I've spent 100 hours tweeting – have I been wasting my time?
More and more people are ‘tweeting’ and rarely a day goes by without Twitter being in the headlines. As Martin Hesp hits a tweeting milestone he asks himself why he does it.
What is exactly is Twitter for? It is a question I asked just over a year ago when I started "tweeting" on the well-known social networking site – and it is a question I repeat now having wasted, or otherwise, a total of more than 100 hours of my life in a tittle-tattled filled corner of cyberspace.
There will be many Westcountry worthies out there who'll already have turned the page not wanting to waste a single nanosecond of their valuable lives thinking or hearing about things like Twitter – but there will also, I'll wager, be a vast number of folk stopping to give this article a second glance.
Because they too will have been asking themselves what Twitter is for and wondering why they spend so much time on it. If you are not on this most instant of all social networking sites and assume it's only for media-types and other members of the chattering classes who've nothing better to do, think again.
Fantastic offer at Swanson Ford, Newton Abbot. 3 Years FREE Servicing and 5 Years Warranty available on your BRAND NEW FORD FIESTA with the AWARD WINNING ECOBOOST ENGINE!!!
Terms: Limited stock available. Only whilst stock lasts
Contact: 01626 240583
Valid until: Tuesday, December 24 2013
I follow, for example, a Twitter-user who farms the most remote acres of land in all southern England – a man who "tweets" regularly from the cab of his tractor in the heart of the moors. I know of trawlermen, taxi-drivers, taxidermists, tour-operators and tennis coaches who tweet, as well as butchers, bakers and candlestick makers...
Indeed, I have been amazed not only by the plethora of people, but the wide social mix which has joined Twitter since I started knocking out 140-character missives having been persuaded to do so 14 months ago by a beautiful young female journalist in the middle of a Borneo jungle. It was a moment of weakness that has resulted in me taking a long, sometimes fascinating, sometimes boring, and occasionally depressing journey in a digital world that touches our own real universe.
When I say long, I mean that my Twitter-feed tells me that this very week (at my present rate of tweeting-knots) I will pass the 6,000 mark in tiny messages authored. If you go in for lazy maths as I do, you could assume each of these tweets has taken me a minute to produce – which means I will have spent exactly 100 hours of my valuable and non-returnable life regurgitating this stuff in just over a year.
That's two-and-a-half weeks hard work – or a fortnight's holiday, looked at another way. Doing what exactly? Where has it got me? Has it been beneficial for the 1,100-plus folk who follow me? Is it good for my own soul and sense of wellbeing? Is it profitable for my employers? Have more people read my articles in the Western Morning News and at westernmorningnews.co.uk – our website – because my tweets have pushed them in that direction? Will I go to meet my maker a happier and more profoundly fulfilled human being?
If I was being brutally honest, I'd have to answer most of these questions with a negative. Certainly the happiness one. As a journalist I "follow" lots of other hacks who work in the region – and reporters major on road traffic accidents. Spend a week on Twitter following media-folk in the South West and you wouldn't believe how many horrible crashes happen on an almost hourly basis. A year of it has put me off driving.
On the other hand I have picked up some excellent stories from Twitter that have then been developed into articles for the WMN – rare birds in Scilly and floods in strange places being just two I can recall. Moreover, I know I have managed to propel some readers towards these and other stories because I've had many tweets sent back to me commenting on things I've written in the newspaper.
Which is where we get into interesting territory because internet networking sites like Twitter furnish the world with a two-way street. Until recently most people have been at the end of a cul-de-sac when it came to the great big universal story of the world around them.
I know older journalists who say: "And why not? Consumers of news and all other media related material are simply consumers. We produce so that others can benefit from what we do. It's a product, just like a carrot. No one ever suggests consumers start interacting more with the vegetables they've just purchased."
If what I did as a journalist was to produce just pure news, I might agree with that. But newspapers like this one fulfil a much bigger role. The WMN's job is to be the mirror that reflects the big, overall, story of the Westcountry. We are proactive as well as reactive. If we were in a laboratory we'd not only describe the results of the experiments, we'd act as the petri-dish where the bacteria was grown.
That's where you, the readers, come in. That's where we all come in. And that is where social networking sites like Twitter have their most potentially powerful usage. It's about community – about everyone having a role to play. But here's the most basic truth about Twitter and other forms of digital interaction:. It's just like everything else in life – what you get out is directly related to what you are prepared to put in.