Friday, December 17, 2010

The Tyranny of Twitter

Last night I stumbled across this blog by a person who had almost entirely escaped my memory. The blog wasn't by someone I know personally yet reading their words was like receiving an email from an old friend. The reason he had strayed so far from my mind was because he hadn't tweeted in almost a month.

The blog is by London-based writer and illustrator Greg Stekelman, aka The Man Who Fell Asleep (@themanwhofell). Before joining Twitter earlier this year I had never heard of Greg. I only became aware of his existence when someone I followed retweeted something that Greg had posted: "If you buy only one book this year, then you're a philistine". With just shy of 10,000 followers I made the immediate assumption Greg was a well-connected and revered media personality. A sucker for sardonic wit and humorous Bowie references, I had no hesitation in joining his army of followers.

In the months that followed I found myself increasingly endeared to Greg's self-effacing humour and misanthropic world-view. Despite the 11 hour time difference between Melbourne and London I found that Greg's copious stream of tweets were the ones that I would look out for. It wasn't until a friend who recently joined Twitter asked me for recommendations on who to follow that I realised that Greg had ceased tweeting. It being very rare that someone goes entirely 'cold-turkey' I began to wonder the reasons why he had stopped.

My curiosity was finally sated when his blog popped up (not on Twitter, I hasten to add) and I found out the real reasons he had stopped using the platform. To summarise his blog post, Greg, a single, out-of-work writer in his mid-30s with "no discernable career", had given up tweeting as he had found that his addiction to Twitter was preventing him from 'making things happen' in his life. In the post he speaks about waking up at 9am each day and instantly checking his Twitter feed, leading to a series of posts that would take up much of his day. While his peers were building careers, big salaries, wives, children, etc. and younger writers were soaking up the scarce media and script-writing opportunities, he felt that his days were being wasted away on social media and he was quickly finding himself "on the scrapheap". Taking a month away from Twitter has been his way of reassessing his life and rebuilding the human relationships he had neglected while tweeting.

An interesting read, I think Greg's blog makes a few important points on the dangers that Twitter holds for all users. Firstly, he speaks about the "compulsive" nature of the platform. When he received five replies to one of his tweets he would want ten, when he reached 9,000 followers he wanted 10,000, as though a larger audience and a greater level of response would give greater validation to his activities. These quantitative increases, as he points out, would make no material difference to the quality of his life. He also refers to Twitter as an "insular, self-referential bubble" that encourages the user to form a particular stance on a subject within a short time of an issue (e.g. a news story) emerging and to vilify views that differ from the emerging status quo. He says that taking a break from Twitter has allowed him to "entertain concepts beyond 140 characters."

I think this second point touches on one of the key facets of Twitter- that everyone's experience on the platform is different. Naturally, when building your 'following' list, you gravitate towards people with interests similar to your own (in my case I generally follow journalists/media sources, other PR/Comms professionals, comedians and people who tweet about Italian football). For this reason your opinions on a particular issue will perhaps be strongly influenced by the people you follow (and, generally speaking, respect) rather than being based on a thorough consideration of the facts or on a wide range of opinions. A fair point perhaps, although one may also argue that this is reflective of real (i.e. offline) life, where people's convictions are tainted by what they read in the newspaper or are told by friends and family.

Either way, I think there are some important conclusions that can be made here about Twitter and, indeed, social media in general. As with all technology it is important to maintain the right relationship with social media platforms. When used right Twitter can be a great way to keep informed on emerging news, to consider the views of influential people and to be able to engage in conversation and debate with intelligent, like-minded people. You might even make some real-life friends along the way. Conversely, it is also important to make sure you are the one using Twitter to build relationships and develop influence rather than for it to take hold of you and your life, preventing you from developing relationships and influence in the real world.

What Greg's experience shows is that when you become addicted to social media it can actually get in the way of developing meaningful human relationships that can expand your social and professional horizons. Thankfully, for myself and the other 8,000-odd people that now follow him (shows how fickle a Twitter following can be, eh?), Greg says that he will tweet again but this time he'll be "a little wiser" in his use.

I look forward to his return.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rafa for the chop?

Being the man to replace Jose Mourinho is an unenviable task- just ask Gigi Del Neri. The current Juventus manager lasted just 15 days as Jose’s successor at then newly-crowned European champions Porto before being issued a one-way ticket back to Italia.

And so the choice of who would inherit the Madrid-bound maestro’s treble-winning team must have been made with slight trepidation by Inter President Massimo Moratti. Following an unsuccessful attempt to lure Fabio Capello from his role as England manager, the challenge was set to assiduous Spanish tactician Rafa Benitez. Fresh from an acrimonious split from Liverpool following a dismal seventh place finish and failure to qualify for the Champions League, many an eyebrow was raised as to whether he could extend Inter’s run of five consecutive scudetti.

Personally, my concerns were not with Rafa’s tactical prowess or his ability to manage players of the calibre of Samuel Eto’o, Maicon and Wesley Sneijder, but with his activities in the transfer market. Over a six year reign at Liverpool, Rafa notched up a total of 91 signings. While the acquisitions of Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Jose Reina and Javier Mascherano were unquestionably successful, the list of flops, including Antonio Nunez, Jan Kromkamp and Antonio Barragan, raises doubts over his eye for new talent.

Perhaps due to the different structure within Inter, where former Nerazurri striker Marco Branca directs the club’s transfer policy, or a satisfaction with the squad list he inherited from his predecessor, Rafa failed to strengthen the squad for the 2010-11 season (other than the return of Jonathan Biabiany from his loan at Parma and arrival of Brazilian trequartista Coutinho, a transfer agreed over a year ago). This has come back to bite Rafa. Big time.

Currently lying sixth in Serie A, Rafa’s depleted squad is due to receive a further blow with the imminent suspension of star striker Sammy Eto’o following his Materazzi-esque headbutt during the 2-1 defeat to the mussi volanti of Chievo Verona.  With neighbours AC Milan in rude form following last week’s Derby della Madonnina victory and much-maligned Swedish toss-pot Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to form, the knives must surely be out for SeƱor Benitez.

In my opinion, Rafa deserves more time. He has proved himself as a member of Europe’s managing elite with a La Liga and UEFA Cup double at Valencia before Liverpool’s incredible Champions League comeback in Istanbul. While many of his critics would attribute that historic victory to AC Milan’s astonishing capitulation, let us not forget that Liverpool beat Chelsea and Juventus en route to the final. His tactical vision and his ability to earn the respect of his players (his ability to convince Steven Gerrard to remain at Liverpool deserves special praise) will no doubt surface as the season progresses, assuming of course he has the time to turn things around.      

With former Inter portiere Walter Zenga linked to the hot seat, the Inter hierarchy has a bold decision to make. Wednesday night’s Champions League match with FC Twente could provide just the opportunity for Rafa’s side to regain form. Or else it could be the match that seals his fate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Initial thoughts on the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi

Yesterday’s spectacular opening ceremony to the 2010 Commonwealth Games helped to allay weeks of organisational concerns and provide some assurance that maybe, just maybe, Delhi will be able to host a tournament worthy of the city’s rich cultural history.

Despite a GDP of approximately $US 1.2 trillion (approximately one hundred billion dollars higher than Australia, which of course has substantially fewer people), India is still a desperately poor nation with an estimated 42% of the nation’s 1.1 billion inhabitants falling below the international poverty line.

With this in mind, is it right for a developing nation to hold an international tournament when the money could be better used aiding the nation’s impoverished masses? Or will the immediate gain from increased tourism and new job opportunities, as well as the long-term prestige of being only the second nation in Asia to host the games be a financial boon for India?

Holding such an event has so far proved a costly exercise for Delhi. While initial costings for improvements to the sporting infrastructure were estimated at a $US 358 million investment, this amount has long-since been surpassed with the bill expected to reach $US 2.5 billion, excluding non-sporting infrastructure and doubtlessly hefty security costs. On this basis it therefore seems unlikely that the costs will be recouped in the immediate future, and the extent to which the sporting facilities will be used after the Games remains to be seen.

With an international event of this scale likely to result in a long-term financial burden, questions must therefore be asked of the Commonwealth Games Federation’s decision to choose Dehli’s bid ahead of better-equipped Canadian city Hamilton, Ontario and the extent to which it conducted proper assessment of Dehli’s ability to host the event. With more stringent conditions placed on cities bidding to host the Olympic Games, including the requirement to conduct a test event a year in advance, it may be argued that a similar approach should be taken by the Commonwealth Games Federation.

In the absence of such conditions, the progress of Dehli’s sporting facilities had been largely unknown until early 2010.

It must be appreciated, however, that without giving countries with a less-remarkable sporting heritage the chance to step up and hold a major tournament, it is unlikely that international sporting events will ever truly become ‘global’ (granted, of course, that participation in the Commonwealth Games is limited to the 71 countries with membership to the Commonwealth Games Federation) and will instead remain the preserve of western nations with a strong history of achievement in these events.

This aspirational mentality is not limited to the Commonwealth Games Federation. In recent years we have seen a move away from major sporting events being awarded to nations with a track record of being able to host events towards giving the tournaments to nations with the sincere hope that the prestige and ambition will help spark greater interest in the sport domestically and provide a sporting infrastructure for future generations.

This year South Africa became the first African nation to hold the FIFA World Cup. Similar concerns over the pace of South Africa’s preparations to hold the world’s biggest soccer tournament were extinguished with a spirited and colourful tournament. Whether any of the ten stadia that were either constructed or refurbished to meet FIFA regulations will prove to be ‘white elephants’, surplus to the requirements of the sporting public in areas such as Polokwane, Rustenburg and Nelspruit, will be known only in time.

Concerns have also been expressed over the decision of UEFA, European soccer’s representative body, to award the 2012 European Championships to Poland and Ukraine due to shortcomings in Ukraine’s preparations for the event. With the aftershocks of the Global Financial Crisis still being felt across the continent, the pressure to improve facilities in Lviv, Donetsk and Kharkiv will be an unwelcomed burden for the Ukrainian FA.

Looking ahead, the decision to award Brazil the 2014 World Cup and Rio the 2016 Olympic Games will no doubt provoke apprehension among journalists around the world in the lead up to the events on whether Brazil, itself home to mass poverty, crime and other social issues, is able cope with two major tournaments. Though I imagine typical Brazilian colour and charm will help to ease such fears in much the same way South Africa wooed its visitors.

My own take on this, while I would not agree that representative bodies should continually take the ‘safe option’ of giving major events to European and North American nations with the pre-existing social and sporting infrastructure and track record of hosting major events, necessary consideration must be made whether a city or country is ready for the financial and social commitment required to provide the backdrop to a sporting event that will remain in people’s memories for years to come.

With criticism of the condition of the Games Village, the withdrawal of notable athletes, a slow start in attendance numbers at various events and lingering security concerns, I fear that the current Delhi games could be remembered for all the wrong reasons.