Alarming though the headline may be I do not mean that I have started to make the sound made by small birds; I’mean I am now participating in the social-media phenomenon that is “Twitter”.
If this does not distress you too much dear reader and you can be bothered then please by all means look me up at @LBCWiseCounsel
So what is a middle-aged man of (usually) sound mind doing messing about on the micro-blogging website made famous by D-list celebrities telling the world what they ate for breakfast?
I’must admit that I was a sceptic. I could not see what possible value there might be in something so seemingly trivial. I could not have been more wrong and I wish I had not waited so long. I can honestly say that it has been a genuinely enriching experience and for lots of different reasons.
- Saying something useful in 140 characters (including spaces) is difficult and a great discipline to practice. A good friend and client of mine who is the global General Counsel of a major telecoms brand told me recently that he now tries to write all his email messages to executive colleagues so that they can be read in the space provided by a single Blackberry screen. The world is a complex place and of course brevity is not always good, but most messages would benefit from editing. Could Twitter be the start of a revolution in lawyers being less verbose?!
- The diversity of opinion on Twitter is fascinating. I’m not going to pretend that everyone is readable or even intelligible – it is of course easy to find people who want to tell you to love the world or that their morning muffin tasted nice; but it is equally easy to find in-depth opinion, insightful comment, challenge and intellect. In the UK, for example the thoughts of contributors such as @LegalBrat, @Kilroyt, @BugsieGiven, @CharonQC and @LegalBizzle may sound a little unpromising just from their names, but in just a few weeks I have come to realise that these folks (all with big and serious legal roles) and very many others are sharing information, opinion and insight that is relevant, useful, clever and kind. It is a resource like no other I have ever seen before.
- What is especially impressive however is how dialogue develops so that information and opinions are not just posted, but debated. In real time Tweeters can watch and/or contribute and in doing so thoughts are challenged and developed in a way that is just not possible with print. For example, if you disagree with this last thought I’may never know; but if I’make the same point on Twitter, and you disagreed with me, I would know instantly. That’s not just clever, it is enriching as well.
- I will be fifty on my next birthday – I have two teenage daughters and to be honest I am not sure I have ever properly understood the fascination of BEBO, Facebook or MySpace – it has been (largely continues to be) a mystery to me. However the power of social networking in the way that they practice it is now something that is much more real to me. To be able to simultaneously connect across the country, across the world with multiple contributors and on myriad subjects/themes is mind-boggling, but it is also joyful. The world is a smaller, more accessible place and better for sharing opinion.
- Within in a few clicks I can now regularly exchange views with law students, trainees, academics, journalists, partners in law firms and in-house lawyers; I can do it instantly and from any location. I can test my views, challenge others and listen to many opinions I would never otherwise access, while at all times I can also simply observe human interaction on some really important issues.
- Even in the last few weeks I have also seen more law firms enter the space – partners and associates dipping their toes in the social network waters and for the most part enjoying the relaxed, informal, but insightful banter. It may be my slightly jaundiced view, but I think Twitter may prove to be an antidote to the overly processed and homogenised slick marketing machines of the major law firms. Instead we can see real people with real opinions and I believe they will benefit from that exposure significantly.
- What I have also appreciated however is the generosity of spirit – Tweeters sharing links to published articles, to online resources and to other contributors who might help. It is a medium, so far, mercifully free of corporate messages and contributors angling for commercial advantage. It is charmingly, old fashioned and benign networking in its truest sense; and represents the precedence of community interests over self interests.
I would certainly encourage you to be involved – if nothing else it will challenge you to write more succinctly than you ever thought possible! Imagine saying anything in 140 characters (including spaces) that is useful and interesting and you’ll see what I’mean.
So will Twitter change the world? There are commentators who think it already has in terms of the mobilisation of people to protest. At one level therefore it is already “game-changing” – however more gently there is an impact at a more individual level, because while in the grand scheme of things I am quite sure that I will not change the world by anything I Tweet, my world is already been changed for the better by those whose Tweets I follow.