I dragged myself furtively on to Twitter. I understood there had to be more to it than the inane drivellings of people with nothing better to do. I wasn’t wrong. It’s been an enlightening experience and I am rather taken by it.
To get going I followed a handful of strangers who for one reason or another happened to be on the fore-front of my cultural intake that week. One of them was the rock singer Amanda Palmer. I had read some articles about her, listened to her music and watched her being interviewed. The first thing that struck me was how sussed she was. I was particularly impressed by the clear intelligence behind what she was saying. Having been in the music biz a long time that is quite rare I’ve found.
As I read her several times daily tweets I began to realise that I was getting to know where this woman was of a day and quite a bit about what she was doing. I knew she had flown from America to Russia then on to the Edinburgh Festival. Every few hours some new detail was imparted: perhaps a photograph from a gig, maybe just a passing impression, sometimes a profound thought. What is slightly scary is that I was becoming interested. Within a couple of weeks I seemed to know more about this person than I knew about most of the people who are actually in my life. Weird that. Weirder still, having picked up a sense of her values, attitudes and outlook I realised that I probably have more in common with her than I do many of the folks I know.
She says she had started making music as much and more for the connection it brought. That was why I had started as a wide-eyed teenager and it still is. Through my work as a producer the connections I make with the artists who come though my studio every year are strong. They are like professional friendships. Sometimes they last for just a few days sometimes years. That aspect of the work is as important to me as the music itself. It is an an aspect often overlooked in favour of ambition and the pursuit of success. In this sense Palmer for all her hedonistic lifestyle (does she ever sleep?) seems to be making a moral choice. She does her rightful thing as an artist as much when she is twittering around than when she is labouring in the studio over a new album.
It's an elevated notion this, that you should put relationship and connection above status and money. It’s also an intriguing phenomenon that you can feel connected with someone you don’t know. That's not new of course. Fans and admirers have for long enough felt attachments to cultural figures initially through their works and then through filtered knowledge of how they live. Sure, what I’m describing here is part of that same species but it’s of a uniquely new kind. What is new about this is that it can be happening near to real-time. To have such detailed and updated info on another would previously only have been the preserve of those physically close: friends, family, work colleagues etc. When I click on to one of Amanda’s tweets I get to know the kind of stuff about a stranger that ordinarily only those in proximity would be party to. And I like it. It’s a similarly good feeling I get when a friend who has gone off somewhere calls or emails to tell me what’s happening. It might be mundane but it matters. It makes a connection.
Certainly these kinds of virtual contact may defy being called relationships in that they are non-reciprocal. Amanda Palmer has no idea who I am and is unlikely ever to. But although this is a one-sided affair it is so in such a fresh and compelling way. It is culturally cutting edge and its potentials have still to unfold. I say this as someone who has until now been negative about virtual relationships stemming from my being pretty negative about human relationships generally. Coming from that standpoint, and still hopeful that methods of social intercourse might improve, I am open to these new possibilities virtual or otherwise. It is in that spirit that I embrace Twitter.
I thank Amanda for her pioneering work and for her insightful understanding of what is possible. That is exactly what artists are supposed to do and I applaud her for it.
About twenty minutes after putting this up Amanda read it and responded: "@clarksorley that's a beautiful piece of writing right there. and now i know you. hi." I got dozens of visits to my blog that day and had a few exchanges. So, AP got written about, people read it, I had my writing complemented (very unusual) and some connections, albeit virtual ones, were made. In time I would grow tired of Twitter but at that point it looked like a promising endeavour.
written 2009 following my early experiences with Twitter