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Wednesday 28 September 2011

Twitter: Why the Little Blue Bird is Good

I had a lovely day yesterday. I spent most of it with Celia Pedroso, a travel journalist and food writer from Lisbon. We drank coffee, walked up Arthur's Seat, ate a scrummy lunch and generally had a fine time.

Celia was put in touch with me by a mutual acquaintance, food writer and legendary Metro restaurant critic Marina O'Loughlin. "Fascinating, but what is your point caller?" I hear you cry. Well, rather oddly, I have never actually met Marina. I only know her through Twitter where she tweets under the name @MarinaMetro.

And yet, there we were, Celia and I, two real life people chatting in the sunshine, brought together by a person I have only known as a series of 140 character tweets and a picture of a giant slug in horn-rimmed specs.

I used to attempt to explain the attraction of Twitter to non-Tweeters, but no longer. Now I simply hang a sign round my neck saying "I use Twitter so, yes, I am a moron." It's less painful and does not distract me from getting quietly slaughtered while the conversation moves onto bunions and how much to spend on cheese at Christmas.

The fact is Twitter is much like life. On Twitter there are good eggs, bad eggs, smelly eggs, clever eggs, sexy eggs, pompous eggs, an egg to suit every pocket really - as long as you're careful how you sit down. Also, just because the eggs are not actually in your pocket, do not presume that they will not one day end up in a delicious real life egg sandwich. Are you following this? Thought not. In which case, read on. Or not.

Being on Twitter is a Substitute for Living Life

An assumption often made by anti-Tweeters (let us call them "hostiles") is that relationships on Twitter are a substitute for bona-fide corporeal relationships.

Fact 1: Tweeting does not render one incapable of texting, or hiding from the neighbours like a proper normal.

Fact 2: I have friends in real life and I see and speak to them often. Sometimes even when, quite frankly, I really cannot be arsed.

Fact 3: A cursory glance at my timeline shows that, miraculously, people who tweet can do other things as well. They work, they go to the theatre, they run, they read, they cook wonderful food, they walk up hills, they swim in the ocean, they care for ill relatives, they help out at school. Their lives are as rich and diverse as anyone else's. Clearly there are exceptions, like Piers Morgan, but they are in the minority.

Twitter Friends Are Not Like Real Friends

Fact 4: I follow more than 600 people on Twitter and I'm not going to pretend that they are all bosom buddies. I am not about to invite the postman to dinner either, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have the odd exchange about the weather.

Fact 5: Some Twitter friends become real life friends. I know because I have drunk wine, eaten cake, danced and laughed with them. I had mentally tacked a large "No Vacancies" sign to the "new friendships" part of my life. Twitter brought back a bit of the freewheeling attitude to friendships that I had when I was younger, when I was quite happy to have half-cut partial strangers arrive at the door in order to watch Vic and Bob and share a slevery bottle of Irn Bru.

Fact 6: Sometimes, though perhaps rarely, you can develop a real friendship and fondness for people you have never met. I don't understand why people who think "84 Charing Cross Road" is charming and delightful refuse to believe that people can establish a genuine connection on Twitter.

People Only Talk About Rubbish Like What they have for Breakfast

Fact 7: Have you taken part in any real-life conversations of late? See my earlier point about bunions and cheese. I am as likely to talk crap in real life as I am on Twitter. In fact more likely because, like squeezing yourself into a tight party dress, you have to make a bit of an effort for 140 characters.

Fact 8: For lazy toe-rags like me Twitter is heaven sent. It is like having the zeitgeist elves visit while you are sleeping. Tweets I have favourited send me to wonderful photographs of Victorian London, obscure Northern Soul recordings, the full text of political speeches, recommendations for books and films, copies of research and inquiry reports. As well as sites where you can draw stick men and watch kitttens ride on tortoises.

I don't like everything about Twitter. There are times when a clash of "tone" makes it feel prettty uncomfortable - like going out for dinner and having the person next to you strip naked and sit on their lasagne, crying, while other diners are playing scrabble or trying to put a hat on a guinea pig.

There are plenty of things about Twitter that irritate the hell out of me. The playground spats, the pack mentality, the displays of aggression and snide remarks. But, let's face it, walk down Princes St on a Saturday and you're bound to bump into one or two total and utter gits.

Twitter can also be a bit exhausting. I think it may have been Greg Stekelman, aka @themanwhofell who said it's a bit like having an angry wasp in your brain. The knowledge that it's whirring away all day and all night, like a giant pedantic cocktail party can make it hard to switch off. But then, some people get addicted to Benylin.

Sometimes I see myself from the outside, staring at a never ending stream of tiny people on my phone and think "The whole thing's bonkers." But I don't ever think, as its critics do, that it is a barrier to "real" experience.

I've been thoroughly cheesed off and Twitter has lifted my mood, I've been happy as a clam and Twitter has made me happier. It has made me laugh, it has made me cry, it has patted me on the back and it has made me pull my socks up. Twitter is not the pinnacle of human achievement, but it's thought provoking and fun and I'm glad I found it.

Twitter is what you make it, and what makes it are the people. You know who you are and I'm glad to have met you.