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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man

Exhibit A in Rod Liddle’s case against Twitter two weeks ago was a painful (but hardly representative) post by Stephen Fry.

29 July 2009

12:00 AM

29 July 2009

12:00 AM

Exhibit A in Rod Liddle’s case against Twitter two weeks ago was a painful (but hardly representative) post by Stephen Fry.

Exhibit A in Rod Liddle’s case against Twitter two weeks ago was a painful (but hardly representative) post by Stephen Fry. Exhibit B was a quotation from a sceptical ‘youth’ report written by a teenage intern at Morgan Stanley, who suggested that because he and his school-age contemporaries didn’t use Twitter, it was doomed. Hmmm.

This report did make me wonder how many people would want to befriend anyone whose idea of fun at age 15 is to work in a bank. But, even if his inference was wrong, his facts are largely right. Most people his age don’t need Twitter. For one thing, they don’t have many friends. Plus they already have an existing social network which serves them quite well: it’s called school.

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When everyone you know lives or works in the same place, Twitter isn’t much use. It’s later in life, with that diaspora of friendship which follows a move to university or a new city that the thing begins to make sense. It provides people with a simple and painless way to keep up to date with the everyday lives of people dispersed hundreds of miles apart, and maintain that selfless exchange of random nuggets of information which is one of the foundations of friendship. Before condemning the apparently self-aggrandising ways people broadcast their daily trivia on Twitter, never forget the value of the unseen exchanges and responses that these generate. Think of a typical drinks party: without the coincidences, the chance eavesdroppings, the random connections, there would be no point in going. The value of Twitter comes when you are overheard.

To understand what I mean by this, consider how the telephone network worked in the small Welsh town where my father lived in the 1950s. A typical call ran as follows: ‘Oh, hello Mrs X, could you put me through to Newport station, please?’ Mrs X (the operator) would then connect you to the station and you would ask for and be given the times of the following day’s trains to Bristol. So far, normal enough. But 30 seconds after you had hung up, the telephone would ring: ‘It’s Mrs X here from the exchange. Now if you want to get to Bristol, I remember hearing Mr Shaw saying he was driving down tomorrow morning, so maybe you could ring and ask him for a lift?’

Now I suppose being connected to this telephone exchange was pretty hopeless if you wanted to have an extramarital affair or run an international drugs cartel. But sometimes, as in this example, it was very useful. The same goes for Twitter. Collective knowledge is valuable. Mention that you are thinking of having a curry in Oxford and in minutes someone will come up with a recommendation (Spice Valley or Saffron, apparently). For this reason, some very clever people believe that the threat to Google, when it comes, will come from a collective social brain like this.

That all said, if you really can’t stand reading the self-obsessed ramblings of people born between 1955 and 1985, may I recommend the centenarian (http://twitter.com/ivyBean104). If she is too contemporary, try Samuel Johnson (http://twitter.com/DrSamuelJohnson). ‘Oatmeal (n.) In England, a Grain for Horses; in New York City, a Twenty Eight Dollar BREAKFAST.’ Or, if you can’t stand people at all, there’s always Tower Bridge (http://twitter.com/TowerBridge).

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