Between the Tweets

Man I love Twitter. The rolling conversation of like-minded souls, the hive mind. There to passively entertain you, but at the same time it’s possible to leap into the fray when you have something to say.

I think what I like most about Twitter is that it is always available, there on my phone. A small chorus of friends, celebrities, bots and mentalists keeping you aware of what’s happening in the wider world. A new way of being never alone.

The first internet community to which I belonged was Lambda MOO. You can read more about Lambda here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambdamoo.  I joined at the end of 1999, when the community was already well-established. But, back in the day, logging in was rather more complicated than opening an app. Didn’t stop me spending hours of every day there though, addicted and jetlagged as most of the people there were in the USA. It changed my life forever.

You could connect to Lambda MOO using Telnet, but that was rather clumsy so I used a client instead, which was a more user-friendly interface. Lambda is entirely text-based (I *know*, no pictures, animation, avatars) and so all of my MOOing memories are bathed in a purple screen, filling with turquoise times new roman.

And there I was, as my created character, in my gazebo in a wood (based on the woodlands around Portmeirion). People might have sent me messages while I was offline, people might even have teleported in and out of my house while my character slept (if I’d left it unlocked). My two virtual cats would react off each other’s movements, which meant  sometimes I’d log in to see page after page of two botcats washing, stretching and doing catty things.

Most characters had a watch (@interesting) list, so they would know when their friends connected. Then you could page them, and have a conversation remotely, or @join them wherever they were in the MOO, or ask them to @join you and interact in the same virtual location. If your friends weren’t around, you could see where people were gathered and wander along to join the party.

I met some amazing people on Lambda. Much like the best of Twitter, Lambda attracted creative people, some mad bastards, but mainly highly intelligent and interested in exploring the medium, and seeing what could be done with it. The Wikipedia entry for Lambda mentions the sexual overtone of this MOO (it wasn’t suitable for children) and indeed some of my adventures were sexual in nature. I kept a diary – perhaps I’ll share. But not this time.

It was usual for people on the MOO to go through several stages as they became accustomed to the landscape, and it was pretty common for people to go through a stage of behaving incredibly badly, once they realized what they could achieve in an anonymous, virtual environment. Usually such behavior was short-lived as guests could be booted out if they annoyed characters, and misbehaving characters could be banished altogether.

Twitter has the same problem; I love Twitter because, amongst other things, you can wish your favourite celebrities happy birthday, for example, without having to stalk them. But far too many Twitter users try to make life as miserable as possible for people in the public eye until they get blocked. So, they create a new account and do it again. I don’t see what pleasure and satisfaction people can get from that, but it’s interesting to see the victims of such online abuse developing various ways of dealing with it, responding to and retweeting it before the inevitable blocking. Boy George is a good example of someone who gets a lot of abuse, but rises above it. Sadly, being a bully or a hater doesn’t seem to be a stage with some Twitter users, it’s a permanent state of being.

But of course, Twitter has some incredible possibilities too.  Look at what @kneeledowne has achieved – What started as tweets became a website, became a novel and I suspect the journey has just begun for this gifted man and the worlds he creates.

Twitter is a new way of communicating, spreading and cascading information – useful to different people in different ways. Perhaps I’m a little old and jaded now, and very aware that my creative skills do not lie in the written word. It can be used to create, or to show people what you have made. Remember when you painstakingly created a website and had to more or less leave it to chance that anyone would ever find it? Dark days indeed.

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