Saturday, 18 June 2011

Today I have been mostly thinking about Twitter

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

It's been a slightly odd week. Earlier in the week I wrote a post about Public Lending Rights and, on an impulse, I sent a message about the post to the authors I mentioned who I knew were on Twitter. I mentioned 6 authors, 5 of whom were on Twitter, and 3 of whom were kind enough to respond and comment on my blog. Then, yesterday, Jennifer Ehle retweeted a message that I sent her.

This seems a little surreal to me. Twitter is quite a strange phenomenon. I make no secret of the fact that I am very star-struck and have huge admiration for writers and actors. If I physically met a writer or actor I admire, I would probably be a tongue-tied muppet. I would rather not say anything to someone I admire, Stephen Fry for instance, than say something that makes me seem like a fawning idiot. When my husband got a book signed by Paul Merton, I stood beside him silently like a lemon - I get slightly haunted by the social ineptitude of that moment. I did speak to Stephen Sondheim when I met him, but I had the benefit of a 3 hour CD signing queue to plan how not to be an idiot. So why do I feel comfortable and confident enough to send a tweet to someone, when I would never have the nerve to speak to them if I met them?

Part of this might be because I feel more confident with the written word than I am in speech. I may be 36, but I still think of myself as a girl rather than a woman because I still feel that I have the social awkwardness of a teenager. I tend to say the wrong thing on frequent occasions. But if you write the wrong thing, well, there's always the delete key. Twice I started to write a "woo-hoo, I've been re-tweeted by a famous person" tweet after being retweeted by Jennifer Ehle - and both times I deleted it because it was an uncool reaction. The second time I did leave it on for 10 minutes before thinking better of it and deleting it, but I can always hope that she wasn't online at the time.

Maybe you do unwisely pass the delete key with a stupid comment or a lame joke, but at least with the remoteness of Twitter you aren't subjected to witnessing the recipient's incredulity at your stupidity or eye-roll at your failed attempt of humour. And you might even get a re-tweet, which is beguiling evidence that someone you admire has acknowledged that you exist and that you have written something funny or interesting.

Twitter makes people who are famous seem more accessible. I'm sure that Ryan Giggs will tell you that this is not necessarily a good thing. It's another avenue for promotion if you are famous but, added to press attention, surely it can become another aspect of modern life that makes the public feel that they have the right to know everything you do. On Twitter you have at least an illusion of control: you can choose when you log on, how much you reveal, whether to react to a tweet, or ignore it; it is rather different to be physically approached by someone at an inopportune moment. I suspect that this might be the real reason that celebrities have a P.A. - so they don't get accosted by a member of the public or press buying something embarrassing like condoms or feminine hygiene products. It's another reason why I wouldn't approach someone famous: not just shyness, or fear of seeming stupid, but also the belief that they are entitled to privacy in the mundane tasks of everyday life. My father instilled that in me when he didn't want me to speak to Charles Dance when we saw him on a train, or David Suchet when he sat near us in a theatre audience, when I was younger.

I am aware that part of this post has been more introspection and tedious self-analysis. All is vanity. Maybe it isn't vain to be self-critical, but it is certainly self-obsessed and I suspect that writing a blog is, in itself, rather a vain thing to do. In my next post I will try to spend less time navel-gazing and return to writing a book review, as I am about 60 pages off finishing Jane Harris' "The Observations."

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