

It is up to me what I do with all that information.

Twitter Ye Not

11 11 2009

I don’t twitter
I have never twittered.
I have never been onto the website – honestly-I haven’t

So why am I compelled to write about it?
It’s because I just don’t get it?

It seems to me, admittedly just from what I have heard/read in the media, that because of the limitations in the number of words you can post, twitter is essentially a place to tell people where you are:
I’m in the bath
I’m on the train
I’m in the garden
I’m on the internet

My life is pretty interesting, I’m told, at any rate it interests me, but are the internet masses really interested in my whereabouts or those of anybody else?

I do Facebook, poorly I suspect, because I feel that I should. At least here the is enough space to write about what I am doing;
I am enjoying a relaxing bath at the end of a busy day
I am taking the train down to my parent’s house for the weekend
I am in the garden rooting out ground elder from around the hostas.

That last one is a lie. I hate gardening but it does serve to illustrate how easy it is to tell small lies in order to sound a bit more interesting that you really are!

So Facebook appears marginally more useful and entertaining than twitter. I am unconvinced. One of my facebook friends posted information to the effect that she was having fun programming the autokey on her computer. Maybe I just have odd facebook friends….or at least friends that should get out more!

And here is another odd thing – the concept of “friend”.

Before becoming an overt dating site, Friends Reunited encouraged people who knew each other at some point, or at least who shared a history, they lived in the same street, went to the same school, to make a connection. But facebook friends? I don’t have many facebook friends and the majority of those are people who I’ve never met, though it is true that we do often have interests or enthusiasms or prejudices in common.

The old saying has it that “a stranger is a friend that you haven’t yet met”. What then a friend that you are never likely to meet?

I do Flickr. I have a genuine, though thoroughly amateur interest in, photography. On flickr it is also possible to connect with people from all over the world, the majority of whom you will never meet. The difference here is that the common interest has already been established, taking photographs, and there is a clear platform for friendship. Tellingly, flickr terms the connections you make “contacts” not friends, and while this is less, well, friendly, it feels more appropriate. Even on flickr I don’t have a huge number of contacts. I could have. Flickr does not require someone that you tag as a contact to confirm or accept the approach. So anyone can have hundreds of contacts…..but why would you? Some people do.

And here I think we might be getting somewhere. Lots of people have lots of contacts, lots of on-line friends – are these really just “pretend friends” like children conjure up to help them through their early years?

I have listened to several radio presenters over the past few months urging people to follow them on twitter. I will leave aside the morality of a state funded broadcaster shamelessly promoting the services of a commercial organisation. And the reason they gave for asking for listeners to twitter was “to have more followers (fans/friends) than Stephen Fry.

So there we have it. If you have more followers than Stephen Fry you must be more popular than Stephen Fry. Who wouldn’t want to be more popular than the lovely Uncle Stephen but will having thousands of listeners following you on twitter REALLY make you more popular? Will it really make you more real friends? Will it really make you a better person? Or is it all down to insecurity and ego?
Ah, but I am writing a blog. If I don’t think it is important or interesting for people to know where I am (I am on a train) or what I’m doing ( I am on a train heading down to see my parents), why on earth should I suppose that anyone is the least bit interested in what I think?

Well, maybe you are, you’ve got this far.
Or maybe you are not and have stumbled onto word number 746 entirely by accident. In my defence I have always found that writing things down is a good way to get my own thoughts into some kind of order. Now, thanks to the internet, or at least because of the internet, I can share my ramblings with the planet, though I do know that 98% of blogs aren’t read by anyone but the blogger!

I suppose that the best bloggers fall into the same category as the great diarists like Johnson and Pepys. Great diarists are still around. If you don’t believe me have a look at The New Statesman.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression, though I probably already have, that I am a complete Luddite. After all I am the managing editor for the and the associated social networking site at and in the recent past I founded and ran a multi-million pound internet retail business.

The point I am trying to make is that there has to be a point! At the magazine we are aiming to cover all aspects of work from a woman’s viewpoint. With the social networking site we encourage comment on the articles in the magazine. There is a point to what we do on the web. But twitter seems to me like an end in itself. Would the world be a worse place without it? Would your life be enhanced by knowing that Stephen Fry was at the dentist?


Postscript 2010

BUT….and it is a very BIG but…..all of the above are hugely important and valuable business tools so, while I am personally sceptical about their value to me as an individual I am now convinced of their value to my business, and so should you be if you are running a business.

So watch this space…or follow me on twitter x

Being Princess Leah

11 11 2009

This week my facebook friends have been Ja Ja Binks, a wannabee geek, Mr Burns, Dylan the Rabbit and the scary one with the ginger hair!

Am I alone in being amazed at the vast number of personality tests out there and at puzzling over why we are addicted to taking them?

I do not know which Star Wars character I most resemble and I have little interest in finding out but I have found myself considering paying $100 for a wealth dynamics profile and I am a wondering why?

Over the years I have taken a fair few personality tests and have found that while some traits stay constant – the fact that I’m still female is actually the only one that springs to mind – most have changed depending upon my age, state of mind and whether I really wanted the job! That is to say it is often easy to give the answers that the questioner wants; we give the answer that we think will show the character traits that we want to be revealed at that time.

Defenders of the personality test will no doubt suggest that the better, more sophisticated programs will be able to see through our artifice, that they will be able to discern the real Dorothy under our created-for-the day persona.

I’m not so sure.

A close friend who is very successful, very bright but totally self-absorbed recently completed a profile that showed her to be tolerant and nurturing. In my opinion, and that of everyone else that knows her, this is complete nonsense. She has many fine and positive attributes but tolerance and compassion are definitely not among them. The interesting thing, however, is that she sees herself as a nurturing person. Could it be that her self-delusion is so complete that it allowed her to fool the system?

But the accuracy of the diagnosis is not my main concern with these profiles. The big problem is what are you supposed to do with the information? It might be comforting to complete a profile and see that you are Princess Leah, pretty, brave and always gonna get your man, but what real use is that information, other than to generate a warm glow to the ego while you enjoy a well-earned coffee break – after all you deserve a break, you have just spent 20 minutes working on your laptop filling in a personality profile!

It seems to me that knowing the kind of person you are is only a small part of the picture.

Another friend has a small tattoo saying “knowledge is power”. To an extent that is true but it is the use to which you put the knowledge that is the real power. I know that Liverpool will not win the league without a couple of quality signings and probably a change in manager but I have no power to act on that knowledge and so am condemned to spend another season with my head in my hands listening to the boasts of Mancunians.

Having the ability and opportunity to do something with the knowledge you have is the key.
So, maybe I should take the test as part of a workshop session so that I can be given advice on what to do with that information. In theory that seems like an answer, but is it really? Well, provided that the people running the workshop are not complete cowboys, and I will assume for the sake of this argument that they are not, then two days support is better than nothing, surely?

My gut feeling is that change, proper, integrated, permanent change can only come from within. We are all looking for a quick fix – oh look, I am Princess Leah but will you still be Princess Leah tomorrow or the next day or next year? Will a stranger, or an automated personality profile, telling you that you are Princess Leah make it possible for you to head off and blow up a Death Star? I think not. If you feel certain that you are Princess Leah then you can go off and save The Empire but that knowledge, certainty, power comes from within.

Not convinced? Think about this. When most women are asked what they most want, it is to lose weight. Our own bodies are, pretty much, the only things that we can fully control. The formula is very simple. Everyone knows it: eat less, or exercise more, or both. No-one force feeds me cake and red wine. We all control what goes into our bodies so the one thing we can do on our own if we want to, surely, is to lose weight. But it is still top of our wish list. If we cannot do the one thing that we really can do on our own how can we hope to take control of other aspects of our lives that are subject, in many big and small ways, to the influence of other people?

As I mentioned to a friend and colleague when we were discussing this the other day, I already know my profile – I’m a sceptic!