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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bmag Nov 1st 2011 - Stephen Fry's 3.3 million

Remember the excitement when you hit 50 friends on Facebook or 50 followers on Twitter? Last week I had the chance to ask someone: “What’s it like having 3.3 million Twitter followers?”

Many celebrities, politicians and organisations have smashed through the million follower mark since CNN and Ashton Kutcher famously raced to be the first (Kutcher won in April 2009) but few if any have the intellect of British actor and writer Stephen Fry.

Fry has been in Brisbane to present a live stage version of his ABC TV show QI, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre this week (Monday 31 October to Wednesday 2 November). Speaking on my ABC radio show, Fry explained why he’s drawn to Twitter:

“It suits me fantastically. Print journalists are a savage, unpleasant and deeply unlikeable people mostly who wish to do one down and make one look an arse so the great thing is when your Twitter followers exceed the circulation of a newspaper you can just tell any press person that you’re not going to do any print media for the rest of your life and it’s great. There’s no newspaper that has a bigger circulation than I do!”

The trouble is, Stephen Fry’s 3.3 million followers tweet him back, about once every 10 seconds from what I’ve seen. So how does he deal with one-on-one feedback on that scale?

“This is the problem and people have to understand Twitter. Sometimes newcomers don’t get quite how it works. You have to imagine I’m in the middle of a forest in autumn and leaves are going all around me in a huge cyclone and I might occasionally grab one and look at it, and grab another and look at it, but the vast majority howl past me without any chance of my seeing them.”

That said, he loves asking a direct question and watching the responses come in. “It’s terrific fun when you show it to someone! Dangerous, intoxicating and thrilling at the same time!”

Stephen Fry knows he can’t promote every charity or fundraiser he’s asked to – “It’s hard to turn them down but I don’t want my Twitter feed to become a bulletin board of good causes” – and when he does endorse a blog or website, it’s likely to crash. Fry’s own site couldn’t handle the 20,000 hits a second it received after he wrote a Steve Jobs obituary and posted a link on Twitter! It makes me think having just 50 followers (or Facebook friends) might not be such a bad thing after all!

The car dilemma in perspective

There was quite a reaction to my column on the two-car dilemma and wants versus needs. To recap briefly, my sister-in-law has garaged her car with us for the past two years while she’s been overseas. However, she’s returning home soon and we must decide whether to buy our own second car or go back to running just one.

Former Ten News presenter now PR executive Kristin Devitt tweeted: “We’ve been a one car household for the past 16 years. All good. Until we start Saturday sport, then all bets are off!” Current Ten News presenter Bill McDonald also chimed in: “Four boys, sport, Mt Coot-tha. Nah, need two cars”. Environmentalist Rowan Barber suggested I investigate one of the “collaborative consumption” car-sharing websites.

Chris Hassall tweeted: “Buy another car but allocate a certain number of days per week to use public transport”. But Deb Russell-Groarke put it all in perspective when she said: “We’ve been a no-car family since our car was written off last October. We’d happily be a one-car family again.”

In the same column, I argued that materialism was out control but “as soon as you realise you can never have everything, you give yourself permission to not want anything more”.

Sarah emailed: “I fully understand and agree with you! I was fortunate enough to be in my early 20s when this dawned on me. My chosen career was never going to give me the earning power to satisfy many of those materialistic desires, so consciously choosing not to go after the latest and greatest has resulted in much happiness and contentment. “I’ll admit it’s not always cool to not want the latest toys and gadgets, but I feel much happier for it now, more than 10 years on. If only more people knew this kind of freedom and happiness!”

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