Friday, 18 June 2010

digitally native

So, yesterday I met Jane.

Jane is an Englishwoman who lives in Switzerland with her partner Jason and her two children, Skye and Noah.

Jane feels safe in Switzerland. And so did I, with Jane; from the moment I met her.

And that moment was at Villeneuve station, where I recognised her almost instantly.

All the way from Platform 3 to Platform 1; both odd numbers.

We’d been in fairly constant contact already that morning. Joking, talking about directions, swapping jokes about Americans on trains, timings and lunch.

And we did all this without saying a word. We weren't on the phone - well, we were sort of on the phone.

But we'd not been Talking. We’d been Tweeting.

(Yes, that’s right, the man of dialogue has Twittered.)

So the reason I recognised Jane because was because her avatar on Twitter is a photo of her. (Unlike mine; I hide a bit behind The Dialogue Project’s logo: ten circles in a circle.)

Let me be clear: I’m not much a Twitterer, or a Tweep or a Twit. In fact it’s only really since Jane and I agreed to meet that I’ve tweeted at all.

But I’m as glad that I’ve tweeted as I am embarrassed to admit it. I really am. (Glad and embarrassed to be @2plus2makes5.)

It’s a cliché perhaps, but as a late adopter I’m discovering that Twitter is an amazing way of finding threads and paths you wouldn’t otherwise tug or tread.

Its lightweight form is the ultimate medium for linking content and conductor.

It’s gloriously democratic, brutally concise and gorgeously familiar.

People are frank, concise and witty in their tweets.

And they’re hugely forgiving.


But perhaps my favourite thing about Twitter is that people on it tend to think while they write. So it feels very live; very present.

And that’s because it plays to the strengths of its technology: it’s instantaneous and playful. (Facebook feels positively pedestrian in comparison.)

You can come in and out of it when you like. There’s no need for long goodbyes or apologies for absence.

No expectations and plenty of surprises.

But what use is it?

Well – there’s the obvious thing of keeping in light touch with the thoughts and movements of friends and colleagues. (Light touch mind you.)

But as well as that, thanks to Twitter I’ve allowed into my daily diet the banter of @stephenfry, the publicising forcefield of @eddieizzard, the deepest thoughts of @worldcupmotty and the razor sharp wit of @Aianucci. (And by the way I mourn still the loss of his fictional and ferocious@MTuckerNo10).

@rioferdy5 even sent me a message last night. Yes – Rio! Rio Ferdinand. (As a Leeds United fan this means more to me than you can possible imagine.)

Thanks Rio, you’re my hero. (And you’ll always look good in white to me.)

But Twitter comes into its own I think in two ways:

The first is as a mediator of events, on special occasions - like yesterday, when Switzerland conquered the mighty Spain.

Or on the night of our recent General Election here in the UK, when immediacy was everything – for 48 hours anyway.

Or when the Israeli soldiers jumped on the Gaza bound boat – when the urgency to know met the horrow or finding out. But when (more importantly than speed) truth burst out before anyone could kill it with a machine gun or mute it with an iron bar.

On these occasions, journalists, writers, passers-by and (dammit) people who care about what’s happening, can (and do!) abandon the formal heavyweight channels like the BBC, Sky News or CNN and write second by second about what their witnessing, thinking or feeling. And in a multiplication of six degrees of separation you can surf their turf – and make up your own mind on who’s view to choose or challenge.

Secondly - there’s something else that Twitter does.

It creates (bizarrely) friendships. Real friendships. (As well as virtual ones.)

Out of the candour that seems so natural in its natural digital habitat, springs a host of multiple opportunities for more contact, better contact, richer and deeper contact.

Because for some Twitter's not just a destination on a train journey, it’s a junction too.

Or so it was, at least, with me and Jane.


The day I met Jane was indeed the day that Switzerland beat Spain in the World Cup

But actually for me, it wasn’t the Swiss attack that made June 16th 2010 such a special day.

For me (and maybe for Jane too) there was a different kind of attack at the centre of that day.

And another goal too, the story of which I will unfold, gently, once Jane has read a draft of what I’ve written.

And then, and only then, I’ll post it. And you (whoever you are) can read it.

So for now, thanks @janeprinsep, for one of the most amazing conversations I’ve had in years.

And for letting me into your life, just a bit.

And for allowing me to share the recording of the conversation we had. (Once I've edited all 92 minutes and 34 seconds of it.)

More of that soon.

Till then – thanks Twitter.


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