Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Tweet Tweet TWITTER

Tweeting in birds is to attract attention - and food....

It is hard to believe but only a month ago I started to embark upon the roller-coaster ride of learning Twitter, how it works and how people play the game. It has been an incredibly momentous period, with huge world events occurring in tandem, my learning curve including different aspects of how this phenomenon works and otherwise feeding an obsession to follow the Hackgate soap opera. The appalling events in Norway unfolded before my disbelieving eyes once I had spotted the first notice of trouble on the Reuters website, right down to a first tweet on the shootings.  To follow that on the same day with the news of losing a very talented musician who had suffered so much pain and be prompted by myriad users to a very fine piece of writing that was strong, compassionate and understood terribly well how these things happen was truly unexpected.  I am purposely not naming names here, those names are not why I am writing this blog.

Twitter is so young.  It was born in 2006 and took a few days of hatching before it was given such a profoundly apt name, apparently intended as much as anything else to reflect the success of Flickr (I must be one of the very few who are concerned about Flickr but that is different stuff). A collaborative effort following on from brainstorming, with development and input from users and non-users, software developers etc, it has grown into a global presence, sometimes being given credit for more influence than is quite true. Having done a lot of tour-leading and group escorting I know a lot about group dynamics, the nature of the group is frequently at odds with the individuals that make it up, a disconcerting truth that impacts on behaviour patterns. This appears to be something that happens with Twitter as well and is plausibly part of its addictive power.

As with birdsong, individual tweets are completely ephemeral.  What has been fascinating, however, is that even taking this into consideration the collective force of tweets is instructive.  I have also taken to studying our local bird population with a very different eye, because there are parallels.  I think!

It can feel lonely at times
When I opened my account I felt like a young robin sitting on a spade handle making noises that came out rather more harshly than intended, almost staccato. In fact I am still very much in training, so it is a bit hasty of me to be doing this now, but when I can sing fluidly (hopefully) I may forget the learning process and miss this chance to capture the impressions and thoughts of both tweeting worlds.  Plus the plan is that when that happens I will be very busy thinking along more focussed lines.

The other day over an outdoor lunch there was a sudden flurry of tweets and twitters in the trees behind us.  It was very loud and very insistent and obviously deeply concerned about something that was happening.  In web Twitter world this is the equivalent of TT’s or Twitter Trends and they get listed.  Once you know they are there they can be the little warning lights that something is ‘up’.  With the birds this time it was the very dangerous sight of a hobby (a hawk with a taste for small birds) flying overhead, close enough to be looking for his own lunch.  On Twitter, it has been about parliamentary committees, big resignations or mass-shootings allied to bombing. It can also be about rather silly gossip, TV watched or celebrity funny stunts, but these gust up and go again.  These TT’s are a bit like when a cat wanders through a hedge, the birds nearby flare-up and then calm down as the feline prowler moves off.  Luckily for our birds, the local cats are very focussed on the good supply of rabbit nearby and less inclined to suffer the pecks and parries of outraged beaks.

There are cuckoos.  Outside and on the web.  People pretend to be who they aren’t for myriad reasons, some users go through a strange authentication process that adult birds really ought to put their over-sized eggs through!  One real cuckoo that was round here a few years ago had a strange stutter to its call which was interesting, almost a French accent….  As well as the cuckoos there are the nightingales, who sing long and clearly, lyrical and majestic in their use of phrasing.  Our real nightingales even managed to raise chicks this year, so some slightly odd-looking baby robins have been learning to make noises nearby.  That is just an amazing sight and an amazing thought.

Some tweeters make more sense than others
There are also some very mad blackbirds.  There is one who prostrates himself on any sunny surface, panting in what looks like ecstasy, wings outstretched.  Either he or one of his relatives had a habit in the springtime of starting his call at 3am with a VERY limited repertoire!  He was very lucky it was dark, slippers at dawn were very imminent.  I don’t really need to follow this analogy through, the standard view of Twitter is the level of less meaningful content, but my experiences are not proving that to be the case.

Peer-group pressure can influence behaviour
There is still a great deal to be learned about how this game works.  One thing I have learned so far is that there are some peer-group ‘rules’ that need selective obedience unless you want to go quite mad.  There is a great deal that cannot be said with reference to the garden, but as Miss Marple was keen to point out, the world happens in a village in microcosm and I believe the same can be true for any collection of living beings.

1 comment:

  1. A friend has quite rightly pointed out that I omitted to mention starlings. I admit I intended to, I got over-enthusiastic about clicking on Post.

    Starlings are other birds from the garden that have deep relevance to Twitter. On Twitter there are various techniques of playing the game as I said and one more is the idea of the 'Re-Tweet'. I did one this morning for a different piece I have written. They are called RT's in Twitter short-hand and are like when our friendly starlings try to copy the noises they hear. Our local ones are highly melodious with the nightingales to copy, but they are also very well-known for copying the noises of mobile telephones - since 2006 the ubiquitous Nokia ring has been less of an issue, but some can manage the theme to Mission Impossible.... a classic birdy RT...