Cats and kings on Twitter

I’m not just a late adopter, I’m a reluctant one. If I’d been around in the 1920s, I probably would only have only learned the steps for the Charleston in 1931. It took a social media course at work for me to finally ‘join the conversation’ through gritted teeth last May. Turns out, like many arranged marriages, it was a good match after all.

Some see the service only as a glorified link-sharing platform or a place to let off steam, but it is much more than that. Twitter is a fantastic shortcut to good quality information. Through Twitter you borrow the eyes and ears of the people you find most interesting, important or fun. I think of it as a never-ending group discussion, like sitting around with a bunch of people making scrapbooks from a pile of global content. They’re pasting news reports, research findings, events, reviews, blog posts, videos, photos, personal observations and witty one-liners into their scrapbooks, pointing out each item to you as they go along. It’s a way of sharing passions and you can join or leave the feast at any time. For me that’s been invigorating, it has fed into my work on the journalism side as well as my creative writing.

Without Twitter I would not have:
1. Entered a flash fiction story for the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology yesterday because I wouldn’t have heard of it without following Irish writer @NualaNiC (Nuala Ní Chonchúir)
2. Interviewed @AlaindeBotton in Basel on Wednesday (all arranged last minute on Twitter, more about that next week)
3. Written articles about women’s issues in Switzerland in response to Anne Marie Slaughter’s @SlaughterAM having-it-all essay.

Twitter is all things to all (wo)men. The Twitterati I follow fall into three broad categories – news, countries and writing.

Twitter is a fabulous resource for people interested in a particular region or country. It has helped me feel much more present in Ireland. From small things, like hearing a pub I used to work in burned down, to big things like the current abortion debate, I get a sense of being around again. Don’t worry there’s lots of good stuff too, like the pictures of sunrises in Sandycove posted by @blathnaidhealy.

On the ground
There’s a thrill to be had following a dynamic developing story on Twitter. You don’t have to wait for the reporter to come out of the court for his or her piece to camera. Follow the right person (like BBC Africa Correspondent Andrew Harding @BBCAndrewH at the Pistorius trial) and you can get the action line by line as it happens.

Of course with an unfolding story, information has to be handled with care. One tweet during the Boston manhunt said it all (I’m paraphrasing here): “Faced with this barrage of confusing and conflicting information, I just wish there was a printed summary of all the verified facts available the next day.”

There’s so much to say about the writing community on Twitter that I’ll have to put it in another post. For emerging writers Twitter is Open University meets support group. Check it out for yourself!

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