Life and art

[Dave Birch] I think I’ve accidentally invented a new art form: “reality twitter”. It’s cheap, entertaining and infinitely better than reality TV.

It happened by accident. I was on the Eurostar from Brussels and because I was really busy and trying to get a lot of work done, I was really annoyed that the guy behind me, who I couldn’t see, was yelling into his mobile phone. After a few minutes, though, I realised that what the guy was saying was actually quite interesting. I know it seems wrong to take advantage of another’s tragedy, but the story that was unfolding from the seat behind me had everything: excitement, suspense, drama and a little humour to. For a moment I thought idly that it was saving me the trouble of reading a novel and that gave me an idea – I started to listen to what he was saying, précis it and then post and anonymised version out on twitter. I did this every 10 or 15 minutes and in entirely unpredicted way it turned into a compelling read!

That evening I was genuinely surprised to get messages from people, not just in the UK, asking me what had happened at the end of the story. I had to explain to them I didn’t know because I’ve been telling the truth: I had actually been reporting what was going on in the seat behind me on the train and when the train got to London that was the end of the story!

So why was it compelling? Because it was real: he didn’t know that I was eavesdropping and (since we know that truth is stranger than fiction) most people reading knew that there was a real person behind it. So-called reality TV isn’t real at all: The Apprentice, I’m a Celebrity, those nauseating cooking shows, they are all a kind of theatre: the “contestants” know that they are being filmed and they are playing a game to “win”. That’s why the shows are so uninteresting (I know that some of my friends really like The Apprentice, so I’m sorry!).

By the way, for posterity, here is the story…

  • Fascinating. On the Eurostar. Guy behind me in national sales manager for a company that makes “palletisers” (??) he is arguing on phone… #
  • I think one of his key customers has been approached by sales manager from another country, he’s calling colleagues to find out truth… #
  • This is really exciting, seems that the rival sales manager lied about what the customer said! Your man is angry, but can’t go to boss yet! #
  • Nailbiting. He may not be able to attend the meeting with customer on Tuesday – if he is outflanked this way it will be curtains. #
  • I’m going to cry if he doesn’t get to Tuesday meeting. Come on! Who knows more about the fruit for goodness sake. Boss is going to call back #
  • Boss hasn’t called back, and deputy (I think) isn’t answering his mobile. He’s told someone else that he’s prepping a new quote, but why? #
  • No! He’s going with the high-risk strategy – he’s going to send his own new quote back to customer to get him to sign before Tuesday! #
  • No, no, no, we’re almost at St.Pancras, I don’t want to be left hanging! He was just talking to someone new, a colleague, about the gamble! #
  • Nooooooooooo! We’re getting off the train, now we’ll never know (except I’ve set a google alert because I know company names) #

See my point! As tweets it worked, but as a conventional narrative it doesn’t. William Heath just start another story from his train and asked for a hashtag, so I suggested #realitytw as the twitterati’s alternative to reality TV!

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

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