Friday, June 17, 2011

Stephen Fry Highlights the Human Element in Twitter on “The Infinite Monkey Cage”

I joined Twitter in November 2008 to seek out tweets about the Mumbai terror attacks. I found some, but I didn’t really get the point of the service, and my account lay fallow until last year, when I noticed incoming links to this blog from Twitter. And then I started to get it more and more. I guess my main goal for using Twitter is 1) to promote what I write on this blog, 2) network with other translators and 3) keep up with interesting non-translators. There is a lot of advice now about being professional on Twitter and using it to get clients. I confess I haven’t found a single client using Twitter, although some professional contacts have been made. My approach to Twitter is half professional and half social: I don’t expect to find clients, but if any eventually happen to come along that way, so much the better. It is a way for me of being open to positive black swans, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would recommend.

However, I notice that a lot of translators and small agencies pop up on Twitter using their logos as their Twitter avatar. That makes it very unlikely that I’ll follow them (there are some exceptions). In this respect, it is significant that reps from large translation agencies use pictures of themselves. Take the hint, people. The point of Twitter (and social media in general) is to create a slightly real but also slightly false sense of connection. I tweeted a complaint about a mini-bug in my TM tool recently and immediately an executive from the company popped up like a genie to ask more about it. Eventually he got back to me confirming that it was an actual bug and that it would be fixed. Impressive but, believe me, I am sufficiently jaundiced not to be too impressed.

Indeed, there is a lot of commercialism masquerading as touchy-feely direct contact. However, I have also met a lot of people I would like to have a beer with. So I guess my advice is to keep it professional but not too professional. I’m really not interested in gray, humorless, totally businesslike tweeting.

These musings were prompted by the following opinions formulated by Twitter maven Stephen Fry on “The Infinite Monkey Cage”, a BBC radio panel show on science led by Brian Cox, a former rock star turned physicist (from the June 6 podcast on the idea of six degrees of separation):

I noticed two years after Twitter became something of a phenomenon that I would get these requests to address businesses with hideous titles like ‘how to harness your Twitter potential’. And I just wanted to vomit all over them because it struck me that it ignored the one point of Twitter, which is that no matter how bizarrely small a tweet is, 140 characters, people can read bullshit and spot it straight away. And they know when they’re being preached to. They know when they’re sold to. And in the end the point of all this social science, fascinating as it is, is not pure science. It’s all about politics and money. The people who really want to plug into this research is politicians who want to persuade us to vote one way and people who want to persuade us to buy one way. And there has to be a countervailing, open nature to this science which tells us what is going on and allows us to retain our free will. And while we may be part of migratory patterns or any other kind of pattern, we also have within us the ability to say no. I’m not going to be one of those. I shall not do this because I know I’m being pushed by someone who thinks he understands how the human works. Inside there is the individual human heart and the individual human brain and it’s better than any system you can devise or an ideology around it.

Impossible to say it better (or compress it into 140 characters). So, by all means let’s network and sell each other trinkets, but let’s not keep it too professional.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

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