Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tweetness and light

The media has a very mixed attitude to Twitter. Sometimes it is given totally over the top accolades for enabling something like the Arab Spring to take place (there is no doubt it made a contribution, but equally no doubt that things would have gone ahead much the same without it). At other times it is seen as a lowest common denominator means of spreading gossip and tittle tattle.

Why wouldn't you tweet it?
I personally think it's a great way for getting and giving instant reactions. It can be genuinely interesting to see live response to a TV show, for instance, as tweets come flying in. And although I personally am not particularly interested in what people had for breakfast, say, it is very valuable as a way of highlighting something interesting or amusing. So, for instance, when I spot a van with an entertaining spelling error on its artwork, or when I recently came across a slow worm on my walk to the Post Office, Twitter was a natural way to make a quick comment.

This ease can lead to problems. There was, of course, the court case for the poor guy who remarked that he was going to bomb Robin Hood airport (what a name), which should never have happened. Twitter is sounding off, worldwide light conversation, not a place to generate threats and litigation. There was also the poor Welsh councillor who was hauled up for a disciplinary hearing for tweeting I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off - ludicrous over-reaction for a personal response you may or may not agree with (I do agree) but that he should have the freedom to make without harassment.

I also find that Twitter is a good, painless way for a reader to make a quick comment to an author. I would never think of emailing Stephen Fry, say, but I don't mind blasting something off to him on Twitter. He probably never sees them - but that doesn't really matter. And when I get a response from the author, as I did from a positive remark having just read one of S. J. Parris's novels featuring Giordano Bruno, it feels really good.

Canadian bookstore purchases
Photo courtesy of Claire McCartney
As an author myself I also receive quite a few tweets about my books - and that warm glow works both ways. I received one the other day saying Picked up your book on gravity in Chapters book store in Ottowa, Canada and 1 hour later I was still reading it! Nice - that really made my day. It's not just the nice comments, but the thought of a book I wrote making a connection in a different country - there's something heartwarming about it!

I couldn't help asking if, after reading it for an hour, the tweeter had actually bought the book - and was even more delighted to hear that not only did she do so, but she went back next day for another of my titles. And chocolate covered beaver droppings. The way you do. (Why don't our bookshops sell beaver droppings?) I've even got a photo to prove it.

So don't knock Twitter. I get really irritated with people who say 'Oh, no, I've never twitted, or whatever you call it,' wrinkling their nose as if it's something tasteless. Personally, I'm all in favour.

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