It has taken me a while, but I think I finally get Twitter. I like to think of myself as an early adopter of new ideas and novel technology, but like most of my non-tweeting friends, I assumed that this strange world of 140 characters would be full of the banal comments of the very dull, or the vain utterances of the very famous. Surely even the wit of the excellent Stephen Fry could not compensate for this tedium, and don’t I already get enough of this on Facebook anyway? (except, of course, that I don’t have a single celebrity friend to boast of there).
My brief flirtations with the little blue bird were not helped by the dominance of @ signs and # tags, coupled with confusing, abbreviated hyperlinks, which hampered my attempts to decipher anything at all. I thought it best left for those with more time than sense, and left it sitting comfortably next to day time television as something to avoid.
Recently, however, I have become a convert, and like all new converts I feel a need to evangelise. If you have no desire to succumb to my attempt to persuade you to join up, you would do well to stop reading now – but if you enjoy reading new things on the internet, like this blog, then the chances are that Twitter is for you. The first thing to say about it, is that it is not at all like Facebook. The latter has the potential to both connect you to your family and friends and bore you silly in equal measure, while the former has almost nothing to do with people you actually know, and everything to do with people you would like to be influenced by. If you like where someone is coming from then you can follow their tweets, read what they are reading and be challenged by their point of view, all with the assurance that if you become irritated or offended by their utterances then the unfollow button is just two clicks away.
The beauty of Twitter is not the occasional amusing comment, but the links to interesting newspaper articles, web-based resources and the general intellectual stimulation that is out there. In all my attempts to find other blogging doctors, a Google search has only every resulted in a handful of contenders. Within a week of tweeting among the health community I now have GP blogs coming out of my ears, each one unique and interesting, tackling the same issues I face, but with its own perspective. I have discovered health resources that I never knew existed, and been prompted by the latest research as soon as it is published.
Twitter works much like a newspaper, and the great thing about it is that it is customisable and personal. My own Twitter Gazette, as you might expect, has a weighty health section with several GPs, Health Correspondents from major newspapers, British Medical Journal columnists and the like. A much lighter general science supplement comes next – with the New Scientist taking a lead here – and political interest is kept going mostly by following programmes on Radio 4. I love the fact that my newspaper can combine both print and audio media, or link to the videos of You-Tube or TED talks. What is more, the Sunday supplements that usually go straight into the recycling in my house – namely Fashion, Travel and Money Matters, can be completely absent with no wasted resources. Most of the content I have chosen is of a fairly serious nature, as I hope to learn something and not just be entertained, but since every decent newspaper has a good cartoonist, I follow Larry the Cat for some light relief. This spoof cat from No10 gives an amusing, irreverent insight into life with the PM!
Like any newspaper, I can read it carefully from cover to cover, or I can skim through it if time is short. Unlike my e mails, or even Facebook messages for that matter, if I miss a day or even a week it really doesn’t matter. I may be a little out of touch with the news, but no-one is going to ask why I haven’t replied to their urgent message, and nor will I have an overflowing in-box when I return. Unlike my newspaper, however, I can choose to interact with my virtual newsfeed if I choose to. I can put my own tweets out there, retweet what I find interesting, reply to tweets and join in conversations.
However, what I like most of all about this new medium is that it has something delightfully subversive about it. I think this stems from the fact that most of the content I read has nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch, or anyone like him. For once, I can choose to follow the thoughts of those without an editor hovering over them to make sure that they follow the political agenda of whichever media mogul owns their pen.
So, I shall be tweeting from now on. Love it or hate it, I’d be fascinated to know what you think about the site, and delighted if you would be interested in following me.