(Warning: this starts trivial and then gets sad pretty quickly. Sorry.)
I‘ve been on Twitter for twelve years.
That’s one fifth of my life and 46,000 tweets. At one minute each, that’s a month of continuous tweeting. At eight hours per day and with two days off per week that’s getting on for six months of writing. If I’d been paid for all that work I’d be… Actually, why would I go there? So here’s a souvenir of that first month, learning my way around this new world. My first 49 tweets, in order (and with some extra context).
Tweet number 1 — 10 February 2007
So sue me. At least it wasn’t ‘just setting up my twttr’.
Tweet number 2 — 11 February 2007
Right from the beginning, Twitter’s been the most effective connection with people who know what they’re doing, often to a humbling degree, that I’ve ever encountered. My symposium. And iPhoto still sucks.
Tweet number 3 — 11 February 2007
Spongebob Squarepants was already nearly eight years old here. And marine biologist and animator Stephen Hillenburg, who created the amazing undersea fantasy, carried on for another nine years too. Spongebob was finally cancelled in 2016 and, in 2017, Hillenburg announced that he has ALS. Do you remember how deliriously strange the whole hermetic Bikini Bottom universe was, back at the beginning (or was that just sleep deprivation?). Beautiful, clever, humane kids’ media.
Tweet number 4 — 11 February 2007
Day two. My fifth tweet and already I’m curating. Sharing links quickly became my number one activity on Twitter. Of 40,586 tweets, so far 19,672 have contained links (note: these are 2017 numbers). That’s 48% of my tweets. And 11,093 are RTs — about a quarter of the total.
Not everyone shares links — some people are on Twitter for the conversation (weirdos). But if, say, a quarter of all tweeters are sharing at the rate I do, then that’s still 25 Billion links per year. People had been sharing links for years, of course, on their web sites, but then, when Twitter got going, the whole thing speeded up and the volume and density of the links shared became ridiculously intense — a blur of sharing. The probability that we might be able to actually consume even a tiny fraction of the content shared diminished towards zero fast.
The curatorial model — the idea that we’d educate and entertain each other through this kind of happy recommendation — began to wobble and fall apart. And now— forgive my cynicism — fake news has essentially blown the idea up all together. The fact that there are people (and algorithms) out there fabricating content to meet every conceivable ideological predisposition leaves curation high and dry. The original web idea: that curation by trusted sources — the open market of links — would overcome falsehood, amplify wisdom, drive out bullshit — turns out to be at best broken, at worst a lie.
Tweet number 5 — 11 February 2007
More curation. And the URL still works too, although the programme’s gone and the page looks weird. So many of the links I’ve shared over the last eleven years are already dead. What hope for these fragile strings of text over the next ten years? Let alone 50. Or 100. Don’t answer that.
Tweet number 6 — 11 February 2007
No way have a I watched ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ ten times, even now. Maybe three times. Four at the most — and probably twice all the way through. Typical social media bullshit. It’s a beautiful film, though.
Tweet number 7 — 11 February 2007
It’s likely that we both were...
Tweet number 8 — 12 February 2007
Imagine that, dinner with Stravinsky! The two composers were friends in the 50s. Stravinsky described the younger man’s most famous work ‘Le Marteau sans Maître’, premiered in 1955, as “one of the few significant works of the post-war period of exploration”. Eleven years after my tweet, Boulez is gone too.
Tweet number 9 — 12 February 2007
This is the first link to my blog. Remember blogging? Mine was already eight or nine years old in 2007. It started, in 1998, as The Steve Bowbrick Review of Books (pompous much?). That original blog is long gone, happily, although there’s a trace over at the Wayback Machine. Naming story: when tech journo Kevin Werbach was editor of Esther Dyson’s legendary Release 1.0, he started a blog (this was back when we used to call them ‘weblogs’) and called it Werblog, blending his surname with the word ‘weblog’ in a way that I must have thought was cool, so when it came to registering a domain, I chose Bowblog.com — and it’s still there!
Like so many of the URLs in my Twitter archive, this one is broken — but the post still exists. It’s me whinging, in a slightly unattractive way TBH, so don’t bother reading it.
(By the way, it was my singular pleasure to appear in Release 1.0, in 2002, when I was running email identity playground another.com).
Tweet number 10 — 12 February 2007
FYI, this very old URL redirects beautifully. Well done, BBC friends.
Tweet number 11 — 12 February 2007
Nothing weird about this. I was actually doing this for a living in 2007. I was, for a while, the digital guy at King of Shaves, Will King’s amazing UK startup that began with tiny bottles of scented oil and then took on the giants of shaving — and thrived. Later Will went further and began making blades and razors, which, in a world dominated by Procter and Gamble’s Gillette, a brand valued at $20B last year, is a really big deal and takes even more courage.
Tweet number 12 — 13 February 2007
An utterly louche, South-American-head-of-state kind of vintage Mercedes 600, since you asked. Not happened yet.
Tweet number 13 — 13 February 2007
See tweet number three.
Tweet number 14 — 14 February 2007
This is my first full-on 404 error. The link doesn’t work. The page has gone all together. Bad UNICEF! This report wound up in my timeline because it put the UK right at the bottom of the league tables for child welfare in the developed economies. It was one of the reasons Gordon Brown decided to dial up his effort to end child poverty when he became Prime Minister a few months later. And you can still read the report here.
Tweet number 15 — 14 February 2007
I think this is actually OK physics, although what I think I mean is potential energy, not kinetic energy (is that right?). The M25 (London’s 117-mile orbital highway) is still there of course, defining the outer edge of the sprawl and offering a perfect, rolling metaphor for the circularity of our definition of efficiency and growth and happiness in general. The definition of pointless.
Tweet number 16 — 14 February 2007
About five years after this tweet, I actually got a job as head of Internet for Radio 3, the BBC’s arts and classical station. I had enormous, mind-expanding fun with similar ‘composer marathons’, like the wonderful, week-long Spirit of Schubert in 2012. The station played every work the composer ever wrote — about 1,000 in all (including 600 songs), many of them live or in specially-recorded versions— with hundreds of beautiful performances (many of which we filmed, like this one, with the amazing Mara Carlyle). Still consider this one of the great privileges of my adult life.
Tweet number 17 — 15 February 2007
More curation. No link, though. BBC TV programmes didn’t have their own web pages back then, though, so there’d have been nothing to link to. Rageh’s now International Affairs Editor at ITV News and regularly anchors the channel’s big bulletin.
Tweet number 18 — 15 February 2007
Tweet number 19 — 15 February 2007
Something innocent and pre-crash about this question, no? Deal or No Deal’s ring of smiley, credulous positive thinkers, holding on tight to their ridiculous cardboard boxes, willing brute reality to be about more than brute probability, while, meanwhile, in the months before the global economy collapsed around us, the people who were actually in charge of where all the money went were about to open their own big box of horrors.
Tweet number 20 — 15 February 2007
This is the kind of tweet I hate. Why would anyone be interested in this kind of inconsequential introspection? Is this the kind of tweet you send? Stop it.
Tweet number 21— 15 February 2007
Why was I doing this? Was it work? If it was, how have I managed to so completely block it out? Is this how social media is going to work for us? Bringing us slivers of experience that we can’t quite place? Something distressing about knowing with great precision that, on Thursday 15 February 2007 I was doing something meaningful that I’ve now totally forgotten.
Tweet number 22 — 15 February 2007
Likewise, why was I doing this? New Critics looks like it’s long gone. But what was my involvement? Was I helping with something? Was I a new critic?
Tweet number 23 — 16 February 2007
The last time I checked, about half of Twitter users were between 25 and 44 years old. Oliver’s 19 now but he’s still too young to tweet. And I’m 54.
Tweet number 24 — 16 February 2007
Some web economics here: once I’d got this sorted out (with Robin’s help), the little text ads in the sidebar at Bowblog.com actually made me some money, back in 2007. Over $100 per month rolled into my Paypal account, for years. This no longer happens.
Tweet number 25 — 17 February 2007
RL Supplies still exists — computer parts and repairs, in an industrial park on the edge of Watford. How do you make a living in that business now? With the PC in terminal decline? Does it have something to do with Bitcoin mining? No idea. Lost in admiration. Watford, incidentally, was once classified as the most representative community in Britain. The BBC used to convene focus groups there because the locals were supposed to be the most average in Britain. This may well be true. Although the town centre was brutalised perhaps more than any other in Britain by the post-war obsession with shopping centres and ring roads, it’s a nice place — a busy, prosperous town with low unemployment. It’s even on the tube.
Tweet number 26 — 17 February 2007
Tweet number 27 — 17 February 2007
The girls in question were, at this time, four and seven. I actually remember this.
Tweet number 28 — 17 February 2007
So this is four full years before Olly discovered Minecraft and then later Warcraft. We were’t blocking ads yet, either (the Ad Block Chrome extension wasn’t released until late 2009), although the creeping militarisation of ad-tech was well under way.
Tweet number 29 — 17 February 2007
Gone gone gone. The page is still there but the audio files have all been deleted or moved. The web, even the public service web, is so fragile — and decaying fast. And, by the way, I think that’s my first tinyurl. The URL shorteners actually predate Twitter — there was even a patent granted in 2005 — but obviously became a weird business category once we were all sharing links. Companies like tinyurl and bit.ly exploited the ecological niche created when Twitter decided not to interpret the URLs and convert them to nice blue links but to just leave them there, a naked string of characters, eating up your allowance. Always one of the charms of Twitter, actually.
I could write another paragraph here about the screwy geopolitics of the global south’s DNS and .ly domains but I think I’ll leave that for another post.
Tweet number 30 — 18 February 2007
This was a beautiful moment. It’s happened two or three times since we moved to this house on a main road in the burbs. And it’s the kind of blissfully alienating experience that triggers all sorts of utopian fantasies. I actually blogged about this a couple of years earlier. And about Jane Jacobs and her research into the way our connection with our neighbours diminishes as traffic speed increases.
Tweet number 31— 20 February 2007
This relates to the previous tweet. When the kids were little we drove them to school, walking them the final few hundred yards. You could walk from one end of our suburban settlement to the other in about twenty minutes. But nobody does. And there’s not one yard of cycle path (even eleven years later). Cars won.
Tweet number 32 — 22 February 2007
Hold on, now I get it. This is a lame gag — the headline must have been ‘armed racist flees’. LOL.
Tweet number 33 — 23 February 2007
Ha ha. It was probably a Red Kite (although it could also have been a Buzzard). According to the RSPB, “for the past 30 years, the EU Nature Directives have provided the highest level of protection for the now-thriving red kite — helping save it from extinction.” They’re certainly everywhere in the marginal land of the Home Counties — and they are enormous, blocking out the sun and terrifying voles and puppies alike. You’ll see them, sometimes in twos and threes, wheeling over roundabouts and service areas and industrial estates. A wild millennial success story. Thank you, European Union!
Tweet number 34 — 24 February 2007
Boom. Twitter just got real. This turned out to be the beginning of something bad. Brace yourself.
Tweet number 35 — 24 February 2007
But, of course, from the bad we circle back around to the inconsequential. This is how social media works. The picture’s gone, of course, but it’s in the Wayback Machine, and they really are looking into it.
Tweet number 36 — 26 February 2007
I was off to see Mum and Dad. Dad had been taken to Cork’s University Hospital where he was struggling to get a diagnosis for the awful pain in his shoulder and growing confusion. Here he is, later that day. He was 75.
Tweet number 37— 27 February 2007
A beneficent European Union, by means of a €115M loan from the European Investment Bank, built the lovely, hyper-efficient, swooping steel-and-glass wave that replaced Cork Airport’s ugly low-rise concrete shed in 2005. Coincidentally, this day, 27 February 2007, would also turn out to be, in some accounts, the very first day of the financial crisis. It was the day that Mortgage giant Freddie Mac announced it would no longer buy the most risky subprime loans, triggering a sell-off and the beginning of panic in the markets. Meanwhile, a shiny line of Mercedes taxis outside Cork airport made it feel like any smart European city on that day — confident and modern. The taxis are still there. The confidence not so much.
Tweet number 38 — 27 February 2007
Tweet number 39 — 1 March 2007
Reconstructing events here, I’m home in England while dad’s declining fast but we’re all pretending everything’s going to be fine. And it’s mum’s birthday. When he was taken off to the hospital the previous week, all dad could think about was how he’d get a present for her. There was a brooch, but he couldn’t remember where it was and we never found it.
Tweet number 40 — 2 March 2007
I guess I’m watching John Cale on the TV. The Macbook, hipster totem, had been introduced less than a year earlier, replacing the Powerbook, of which I had owned many, going back all the way to the 160 (or possibly the 180), in 1993. Cale’s band was obviously bang up-to-date. And what I’m doing here, with this tweet, is second-screening, presumably on my own Macbook (we’re still three years from the first iPad).
Tweet number 41 — 2 March 2007
What did I tell you?
Tweet number 42 — 2 March 2007
Tweet number 43 — 2 March 2007
No shit, Steve.
Tweet number 44 — 3 March 2007
Here we go. Dad had been taken to a place we would learn was a famous orthopaedic hospital, in Dublin. It was called the Cappagh Hospital and it was hundreds of miles from home and from mum. There was no good explanation for the move but it didn’t look good. The poor sod, a shadow of his strong self; jaundiced, confused — and on his own in an ambulance for hours. We were silenced by it all, as we followed the same route the following day. I think mum really knew already. I think they both did. I didn’t.
Also, incidentally, in this tweet, some arrows made from ascii characters, the kind of device we tweeters have turned into a linguistic sub-discipline that’s probably produced dozens of PhDs already.
Tweet number 45–3 March 2007
This remains true. Someone once told me, though, that Monocle has to be boring because it’s literally for everyone, from every country that can sustain an international airport with a magazine display. So what it can’t have is any kind of national character, sense of humour or local idiosyncrasy. It’s like those jokes in Christmas crackers which, because they have to work for everyone in the family, can’t possibly be funny.
Tweet number 46–3 March 2007
Back to Ireland. Dad’s still in hospital in Cork City, losing strength and in more pain and still no diagnosis.
Tweet number 47 — 4 March 2007
The Cappagh was a place from the 1950s: long corridors, china cups and rounds of toast, leafy grounds. Nuns and nurses in starched linen and the sort of old-fashioned obfuscation you only get from Irish medics. Here, finally, we got a diagnosis: bone cancer, centred on the shoulder that’s been hurting him for months and already widely spread, deep in his chest and lungs. He’s already so weak we can’t be sure he knows what’s going on.
He’s suddenly tiny and lost but still trying to smile. He can’t pee. Later, I learn that means his kidneys have already failed. It’s hopeless — but we’re in Ireland, so that infuriating blend of Catholic ‘so it goes’ fatalism and a wall of unarguable jollyness prevents them from telling us anything useful or acknowledging the inevitable. We blunder on. The kids, at home in England, recorded a message for him. Mum and I propped up some headphones on his head so he could hear. Thinking about his face as he listened will never fail to make me cry.
Tweet number 48 — 9 March 2007
Days have passed. We’re back and forth to the Cappagh — and, absurdly, I’m tweeting about Twitter. Something about social media’s stuttering narrative that makes this kind of interleaving of tragic and trivial seem quite normal. The platform was still primitive. I was sending and receiving mostly via SMS. Remember, Twitter’s original 140-character limit was derived from the 160 characters of a text message minus 20 for your username —and now, also entirely arbitrarily, that limit has been doubled. This is how forgotten technologies continue to shape our lives.
Tweet number 49 — 9 March 2007
We were there at least, mum and I and my lovely Kilkenny cousin Carole, in the yellow light. And when it came, it was all in a rush — and now I know it’s always like that. When mum died eighteen months later, I was so certain it wasn’t going to happen on that day and at that time that I stopped at the shops to get some biscuits — even after I’d been called to the ward by the Sister — and missed her going. In that dawn, though, about an hour after he’d died, I found time to tweet about it, so I guess you won’t see any better evidence that Twitter had become something more than a curiosity for me by then, in the three weeks since I’d discovered it, eleven years ago…