Posts Tagged ‘twitter’
The writer and philosopher Alain de Botton is a well-known commentator on our modern world. He’s written and presented on a vast range of subjects, from art and religion to literature and travel.
His work is loved by many, but less so by others, and his Twitter account, in which he tweets thoughts for our preponderance, comes in for particular criticism. Search for his name on Twitter, for instance, and you’ll find that opinion on him is divided. Some view his words as pithy platitudes, but others clearly find help and inspiration – his tweets receive hundreds of favourites and retweets by other users.
He has unintentionally triggered some rather amusing stuff on the web, too. The blog Alain de Bottom pairs up pearls of wisdom from the philosopher with images from 1990s comedy show Bottom, which starred Rick Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. I can’t quite decide whether the blog is affectionate or mocking.
Personally, I do struggle to “get” the little I’ve read by him. I find, for instance, that his tweets tend to state the obvious. I also fail to understand the premise behind a book called The Art of Travel when clearly, objectively, there is no such thing – at least, any more than there is an “art of life” or an “art of thinking”.
The other day, a tweet by Alain de Botton was retweeted by someone else into my timeline.
It isn’t disrespectful to the complexity of existence to point out that despair is, often, just low blood sugar and exhaustion.
— Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) February 19, 2013
To which I could not help but wonder aloud:
It is a great mystery of our modern age, that someone somewhere pays Alain de Botton actual money.
— Simon Varwell (@simonvarwell) February 19, 2013
About an hour later, I received an email.
Thanks for your tweet. If you’d like me to explain more closely, I’d be happy to try to shed some light.
Congratulations on your website and all good wishes,
Instantly, I was suspicious. It came from what an email address that contained his website domain, but such things are easy to fake if you know how. My suspicions were directed towards good friends Niall and Justin, both of whom have been known to play such pranks in the past (Justin, for instance, once wrote to me pretending to be David Icke). I challenged them and they both denied it.
This left me with the assumption that perhaps, it really was him. That he’d searched for himself on Twitter, seen the tweets where people had used his name, saw mine, and decided to respond to it. Was it just mine? Did he regularly do vanity searches, and did he reply to everyone who mentioned him? If so, he could be a busy man.
It was odd. But I figured that replying with honesty and frankness (offering neither rudeness nor a grovelling retraction) was the only way to get to the
botton bottom of it.
Thanks for your email. It was an obvious surprise to receive it as you might imagine. I thought that friends had sent it as a spoof, hence the delay while I obtained denials from likely suspects.
My tweet – and apologies if it sounded rude – expressed a mild degree of wonder at the nature of your work. It’s like the old joke which I’m sure you’ve heard of philosophy graduates never seeing a job advert that says “Wanted: Philosopher”.
The tweet that particularly sparked my reaction was the one that said “It isn’t disrespectful to the complexity of existence to point out that despair is, often, just low blood sugar and exhaustion.” While I can’t fault your logic here, and indeed I can testify to it personally, my curiosity stems from the fact that it seems so obvious as to not be worth stating.
And this is a theme I feel that runs through your offerings on Twitter. Maybe I’m a cold-hearted pragmatist (I tried reading Paul Coelho but gave up after a few pages), but isn’t much of what you tweet pretty obvious? Or alternatively is there no harm in sometimes stating the obvious, if certain people thrive on the reassurance that it provides or if they can’t see the clarity in life through the fog that sometimes descends?
Who, I suppose I am wondering, is the “target” or likely constituency for your writing? Maybe it’s hard for any writer to answer that question, so if it is an unfair one I apologise.
Thanks again for dropping a line, and all the best in your work. May others “get” it more than I do!
Very quickly, a reply came back.
Thanks for your gracious note, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Only to learn.
I believe you’re clearly a highly intelligent, reflexive person for whom many ‘truths’ aren’t any kind of revelations, they are just your obvious common sense. Sadly, for me, and for many others, less well endowed intellectually, we like to be reminded of obvious things, which while they aren’t complete revelations, can be crisply said and therefore gain a place in our distracted and weak minds.
What most bothers me is people’s routine assumption that Twitter is an innocent medium in which one can be as rude as one likes about pretty much anyone without consequence. Rudeness always hurts someone – and if there’s space for one truth that isn’t yet common sense to you, it is to remember to be kind towards those perhaps less intellectually blessed than you’ve been.
With good wishes,
It was a striking reply. Firstly, I don’t know why he thought me as intellectually superior (or thought it was valid to make me feel that I was). But secondly, his words at the very least showed a humanity. It was a reminder, as if we needed it, that famous people are just ordinary human beings and are capable of being hurt or offended with the rest of us. It’s an acute issue in this age of instant communication where, through social media, once-remote public figures can be put in direct contact with ordinary people.
You don’t have to rummage deeply online to find a controversy about personal abuse of famous people, often masked behind the cowardly cloak of anonymity. This article by radio presenter Richard Bacon is a sobering exploration of the effect it can have, while the often surreal events at the Leveson Inquiry highlighted the terrible abuse and violation of well-known people that can emanate from society’s obsession with celebrity.
Not to say that my original tweet about Alain de Botton was remotely comparable with the evils of the gutter press or the deranged hate-spouting of online trolls. I don’t even think my tweet was particularly rude. Critical, yes, and probably unChristian, but certainly not what you’d classify as offensive. And I’m perfectly entitled to a less than stellar opinion of de Botton’s work, despite the fact he came over as charming and thoughtful in his emails. But all that said, I could have phrased my original tweet more politely, and I could have tweeted directly at him rather than referring to him in the third person with no consideration that he’d “overhear”.
Not wishing to protract a conversation unnecessarily, I wrapped things up with Alain de Botton with one short, final email.
Hi again Alain
I’d respectfully dispute your assessment that I’m especially highly intelligent or somehow more intellectually endowed. A bit rude in my tweet, perhaps, yes, for which I apologise again. There are lots of cases out there of famous people being badly hurt by abuse on Twitter. I’d hate to think I could contribute to that.
Twitter is rather like a large room where everyone is capable of hearing and reacting to everything that’s said about them. It seems to be a good rule of Twitter that if you wouldn’t say something about someone to their face, don’t say it at all.
It’s probably a good rule for life, too.
In fact, if it could fit into 140 characters, it’s the sort of thing Alain de Botton himself might tweet.
As I mentioned on my blog a few weeks ago, I did a recent spell as the tweeter on the ScotVoices account. That is, of course, one of many “national” Twitter accounts where someone from the country tweets about their life, their country, and indeed anything (within reason) they fancy.
I’ve now had a couple of weeks or so to mull over my experience, and feel I should blog a wee report on how it went.
Before I do, though, I had every intention – thanks to a suggestion from my opposite number on the Pakistan account – to “storify” my week’s conversations. Storify is a handy little tool that searches, records and presents tweets (or indeed emanations on other social media platforms) in the form of a conversation that you can later easily read through and present to others. To do a whole week of tweets was admittedly a little vain, but I felt it would be a nice way to remember the week as well as pick out highlights when it came to writing it up.
It was also, however, an enormously fiddly process to transfer several thousand tweets at once, and – long story short – she couldn’t handle it, Captain. I emailed Storify and – to my enormous surprise – a friendly, fluent English-speaking human being wrote back to apologise. Basically, he explained, the system is not designed for the capturing of many hundreds of tweets at once, but saw that there was great potential in it being used by “national” accounts like ScotVoices, and he said he would pass the idea on to colleagues.
So that aside, you’ll have to cope with my memory.
And in a nutshell, being ScotVoices was a blast.
The first thing I noticed was that the experience was very different from my own Twitter account. I was tweeting more often than I would for my personal account, and there was a huge level of interaction, with anything I tweeted rendering a number of replies or retweets and indeed often generating long conversations between various users.
That was nothing to do with the quality or nature of anything I said, but simply to do with the numbers of people following the account. I think my personal account had, at the start of my ScotVoices week, around 400 followers (though its grown since as a result). ScotVoices, however, had something like 2,500, and I was totally unused to this level of interest and interaction. Trying to be polite and engaged as possible, I replied to as much as I could. While it was all fascinating, it was at times exhausting in a way to keep up with everything.
It was fun, though, and that was because I tried as much as possible to ask questions and generate discussion. The account after all is about reflecting the country, and life is as much about questions as pronouncements. In any case, asking a question then sitting back is sometimes easier than trying to spout forth on something in a balanced way.
So I posed a number of questions over the week: about the nature of Scotland, the relationship between the cities and the rest of the country, or (and this was a popular one) people’s best photos of Scotland.
My favourite discussion, though, was when I turned the independence referendum debate on its head. Rather than asking people’s views (which had been done by previous custodians of the account), I instead asked people who subscribed strongly to either yes or no to share what they thought the opposite side’s strongest argument was. There’s too much polarisation in politics, not least these days in Scotland, and so it was fun to get everyone thinking as objectively as they could about the views of the “other side”.
I wasn’t passive in all the discussions, however, and did “lead” at other points. I went on an admittedly predictable evangelical rant about the merits of Esperanto, and to be fair did get a lot of positive interest from it. I also, on a day off, went on a couple of hours’ “photo walk” around Inverness, tweeting photographs of various parts of the city, going into bits of local history where I knew it, and generally sharing a flavour the city I live in. Judging by the responses, this was probably one of the best received parts of my week on the account, and was certainly one of my favourites to do.
When I visited Edinburgh for work at the start of my week, I even attempted to convene a face to face gathering in a pub for whoever was in the area. After 30 minutes of waiting, nobody had turned up so I headed to my hotel… only to receive a tweet a wee while later asking where I was. It was from none other than an MSP who was an old comrade in arms from our days in the SNP Students at Aberdeen University. I set followers on a fun guessing game as to which MSP it was that I’d inadvertently stood up, and the first correct guess won a copy of my book (as did the MSP himself for his trouble).
I learned a lot, too, over the course of the week. I learned, for instance, that there’s a huge amount of international interest in Scotland. Many of the account’s followers, judging by those who interacted with me, are from European and North American countries. While awareness of the independence referendum was surprisingly low (it was a question I specifically asked), there was a huge general interest in and love of Scottish people, culture, scenery and history.
I also learned a lot from other countries – not only those people who replied who were following the account, but also the the many other foreign accounts that ScotVoices was already following. I had good chats with my equivalent tweeters on the Pakistan, Egypt, Sweden and Netherlands accounts, and it was nice to have a brief crossing of paths with people from so many different countries – like a sort of “citizen’s United Nations”.
Finally, from a discussion I sparked about Scottish food, I learned that porridge made with banana-flavoured Yazoo is something I really must try some time.
My experience on ScotVoices convinced me that social media really does have a place. It doesn’t have to be all about trolls, abuse, mudslinging and endless pictures of cats. It can be a place where windows are opened to other parts of the world, jokes and ideas can cross cultural boundaries, and we can give real voices to real people.
It was an exciting week. Though I’m rather glad to be back to just the one Twitter account.
Twitter is a great way of discovering great examples of the sorts of stuff you’re into, not least music.
When you tweet about a certain topic, you will often find yourself being followed by someone who has searched for that same topic. The downside to that is the huge amount of spam on the go in Twitterland (just tweet words like “iPad” and see what happens), but sometimes there are gems. If I tweet about the music I like listening to, I get the occasional follow from bands who presumably find me on the back of search terms like “post-rock”. One such band was MinionTV, who I blogged about some time ago, and whose magnificent music I was thrilled to discover.
Then, a a few weeks ago, I was followed by the Echelon Effect (Twitter | website | Bandcamp), so out of curiosity I listened to a bit and was instantly hooked. The Echelon Effect, a one-man outfit from England, produces electronic post-rock soundscapes and have a haunting and ethereal yet quietly energetic feel. With soft, gentle rhythms, beautifully subtle melodies, echoey samples and an aura evocative of film scores, the music is engaging but because of its subtlety I have found it is firmly joining the likes of Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss and Lindstrom as great music to write to.
Like many relatively little-known musicians these days, much of the Echelon Effect’s discography is available free online, though of course you have the option to pay what you like (and the more you pay, the more able they are to spend time making music).
I can highly recommend taking a peek at it, and although I am not sure I have a clear favourite yet the first track of Seasons Part 1, Recalling Winter’s Casualities (right), is proving to be a real grower and the album Mosaic is a particularly consistent one.
Overall, the music is not demanding or in your face (though I don’t wish to imply it’s in anyway simple or shallow), and the way that the tracks blur into each other to create wide, sweeping sounds that provide a magnificent soundtrack to a day.