Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Flying at 10,000 Tweets

It’s ubiquitous, isn’t it – I’ve been on Twitter, now, just short of a year and have passed the miracle milestone… the blog flows from the number just as my network of contacts flows from one site to the next.
So: this is the post where I reminisce, list what I’ve learned, whom I’ve met, the experiences, the expected and the unexpected that I’ve braved since the bird’s beak first bit.
Well, the first thing is the learning process is continuous, of course; the amphitheatre of information that surrounds the Twitter hub is ever-changing; there will always be something else to understand.
My personal victories have been small things – technical fixits, firing tweets and utterz from FP events into nothingness, dusting off knowledge from my long-mothballed degree and a recent magical moment when joec0914 sold Twitter, lock, ‘bot and global potential, to my sceptical partner with this.
There have been wonderful flashes when I’ve inspired a friend – or they me – and times I’ve been overwhelmed by the responses of my friends to the words ‘Forbidden Planet’. That first ‘what am I doing here?’ blog post is now quite charmingly na├»ve.
Dig a little deeper, though, and I catch a realisation like the early Twitter bird catches the worm: what I’ve learned isn’t a long list of little things – it’s one very simple one.
Why is it easier to motivate myself to do something for someone else? For five hundred someone elses?
To phrase it another way: how many of us cook a full dinner when there’s only us in the house..?
Every person who responds to my blind tweets from a Forbidden Planet signing is making my individual challenge easier to overcome – and if I expand that realisation fractally through the twitterverse, our amphitheatre is filled with a thousand thousand tiny motes of personal empowerment.
And each one carries someone forward to meet their own challenge.
Okay, okay, it’s pretty and it’s visual; it dazzles with my own Danacea-branded idealism… Putting my shades on for a second: this is still a ‘What I’ve learned so far’ blog post – and the bottom of those rising seats is a place we’ve all sat to navel-gaze...
Yep – fluff.
As Twitter grows, so the fractal pattern multiplies. And here’s one of the things I haven’t learned – why our community doesn’t fragment.
My ‘Viking’ past is known to some; the bonds that tied the friendships of my twenties together were enormously powerful and remain strong to this day. But ten years in re-enactment taught me that no group grows beyond two dozen people – it divides, cliques form, social stresses and power struggles begin.
Why is Twitter (largely) immune?
I don’t have an answer to this; I’m intrigued. Is it because there’s no single leader – people earn their own respect? Is it because our Twitter friends are three-quarters real; soft-focus, seen through the light of the screen? Is it because it’s self-policing, the follower/following bonds are organic and the flow of communication voluntary?
Or it is simply because we can turn it off when it gets too much?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Twitter Quitter

Every January, my local gym runs a simple incentive to heave its post-Christmas customers into motion for the New Year.

This is a rowing competition – 5,000 metres for the girls and 10,000 for the guys – completed in a series of heats; the best times win free membership and other goodies.

I was doubtful about this year’s – but inspired by mosqueda, wickedstepmom and the Twitter PT Challenge, I signed on the dotted line and flexed my shoulders at the lurking menace of the Concept II.

The contest is a friendly one – but there’s a powerful compulsion to succeed, be that to win your heat or beat your time. Girls and guys both are teeth gritted and sweat beading; the rhythm of the machines is repetitive, hypnotic – it drives you mesmerically onward.

It’s a fast, forceful race. Quitting is not an option.

So: this is the point where I give you the achievement speech?

No: this is the point where I tell you I quit.

I gave up, less than 500 metres from the end of course, because the elastic strap of my top was running directly across a friction burn on my back, tearing repetitively at the healing skin. Sweat was tickling down either side of my spine and the salt was bringing tears to my eyes – literally.

As the crescendo rose, I relinquished my part in it.

I was gutted; in the sudden stillness, I was also acutely self-conscious.

And I wondered how on earth I was going to explain.

We know our friends don’t judge us – they’re our friends – but somewhere, you hear that faint, metallic echo of regret that lingers through the sound of ‘you did your best’. And when the word ‘friend’ has spiralled from the local pub to the global one, ‘I quit’ is the tweet your fingers twitch from typing.

That’s human, isn’t it?

It’s a rare moment when Twitter actually makes something harder.

It took the cool walk to the changing rooms and a wincing look at my back to reach the (obvious) realisation: -

The rhythmic roar of the machines and the rush of adrenaline, endorphins, had fused into a desire to ‘live up to’ something. And that wasn’t the responsibility of my competitors, my mates or my friends on Twitter – that was something I’d caused for myself.

Twitter can help us learn, strive, expand, encompass and comprehend… but ultimately how we choose to use it is up to us. Using it as a motivator is good – using it as sophistry to push yourself too far is not.

I’ll keep the scar on my back as a memento: sometimes the lesson you learn is how to quit.