Perhaps a couple of times in a year I get asked why I do not tweet much. Thinly hidden under that question is the presumption that if I did, I may be able to build up a following.
It is true that I do not specifically tweet (my handle @mcsix) other than my blog post headlines automatically getting up there. That may explain why after having been on Twitter for quite a while I have amassed 88 followers. Of course, the question that troubles me often is not why so few but why even these many?
What has prompted me to write about my Twitter account is that my 88th follower joined yesterday. He happens to be a particularly distinguished figure in South Africa. For reasons which are not entirely clear to me he has chosen to follow me. We met during a conference in Mumbai in September, 2012, and seemed to hit it off rather quickly. Since then we had been out of touch until Twitter alerted me to a new follower in him. Here is what I wrote about him then.
Jay Naidoo, left, with Nelson Mandela (Photo: www.jaynaidoo.org)
Jay Naidoo has the bearing of someone who should be approached only if you have an urgent point to make about a global crisis. His goatee and mustache only enhance that effect. In reality, he is far more affable.
These days, Naidoo, a seasoned South African political dissident and campaigner who would easily fit in a Che Guevara music band, is comfortably ensconced in positions such as a member of the Broadband Commission of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He is also on the Global Advisory Health Board for the World Economic Forum and Patron of ‘Scatterlings of Africa’, a paleontological foundation linking archaeological sites across Africa.
But there was a time when Naidoo was one of the leading campaigners against South Africa’s apartheid.His official biography says that he was the founding General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) where he served three terms (1985 to 1993). “He was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid leading the largest trade union federation in South Africa,” it says.
After apartheid was dismantled and with the rise of Nelson Mandela, Naidoo made an easy transition into political life. From 1994 to 1999, he was the Minister responsible for South Africa’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in the Office of the President.He went on the become the Communications Minister in Mandela’s Cabinet.
The point of that detour was to illustrate who he is and why he has zero reason to follow me. Other than natural graciousness I find no reason for any one of the 88 to follow me.
Coming back to the question why I do not tweet much at all, it is certainly not for a lack of things to say. It is not also because of any inability to say things in a distilled, compelling manner. Remember I have been writing haikus in Gujarati practically since my childhood. I can swing between brevity and hyperloquence (Not a real word but coined here from my earlier hyperloquent) on literary vines. (Admittedly, a bit too contrived but works here). I also have enough years in the profession with enough stories to tell to be able justify a much more prolific Twitter output.
That said I find it to be a rather silly indulgence. Twitter to me is necessarily for those who have a certain celebrity or name recognition or position of influence/consequence built about them in their chosen profession. It is as much about who is saying it as about what is being said. I do not for a moment believe that people want to know what I think about this, that and the other. (Have you noticed that I say all this by being so charmingly self-unaware? If that was my reason, I should not even write this blog).
Some of my Twitter followers have several multiples of more followers than I do. I do not have the grace to follow them as a return gesture. I follow only one, the White House but that too I rarely, if ever, read because I am on their media mailing list.
Occasionally, I do get the urge to become more active on Twitter but then it passes almost as soon as it rises. As a medium of unfettered democratic discourse Twitter is obviously an extraordinarily powerful tool. For instance, the other day while driving back from downtown Chicago with Sam Pitroda it was heartening to see that a farmer from India got instant response and encouragement from Pitroda, bridging a distance of 7500 miles (over 12000 kilometers) almost without losing any time. In the same conversation someone also asked Sam what he was smoking in an obviously snide reference to his natural optimism. It cuts both ways and that’s what makes it consequential.
As of now I remain a reluctant Twitter presence. The day I develop Justin Bieber’s reckless insouciance I might consider being more prolific. Incidentally, Bieber has 42,133,379 followers, which is said to be the highest for anyone. The Dalai Lama has 7,327,136. They are both in the top 100 with the Dalai Lama at number 90 and Bieber number 1.