Archive for the ‘ Twitter ’ Category

Facebook?

Facebook, oh Facebook – what for art thou Facebook? I’ve been on Facebook for three years now, lured in by my friend Elizabeth (who almost immediately stopped using it, the bugger) and then enticed to stay when a friend moved abroad for a while.

In that time it has been a source of comfort and despair, a portal into other people’s lives and a link to the past; a place to post my joys and (very occasionally) my miseries; somewhere to seek people out when bored, or drunk, or lonely. It’s been a short cut to friends and a way of discovering and establishing new connections.

When all’s said and done, I am definitely in credit to the bank of facebook – it has given me far more back than I have ever put in. I’ve connected with near neighbours and found an easy way to keep in touch with relatives near and far.

I enjoy the ‘live’ interactions – when you post something and get an instant riposte, and so begins a banter, with all its weird tangents and footnotes and crazed insights into the minds of people you thought you knew but who actually have hidden depths (they can recite a Shakespearean ode! they also like Throbbing Gristle! they too think the new Orla Keily wallpaper is to DIE for!)

I like viewing people’s pictures, particularly to have a nose around their homes and gardens; I enjoy being kept up to date on their biggest achievements, holidays, nights out, how well the kids are doing, and so on.

I mostly enjoy some of the excellent witticisms, which tend to come from other people’s threads rather than my own (thank you especially Mark Nelson & Sophie Everett, for being funny and entertaining and having friends on the same wavelength). Were I to abandon Facebook the single thing I would miss most would be Friday Night Build Up (you’ll all have to befriend Sophie to get in on the act).

At other times these are precisely the things that I hate about Facebook. A wise woman (well, Suzy Scavenger) once warned me that joining Facebook was akin to going to a school disco; if you were one of the popular kids, you’d probably love it, with your 6,000 friends and 50 apps and mad social life and dazzling existence. The rest of us would be stood around like wallflowers on the margins, feeling like failures for not being interesting or witty enough.

Facebook, you are truly no use in times of trouble. In my experience, the worst thing to do when you’re feeling life’s a bit crap right now is to log onto Facebook. You won’t feel better; any feelings of worthlessness will be further enhanced by seeing everyone else living it up on holiday, or announcing their recent promotion or lottery win, or telling you how marvellous their kids are (especially when your own has just told you you’re the worst mum EVER in the history of the universe.)

If you do decide to issue a cry for help and bare your soul about your miserable existence via a status update I’m not sure the existentialist musings of Dave, who you last saw on a bus in Redditch in 1987, will do the trick; nor does it help when Michelle, who you don’t like that much but felt you had to befriend when she sent her sixth request, tells you to keep smiling 🙂

So, my summary is this: Facebook is fab when you’re feeling fab; great too when you just want cheering up and happen across some witty friends online; but is shit if that’s how you’re feeling.

Of course, all this analysis hardly matters a jot. By the time my kids are old enough to have their own facebook accounts, in three and eight years time, it will be passe, history, yesterday’s news. After all, nothing ever lasts forever. (Remember Friends Reunited?)

It’s already been supplanted by Twitter, a medium I started to use a few months back for work purposes. (I even get measured on my twitter interactions, which is pretty galling.) However, I’m learning to love it – for a homeworker like me, Twitter is the equivalent of standing round the coffee machine exchanging a few words with workmates about the issues of the day. I’ve made loads of connections, helped by the fact that I have something people want (access to free editorial space for their company, idea, etc). I’m meeting up with three Twitter followers on Wednesday in fact. What I really like is that it’s in real time – people respond there and then, just like in conversation. For a home-aloner like me it’s a perfect place to enjoy a coffeebreak.

Well, not perfect exactly. That would be a coffee break with real friends. Nothing’s better than the real thing.

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Tweeting from the council chamber

Tonight was a first for me; I followed a council debate live from Dudley while snuggling in my bedroom listening to Elbow’s new album.

No, I wasn’t peering in to the council chamber with a telescope, in the style of James Stewart in Rear Window. I was following the debate through the medium of Twitter.

All I can say is that in the space of 12 Tweets I learned all I needed to ever know about the public sector cuts debate engaging the good folk of Dudley. It saved me attending myself (as if) but still made me feel intimately involved. I particularly liked the bit when the public gallery started chanting and the police had to be called to clear the chamber. All very exciting.

As it happens, I don’t even live in the district of Dudley but I do subscribe to the tweets of the Express & Star, a daily regional newspaper where I once plied my trade as a young reporter.

Someone there has clearly twigged the value of social networks in the battle to engage the hearts and minds of local people. It will be slow, and time-intensive – but I reckon this kind of initiative is the future.

We are used to reading reports from council meetings and courts and inquests and other venues where journalists are traditionally welcome to attend. In our new world of rolling 24/7 news, we can sometimes get those reports within minutes of the case or incident ending.

But being able to get an instant, regularly updated feed live as things unfold? That is powerful. That is really mind-blowing. Through Twitter, pictures can be uploaded, captions posted, precise and clear words written – and it is as if we are right there, while it’s happening.

It’s taken me a long time to “get” Twitter. I still don’t really get it, only because I mostly follow minor celebrities and comedians rather than people I know. I don’t want to network professionally, or engage with other PR people particularly; I’m not trying to market myself or my services or tout any wares. I’ve used it to find some good photography blogs and information sites, I follow a few fantastic record company and record shop sites that tip off about upcoming tours and that kind of thing, and I once asked someone for a print quote who I spotted on Twitter just as I was about to email someone else.

But for those people who do want to do networking, or to engage with like minded people on particular topics, then I get why Twitter matters. I get why more and more people are doing it.

For me the future of Twitter comes in sharing information in a way that is direct, unadulterated and interactive. Any Express & Star followers tonight would have been able to find out what was happening in a council chamber miles away, and then make an instant response if they were so inclined.

This type of information-sharing will soon be the norm. There are already several class and school tweeters, who post daily from the classroom about what the kids are up to. Court reporters are beginning to tweet from live cases.

I like that I could choose to “tune in” to these tweets, in much the same way we currently tune in to news shows or TV and radio programmes.

Thanks for twittering on tonight, whoever was behind those E&S Dudley tweets. Good job.

PS: That Elbow album – excellent by the way.

Oh, and if you are minded to follow my tweets (they are rare) then I’m @rockhousePR See you twitterers!

Over before it really got started – my adventure in daily blogging

This is just not working for me. I’ve tried to embrace it and enjoy it, and I’m glad I gave it a go, but this daily blogging lark is just not making me smile. I’m only 10 days in and I’ve already had enough.

I started keeping a blog for five reasons:

  • The first was because I like writing, in all and any format, and blogging was something I wanted to try. It looked like fun.
  • The second was purely career-driven. I’ve been out of journalism for a few years (except occasional freelance work) so I felt it was important to demonstrate to any future employer or client that I was aware of and up to speed with “modern” methods of communication. In the same spirit I’ve also learned to tweet, v-blog, make Flip movies and speak teen. (eg “Yo blood, props, that cravat is sick.”)
  • Thirdly, I wanted to become better at writing. I’ve earned a pretty good living writing, and later editing, “hard news”. My job was to write or create fact-driven, short and snappy news articles that squeeze into as few words as possible the essence of a story, usually created after interviewing various people and attending scenes of incidents. This is an art form that is harder than it looks, but it is far removed from writing lengthy features, and different again to writing comment pieces about myself, my feelings and my opinions. Neither of these skills comes naturally or easily to me, and as I like a challenge I thought keeping a blog would be a good way to learn as I go along.
  • Fourthly, I thought it would be a nice way to share my life virtually with other people.
  • Finally, I decided to blog as a way of keeping a diary of my life and times, partly for myself in my dotage, and partly for my kids. I thought it would be cool for them to one day be able to access information about me and my thoughts, to see what makes me tick.

I am not abandoning blogging, because the reasons I like it and the reasons I started a blog are the same today as they were a year ago.

But the daily discipline of sitting down to write a blog, sometimes when I’m at my weariest, just doesn’t work for me. Even when I was a daily journalist I had a couple of days off a week!

I’m also a changeable beast. Some days, I like nothing more than sitting at a computer or laptop, typing away. The words flow and it makes me feel good and complete to write.

Other days, it is a chore. A monumental bore. And it’s impossible for me to hide this in my writing. My words are stilted, my phrasing is dull and cliched, my subject matter tedious. I would choose to delete anything I wrote in this state of mind, but by pledging to post a blog every day I’ve felt compelled to produce something, no matter how rubbish I’ve felt it was.

So for this reason I’m giving up the Postaday 2011 challenge. I’ve also decided, for now at least, to take the Twitter app off my phone – another activity that has been fun but has now become too much a part of my daily routine for my liking. I might even stop facebooking for a while (heaven forbid).

So to those of you who know me – expect me to phone and text you more in future. To those who don’t – I’ll be back. Just probably not tomorrow night.


Flaming Lips and Dark Beaches

Last Easter we visited our favourite British seaside location, Woolacombe in north Devon. One night, after a particularly wonderful day, we headed down to the beach to take a stroll.

Other than the distant lights from the village, there was nothing to pollute the darkness. Not even the stars penetrated the black night sky. Our breathing and whispers were the only sound accompanying the gentle swish, swoosh of the far-off tide.

A bit creepy really – all that darkness, all that space.

The kids must have picked up on the vibe. They were terrified. They clung to me and their dad, begging to get back to civilisation.

Teasing them, we ran off towards the sea, turning to run back to them only when their cries of anguish reached fever-pitch. Ha ha, what a jape.

Sensibly, hubby thought it best to silence their screams before the police were called, so hoisted littlest boy on his shoulders and gripped the hand of big brother before setting off towards the bright lights of the Red Barn pub.

Because I like to frighten myself sometimes, I lingered awhile.

The sand between my toes was icy cold, making the whole of my feet tingle; the wind blowing across the beach was like gentle puffs of fairy breath. Before I knew it I got to contemplating the earth, the universe, everything. My life, where I was going, where I had been…what colour burps were…how long I would live. Then I hastened after my family, keen to swap my deep thoughts for the buzz of their noise.

I sometimes love being alone, in perfect isolation. Sometimes, like when I go for a long run or walk, or head off to take photos, being alone is inspiring and uplifting. But I’m not naturally good left to my own devices for long – I end up eating takeaways and jumping at shadows and getting greasy hair and getting melancholic.

That’s when I turn to my two loves for salvation  – people and music.

Sometimes, of course other people are not available – not in a real sense. I guess that’s why I’ve embraced social networking so wholeheartedly since I took to spending chunks of my week alone. It’s also why I dote on my iphone and my ipod – if ever I don’t like being alone, I’ve got company in my pocket.

Then there’s always my music. The first thing I tend to do when I am alone in the house and not revelling in the peace, is turn on some tunes.

Music has been a constant, loud and lively presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My dearest childhood memories involve music – from my mum blasting out Billie Jo Spears’ Blanket on the Ground, or The Carpenters, or Elvis, while spring cleaning on a Saturday morning; to listening to rock ‘n’ roll classics while she and dad practised for their world record jiving bid in 1976; to my sister loudly playing early Police, Jam  and Siouxsie and the Banshees in the bedroom we shared til I was 11.

My kids complain that I’m “always” listening to music. I tell them I am doing them a favour, educating them in pop and rock history and preparing them to be cool kids when they are teenagers. Then they insist on putting on JLS just to annoy me.

Top of my list of bands I feel a missionary zeal to teach them to love and appreciate is the Flaming Lips. Anyone who knows me well will know I have a particularly soft spot for the band’s frontman Wayne Coyne.

He turned 50 this week, and still looks amazing. I have dragged my husband to the north of Scotland to hear him perform. He doesn’t mind my infatuation though – Wayne is the sort of guy that men want to be like and women want to be with.

He is cool with a capital C, slightly mad but self aware, and has devoted his life to pushing back boundaries, both artistically and sonically.

Last year he made  a poster in his own blood to mark an appearance at a festival. When asked why he replied he thought it was better to use his own blood than extract a chicken’s. Oooookay…

This is also the man whose live festival shows start with him emerging from an alien mother ship and rolling over the audience in a giant zorbing ball, before then dazzling the audience with fantastic light and sound effects, confetti cannons, dancing teletubbies and giant yetis.

His band released an album in 1997 which has to be listened to on four separate CD players, through four separate speakers, to be properly appreciated.

Each Halloween, Wayne dresses up to scare trick-or-treaters who come to his home in America. He feels that it is good to scare children, because when they grow older, there are things “that are horribly scary…you can’t just run away from them or turn on a light and it runs away.”

He a man who believes in the power of communication, in every form, to heal, to make life better. As he eloquently puts it: “Without art, without communicating, we wouldn’t live beyond 30 because we’d be so sad and depressed.”

The incredible The Soft Bulletin, their breakthrough album of 1999, is a place I like to escape to if I’m ever feeling a need for people, but either real or virtual friends won’t do. It is a thing of beauty and brilliance; easily one of the best albums of all time.

It was written when Wayne’s father was dying, and some of the songs resonate with sadness. Waitin’ For A Superman, a track that blew me away when I first heard it, is a good entry point for people who don’t know much about the band. The opening verse is based on a conversation Wayne had with his brother, on realising his dad was not going to get well. He asked his brother: “Is it going to get heavy?” to which his brother replied: “I thought it was already as heavy as it can be.” The meaning behind the rest of the lyric is self-evident – there are some things in life that even a superman can’t lift, or make better.

The Flaming Lips are a bit like social networking. You either get it and embrace it, or you don’t. No point in dabbling – either go for it wholeheartedly or leave it. If you don’t get it, then I respect your choice – but just know that you’re missing out, all right?

TWITTERING AMONG FIELDS OF RAPE

Rape flowers

I am what is known as one of life’s “flitters”. Or, as my mum used to say, “jack of all trades, master of absolutely nothing.” Or just downright lazy. When the going gets tough, I’m first at the exit.

If I can’t master something pretty much instantly, or if I sense that continuing involves a degree of effort and pain, then I will usually find some excuse or other to abandon ship.

This flaky approach to “knuckling down” explains my inability to speak any Italian beyond ‘ciao bella’ and ‘il mio asino a guasto’; or to have got beyond mastering a shaky rendition of “Hong Kong Garden” on any of the five instruments I’ve attempted to learn. This includes recorder.

If something does manage to grab my attention for more than a nanosecond, I do tend to embrace it rather too wholeheartedly – and inevitably run out of steam long before the finish line.

This loving embrace quickly turns to indifference and ultimately hatred – ergo, my short lived love affairs with wild camping, house renovation, growing vegetables, running (currently rekindled), having a dog, blogging (still at early lust stage) and Iain M. Banks sci fi novels (don’t ask).

Imagine my delight then when I finally got round to activating a Twitter account last week. I thought it was going to be hard for a Luddite such as I to master, but I found it incredibly easy. And what a buzz!

Some of my favourite media writers, comedians and indie pop stars are regular Tweeters – and now I too could join the armies of followers hanging on their every word.

I am now following 67 people – pretty much all of them minor celebrities, indie pop stars, media types, comedians and a couple of politicians, and almost all of them London-based. Most of the people I follow seem to know each other and appear to watch an insane amount of telly.

In return I am being followed by 11 people – these include one friend who never uses it, a couple of record labels who want to promote their artists, and weird people from Japan who have discovered me through random generators.

I have fallen out with my husband, who got so sick of trying to get my head out of my phone or computer that he threatened to divorce me (by text, no less – he claims he tried to tell me to my face but I was too busy laughing at the latest witticism from @gracedent). The kids have asked if there’s any chance they can have some tea tonight “or will you be too busy again?”

I’ve had three direct “contacts” – where I’ve engaged in a conversation of sorts with people I am following. For the record these were with @campbellclaret (former Labour spindoctor Alistair Campbell) @tracey_thorn (one half of Everything But the Girl, who provided the soundtrack to my life through much of the 80s and early 90s) and @martin_carr (former leadman in 90s indie pop band Boo Radleys, now solo, making luscious music).

I have attempted to engage with a few other people by sending witty retorts to comments they have posted, only to be IGNORED. (I mean you, Stephen Fry, Boy George, various comedians.)

And that’s the unnerving reality of Twitter. It is essentially a small nucleus of celebrities, pop stars and media movers and shakers, each with thousands upon thousands of followers, being pursued avidly by the rest of the Twitter community. We circle around them, desperately tweeting undying love, jokes, or trying, like me, to be aloof & witty and so demonstrate that I am somehow ONE OF THEM.

My tweets so far include the following:

“Furry Vengeance = rubbish movie of the year. Nasty developer v nature shtick. HILARIOUS. Kids seem happy. They r easily pleased.”

“Is it too early to start on the vodka?The kids won’t notice, I have drugged them with pineapple upsidedown cake & Wipeout.”

And, in response to Alistair Campbell revealing that his last thought before being anaesthetised before an operation was of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams:  @campbellclaret Thought u were meant to think of yr nearest&dearest before going under. Oh, right. You poor man.

I’m also following Ed and David Milliband (didn’t want to show favouritism at this stage) and have signed up to @nickclegg and @downingstreet by way of political balance.

Twitter is a stalker’s dream come true – an open window with the curtains flung open, and a great way to boost your name dropping potential.

It can also be a force for good. The most followed celebrities regularly post up appeals or direct followers to news reports or websites to highlight human rights abuses, missing people or worthy causes.

Twitter has exposed ills and raised awareness of injustices – for example, an anti-BP ad which had been rejected by the Financial Times yesterday was tweeted and facebooked across the world within minutes.

Record companies, bands, book sellers, photographers and the like use Twitter to reach their fans direct, offering followers the chance to buy records, books, concert tickets and so on first. Only last week Lucy Mangan, a Guardian columnist and author, offered to post a copy of her new book direct to the first person to tweet her back.

It can also, I am told, be a great way to link up with like minded people locally, especially if you have a special interest or hobby. This I have failed to do so far, despite searching by location – so if there are any Kidderminster/Worcestershire based tweeters out there who want a new friend to follow, tweet me! @janemomma

Then again, you might not want to bother – for after a full on week I fear I am out of lust with Twitter already. It’s like shouting into a black hole. Nobody can hear you. I will be advised, I’m sure, that I need to follow more and more people, and so encourage more people to follow me, to become a real part of the community, but I already feel my indifference rising.

You know that feeling that life is short…well, I’m beginning to have that thought whenever I consider checking my Twitter account or clicking on the Tweetdeck app on my phone. Life probably is indeed too short to be twittering it away with people I don’t know and who don’t care about me. Just think, I could instead be on the phone or even spending actual time with people who actually matter to me. But then again, they wouldn’t be able to tell me what Al Murray had for lunch, nor where was the best cafe to eat in if you happen to be in Sloane Square. Mmm. It’s a tough call.

Anyway, in between Twittering on about nothing much to nobody, I also picked up my camera again. My photography had reached that stage of indifference, mainly because I had come to that moment where I felt I had to either give myself over to it completely or back off.

My gut instinct, as you can guess, was to back off, retire and give up on it. After all, life is short, etc, etc, and maybe I didn’t have the time to dedicate to it, nor the skill to make it worthwhile. It will certainly not pay any bills.

But then I realised I missed it – so I slung the camera in my car when I went to drop my son off at the in-laws for the day. On the way there I couldn’t help but notice the stunning yellow fields of rape dotted among the green and brown between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth.

So on the way back I pulled into a country lane and spent a happy hour walking around a farmer’s field, before heading off and stopping again at a field where I could not only capture more rapeseed scenes but also photograph my son’s favourite tree – the lightning tree – so called for obvious reasons.

It cheered me no end when I got round to sorting through them and putting them on the computer yesterday. I hope they make you feel sunny and warm too! Photography – my current favourite waste of time. Beats twittering hands down.

Field of rape, near Bridgnorth

Field of Rape, near Kidderminster

Oscar's lightning tree by a field of rape, near Dudmaston Hall

Rape flower in field