It’s been a funny couple of weeks in the parts of Twitterland and the blogosphere that I inhabit. It seems we’ve all been learning lessons recently about how to behave and what to say, whether in 140 characters, or in the more luxurious length of a blogpost. Well, I assume we’ve been learning lessons, but I’m not sure.
I guess it’s all about manners.
It all started when Gavin Dudeney posted about people’s egos and whether or public thanking for re-tweets was a good idea. That seemed to bruise a lot of heels. Next thing, Karenne Syvester was asking people to vote for the sexiest man in EFL – and she gets hit with the same kind of criticism (laden with gender worries) as Lindsay Clanfield was when he did his ELT guru popularity poll a few months ago. Now, on Jason Renshaw’s blog some Turkish people have been understandably (?) offended by some thoughtless generalisations about their country (and that was after Jason was obliged to take down his ‘sexiest lady’ in ELT because that had offended people too).
My points of reference so far are located in the inward-looking world of ELT, but it’s happening out ‘there’ too, with luminaries like Stephen Fry getting upset by tweets and blog comments so that they are tempted to commit twittercide Good grief! What on earth is going on?
Now (thanks to @shellTerrell) I have read Steve Wheeler’s blog about ‘weapons of mass distraction’ – and especially the new phenomenon of tweckling (tweet heckling) where a whole army of tweets rips a presenter’s talk to pieces on a conference tweet site. My God, how horribly awful that would be – a stream of 140-charater invective from tens, hundreds of people in your audience saying how really really bad your talk has been. Most of us can usually (but by no means always) escape with the belief that we ‘got away with it’ (because – as Luke Meddings said in answer to my last posting, most people don’t actually want you to fail). We don’t have to hear all the negative and critical things that people are saying to each other in the coffee break! But if you knew (and could read) a significant number of aggressive tweets? I can’t bear the thought! It’s bad enough when, after giving a talk or a seminar, you read a whole bunch of positive feedback with one negative comment; guess which has the greatest impact!)
Of course people can be incredibly bad-mannered ‘live’ in presentations too; talking on mobile phones, walking in and out, chatting to their neighbours, looking menacingly bored (you KNOW what I am talking about!), and asking hostile questions. But those moments pass in an instant. Tweets, though, can hang around for ages, and be re-tweeted endlessly. God I hope I never get seriously tweckled!
I wonder whether the susurrations of upset and bad temper which have characterized the last couple of weeks in this little neck of the twitblog woods have something to do with the strange blend of private-and-public that the social-networking world brings into being. A lot of tweeting is good-natured, jocular and supportive. Many tweets I read tell me about things I did not know about before, or direct me to sites of interest (like @shellTerrell’s tweet which lead me to discover the concept of tweckling – see above). But ‘normal’ tweeting and blogging are public events too (otherwise why have DMs), and perhaps that’s why people get so steamed up. For it may be that while people enjoy talking about who the ‘sexiest’ person is in a private social evening, the same thing looks unattractive (however humorous the intent) in the public sphere; perhaps a good moan about working abroad, laced, as it sometimes is, with a dose of mild racism, is almost allowable in the bar or in your sitting room (though that needs examining too), but it’s less acceptable when it is shouted aloud to a large blogging and tweeting community. Perhaps the egos in my field of English-language teaching seem more contained in conversation than they do when constantly being paraded in front of a network of followers.
I have certainly tweeted while listening to a plenary session at a conference and I greatly enjoyed the way that tweeting made me think about what the speaker was saying – and it was fun to see if other people felt the same. Nor am I in any way blameless in all this, of course. I have ego-tweeted with the best of them (just not so often – he said hopefully, clutching at straws). I have expressed opinions which others probably disliked. I have committed all sorts of other breaches of tweet/blog etiquette (if there is or even should be such a thing). I walked out (well slipped out) recently from a famous speaker’s presentation when I thought he was disengaged and was insulting his audience. I have certainly, too, enjoyed the luxury of being able to moan about the country I was living in even whilst loving it with a kind of desperate passion. I moan about my own silly inward-looking land too – but take offence when outsiders make ill-informed comments about it.
Perhaps the best answer to unfortunate posts and tweets is just a kind of detached haughtiness – a silence of disinterest, if you will. If that IS the case, I have signally failed by writing this post!
Anyway it’s not all bad though. When Sara Hannam posted recently about the distressing fact of being ‘relieved’ of a whole lot of cash by some street mugger, she was inundated by a swathe of supportive and sympathetic comments. There is ‘heart’ in the Twittersphere after all!