AdLand Suit is Dan Shute, a Board Account Director at Delaney Lund Knox Warren, a top ten London Advertising Agency. This is where I write about the life of a Suit - which can include pretty much anything. Delaney's didn't know I was doing this, but they do now. They still don't agree with everything I say though. They'd also probably rather I swore less.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Why I Love Twitter. And Why I Need A Break.

2009 has been the year of many things: the year of the first Irish Grand Slam since nineteen fifty something; the year pop ate itself on X-Factor; the year Gordon Brown got somebody's name slightly wrong in a heartfelt hand-written letter; and the year Russell Brand got in trouble for banging a grandfather's granddaughter. But, much more than that, it's been the year of twitter. Since Stephen Fry talked of its joys on Jonathan Ross (nothing gets the digerati more excited than having their brand discussed on TV), the UK has been in twitter's thrall. In this post I'm going to look at the influence twitter now has, and whether or not that's a good thing, I'm going to talk briefly about 'what twitter is', because, let's face it, nobody seems to know, and then finally, I'll close with a quick explanation of why you won't be seeing me on twitter for a while, much as I love it.

Because it's true that twitter's users love twitter. Through no real design of my own, I got involved in twitter fairly early on, back in 2007. There were only 6 of us on-line back then (statistics author's own) so receiving a text every time somebody updated was actually a viable proposition. Basically, twitter in 2007 was just Rory Sutherland, Mark Earls and I chatting about Welsh Rugby. Simpler times - it was nice. But I digress.

While the affection for twitter of those of us who tweet continues unabashed, the rest of the world (and the mainstream media in particular) continues to mistrust it, largely because nobody can work out 'what it's for'. And recently there have been a couple of incidents that have convinced a large number of people that while we might not be certain 'what it's for', they can be pretty certain that it's bloody dangerous, and needs to be stopped.

Now, I'm not going to suggest that twitter is perfect. As is too often the case with a predominantly liberal group of people, there is a streak of self-righteousness running through twitter which can be pretty ugly when it rises to the fore. In the last couple of months, there have been outbursts of piety about one rude guy being rude to another rude guy, a dickhead doing something dickheadish and writing about it, like a dickhead, and a comedian famed for making bad taste jokes making a joke that some deemed to be in bad taste, and those are just a couple of examples. Those incidents led to the rude chap losing his job, everybody thinking the dickhead was a dickhead and a fat-faced comedian getting even more publicity for his latest tour of fat-faced comedy. Whilst the phrase 'lynch-mobbing' is melodramatic and sensationalist in its own right, it certainly wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that twitter's liberal crown slipped slightly, and that in their enthusiastic victimisation of individuals that they felt had victimised some other individuals some twitter users were redefining irony at a terrifying pace. It's worth saying though that in neither of those cases was the voice of twitter united.

Because, of course, as any twitter user will tell you, there is no such thing as a 'twitter voice' - although it can often seem that way. Twitter, by its very nature, is self-determining. You follow the people you choose to follow, and in turn people choose whether or not to follow you - inherently, you end up following people of a similar mindset. And if somebody turns out to be the sort of person that you don't want to listen to, well then you unfollow them, and you don't have to listen anymore.

But they'll still be there. Because this is democracy - this is freedom of speech, and that means everybody gets a voice, no matter how fundamentally twattish that voice may be. Which brings me onto the biggie - Jan Moir.

I'm not going to go into detail regarding the Jan Moir circus - people much smarter than I have done that elsewhere. Long story short: idiot wrote hateful and ill-informed piece about poor chap; world pointed out that piece was hateful and ill-informed, and that idiot was indeed an idiot; idiot apologised (sort of - clarified/backtracked is probably a better way to think of it); world moved on. (Opinions all very much author's own. Well, mine, Charlie Brooker's and the right-thinking liberal world.)

It is agreed that twitter played a key role in what went on - the argument is about what that role was. The accepted view, in the mainstream media at least, is that twitter played, at best, the role of rabble-rouser, and at worst of censor, rising up in moral indignation at the supposed saying-of-the-unsayable, and in doing so lined Free Speech up and kicked it squarely in the nuts. I'd love to say that this was the reaction of the Daily Mail (and it was), but it went further than that - only last week Radio 4 devoted a half hour to discussion of just how bad twitter is for free speech (at one point Michael Buerke stopped a so-called twitter-defender mid-flow, because they didn't 'have time to talk about a more positive example of twitter in action').

But this, to me, was where the twitter-defenders went wrong. They shouldn't have been looking for other, positive examples - they should have been talking about how fantastic a role twitter played in exposing Jan Moir. You see I, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, was involved in the "Jan Moir Twitter Storm", and it certainly didn't feel like it was about censorship, or the denial of the right to speech, to me: quite the opposite. Yes, twitter was outraged, but it wanted people to know why - twitterers wanted people to read what Moir had written, and then they wanted them to be as furious as they were, which to me is as integral an element of free speech as Moir's right to pen the original article. Censorship obviously has no place in a free, liberal, permissive society - but neither does the right to escape censure when you have published or proclaimed something utterly deplorable. In another time, Moir's article would probably have avoided the eyes of the people that might have found it offensive, and it would have passed unchallenged. As it was, her indefensible views were held up to a global audience, and they were judged accordingly. Twitter is an agent, an enabler of free speech, and Moir-gate proved that conclusively.

And yes, there were idiots. A few people apparently posted Moir's home address on-line, and several people retweeted false allegations about or views on the original article without having actually read it. These people are fuckwits. But twitter didn't create these fuckwits - it just gave them a voice. And like all fuckwits, they're easily ignored.

Because that's the joy of twitter, and what makes it brilliant - every user creates their own twitter experience by following the people they find interesting, and, more often than not, like-minded. Bigots (or your more common or garden idiots) expose themselves fairly quickly (it's amazing how naked 140 characters can make you feel), at which point people tend to stop listening to them. It's called unfollowing. It's easy. It's cathartic. And it means you don't have to listen to the idiots.

Because it's when you stop listening to the idiots that twitter becomes brilliant. That's when twitter becomes a bunch of interesting people sharing interesting articles, clips, stories, facts, conversations, witticisms or just bouts of inventing swearing. For Suits, it's an invaluable source of information, news and industry gossip. Yes, twitter can be a champion of free speech, but more often than that, it's just fun. I've got to know an awful lot of intelligent, interesting, smart and funny people through twitter, and formed genuine relationships with them, and I'm an anonymous sprite without a head, which doesn't make that sort of thing easy. So if you don't tweet, I'd urge you to start: you'll discover a lot of interesting things, and you'll discover them before anyone else; but more than that, you'll encounter an awful lot of very, very good people. And that's a good thing to have.

So what is twitter? I don't really think that’s a question I can answer - it's far too many things to far too many people. I do, though, think it's possible to have a view on what the twitter experience is, with inevitable bias towards my own experience - here are my starters for ten:

- twitter is following Stephen Fry, Ashton Kutcher, Lance Armstrong and Oprah because you think you're supposed to, then unfollowing them once you realise they're dull

- twitter is accepting that Richard Bacon is more entertaining than Stephen Fry

- twitter is developing a crush on the funny girl who's probably nowhere near as hot in real life as she is in her profile picture, then discovering that she is, and that she's even funnier

- twitter is sharing an interesting article with people you know will find it interesting

- twitter is getting really really ANGRY about something, and then slightly embarrassed about that self-same anger

- twitter is clicking on a link you know you're going to enjoy just because of the person it came from

- twitter is learning a shitload of stuff that you didn't know

- twitter is wishing Graham Linehan would stop being outraged by EVERYTHING, ALL OF THE TIME

- twitter is wishing Caitlin Moran was, if not your mum, then at least a drunk aunt

- twitter is getting stupidly excited the first time a celebrity @ replies you

- twitter is getting drunk and saying something you regret

- twitter. Makes. X-Factor. Better.

- twitter is many an afternoon lost, but rarely an afternoon wasted

- twitter is NOT where the kids are

- twitter is CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis

- twitter is the songs from the 80s that you hadn't thought about in years

- twitter is a place where you can appreciate the Backstreet Boys without having to pretend it's ironic

- twitter is a surprisingly evocative diary of days and months past

- twitter is precisely as interesting and as boring, and as frivolous and as serious, as you choose to make it

- twitter is not facebook status updates

- twitter is whatever you make it. Some of these points will apply to you - a lot may not. Let me know what you think in the comments.

And so to the final point. Despite all of that, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be taking a break from twitter for a while. You'd be surprised how tiring living a pseudonymous existence can be, and I need a bit of a break. It might be a few weeks, it might end up being just a couple of days. AdLand Suit isn't going anywhere - I've invested far too much in it - but I'm going to do a bit of thinking about what I want to do with it. I have some ideas, but frankly I need to get the bastardly swine flu out of my head before I can make a proper decision. So I'm taking a twitter-break. I'll still be checking email, so I'll see DMs, comments on here and (obviously) emails themselves, but I won't be tweeting and I won't be looking at twitter itself. Take care of yourselves, and keep making twitter brilliant - I'll see you all shortly, quite possibly with some exciting news.


Rob Mortimer said...

Hell yes.
Great post, see you soon I hope.

Oh and who is number 3?!

Ferders said...

Twitter is genuinely feeling sad when one of your favourite tweeters decides they are taking a break...

n3ssaj said...

I am not a number, I am a free man.

Tom Harvey said...

Great post with great points that I can identify with greatly. Enjoy your break and rest well because I, for one of many, awaits your righteous return.

snoxishere said...

twitter is precisely as interesting and as boring, and as frivolous and as serious, as you choose to make it.

Wise words, headless boy. In fact, you could replace 'Twitter' with 'Life'.

Ah, so Twitter has become life. No wonder you're taking a sabbatical/compiling a book of tweets.

real men write long copy said...

you pulled on twitter?
now you really are my hero.

neilperkin said...

Watching X-Factor will not be the same :-(

Graham.Creative. said...

Perhaps you could rent your name out. Like houses when the Royal Open is on.

Twitter's SO last year anyway.

Here's one for the book: You're the single best anonymous adland suit on twitter that I'm following" Fact.


Anonymous said...

This is the equivalent of Campbell Lace Beta not pitching for any new business.

Anonymous said...

Twitter is, for me, more than anything else, point3. I don't doubt she is as great in 'real life'. Obviously, I'm not daft enough to say who I am, bit I'm not a chimp [sic].

AdLand Suit said...

Thank you for all of the comments - I'm very touched, even if most of them do seem to concern 'Number 3'. And I'm glad people like the post.

I'll see you all soon. And maybe buy you all a beer.

Jam said...

Sad times. I don't doubt you'll be able to avoid posting - it takes some effort, after all - but will you be able to avoid checking? And for how long?

We all want to know :)

Anonymous said...

Twitter is hoping to be point 3...and getting gazumped x

jackster69 said...

Shit! I've just realised that my X Factor experience is going to be severely diminished. Bollocks

saeriol said...

And I didn't even get the chance to follow you before you fled.

You'll tweet again, don't know where, don't know when but I know you'll tweet again some sunny day ;-)

Tom said...

You bitch. At any point did you think how this might affect ME? I'm sobbing as I type...

Oh and ' twitter is developing a crush on the funny girl who's probably nowhere near as hot in real life as she is in her profile picture, then discovering that she is, and that she's even funnier'. How sweet. Hope she makes you lot of Soup ;-)

LucyBaxter said...

Such an excellent post. I loved it all and it made me feel all emotional and pathetic. Because, Mr A. Suit, you are BRILLIANT. You are everything I miss about advertising and you make Twitter a better place to be. I can't wait for you to come back so get well soon and. hurry up, OK?

Gabrielle Asher Barnett said...


snowdesign said...

Wise words. simply a joy to read.

Only just found you tho…so enjoy the beyond and please hurry back soon.

Anonymous said...

Great, great post. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm going to miss you on twitter, you big goof.

AdLand Suit said...

Christ, you're a melodramatic bunch, aren't you? Ahem. Only kidding.

Thank you all for the comments, be they kind (you've got ME all emotional now, Baxter...), sweary (god love ya, Jackster) or just downright intriguing. You're all good people, and it means a lot that you're enjoying the blog and my incessant babble on twitter.

So, moving on. I'll be tweeting again soon. You might have to do a couple of X-Factors without me, but I'm sure you'll cope. (Just remember to hate Dannii's hair, to be slightly scared of Joe's teeth, and that Lloyd 'SHIT' Daniels is just that little bit more shit than the shittest thing you've ever imagined. Danyl and Jedward in the final. We can make it happen, people. Yes, we can.) And when I'm back, I'm fairly certain it'll be with some interesting news.

So crack on, folk. I'll still be posting here, so swing on by from time to time, and I'll see you all shortly. Oh, and look after Number 3 while I'm away? Ta muchly.



Paul Colman said...

Stop writing about 39 tweets an hour and you'll be far less tired.

Lance Armstrong is not boring.

Some of us were on Twitter before Rory Sutherland (I know - Imagine!)

You still up for that beer next week?

AdLand Suit said...

Mr C,


On twitter, he is.

No you weren't. Nobody was. There was nothing before Rory.

And absolutely.

As always, respectfully yours,


Will said...

I was. Me, Russell Davies, Biz Stone and Marcus Brown.

John Dodds invented it though. He just doesn't like to brag.

Good work on pulling via Twitter.

criticpapa said...

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anyway I'm william
mind if I put a link back to you?

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Mens Suit said...

Like you I also like to use twitter as a social network.

stephs said...

Whoa.. impressive post! keep it up, you will be soon get famous about this.

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