Tivoli via Twitter

Marcia Forbes PhD

Leaving Ja.

As we prepared to depart Norman Marley Airport I questioned the Immigration Officer about the plane parked close to the cargo area. Rumors were that it was American and there to help Jamaica with extradition matters. The Officer dispelled that by asserting that the plane was Russian and with supplies to Haiti. That piece of information got tweeted immediately. After all, it was from an authentic source and I was playing my part in quelling rumour-mongering tweets.

Stuck in the Skies
By the time the contingent of us arrived in Antigua word broke that ‘it’ was on. None of us questioned what ‘it’ was. We all knew. The State had moved against Tivoli Gardens. About 20 of us huddled in the plane exchanging the latest updates from home. We were heading off, ironically, to attend an academic conference themed, ‘The Everyday Occurrence of Violence in the Cultural Life of the Caribbean’, hosted by the Caribbean Studies Association.

Twitter to the Rescue
Twitter worked overtime as our plane sat in Antigua. Never again will I malign this social networking service or wonder about its value. It saved me from going crazy overseas while a section of my country was under siege.

For the first two days in Barbados, I was Twitter Queen. Many of the Jamaicans came to hear the latest. Mature men behind thick lenses peered onto my Blackberry, reading breaking news from local news media savvy enough to be on twitter and disciplined enough to post regular updates. Following BBC and CNN on twitter paid off handsomely, although they gave no joy with graphic details of activities in Jamaica.

By the afternoon of Monday, May 24th I was overwhelmed with grief. Why did the conference with hundreds of Caribbean people in attendance seem to be continuing in such a normal manner when Jamaica was in turmoil? I felt ‘attention must be paid’. I simply could not contain myself in what I now describe as my ‘Willy Loman moment’ (a bastardization from Miller’s Death of a Salesman).

In the roundtable session, Remembering Rex Nettleford, I broke down and instead of a question pertinent to matters being discussed, requested prayers for Jamaica. Attendees were very kind. They stood in silence and I believe many prayed. I thank them. Soon thereafter I felt somewhat embarrassed. Who was I to have imposed my ‘meltdown’ on others? Professor Barry Chevannes and Annie Paul of the UWI were particularly understanding of my grief-stricken moment and discouraged me from feeling foolish.

Twitter made me do It!
I could say in part that ‘Twitter made me do it’. Everyone I followed, about 35 at the time, were tweeting about Tivoli Gardens. I read all the conspiracy theories, all the reports via the foreign media, looked at twitpics, sifted through tweets with various opinions from uptown and downtown, while still achieving the objectives I had set for the conference. I have no doubt that sensory and information overload tripped in by afternoon that Monday. That plus remembering Rex—such a loss to Jamaica and the world!!

Every night I was awake till after 1am reading tweets and making sure I was fully in-touch with Jamaica. Feeling a bit guilty for being overseas at such a crucial point in Jamaica’s history, at the very least I would keep abreast. In any case, Twitter is addictive. Once my Blackberry starts blinking I am drawn to check. Invariably there’s a new tweet. I really believe that new media like Twitter is forcing people to read and that’s good.

Annie & Twitter
It was fascinating to see Annie, right there in Barbados and via the wonders of new media, able to have her tweets quoted by the New York Times, to write for the BBC and Channel 4, as well as Indian and Brazilian newspapers. I hold her with her 800 followers in awe and wonder what strategies I will need to implement to ramp up to1000 the followers I would like before this October. Considering that I now stand at a miserly 200 followers, it’s a tall order but worth pursuing—sore finger tips and all.

As Anne very insightfully pointed out about Twitter, “it requires work”. It really does. For me Twitter is proving to be a great information source and an opportunity to link with persons I would not otherwise interface with. For a researcher forging ahead into the new media frontier, this is invaluable. I am amazed at some of the people/entities who have chosen to follow my tweets and have amassed almost 60 new media articles just from links via Twitter.

Chief Digital Officer
Having noticed that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has created the post of Chief Digital Officer and is now hunting for someone to fill it, I tweeted inviting Jamaicans to apply. One essential requirement is for the applicant to be Twitter and Facebook savvy. It would be no surprise if Jamaicans did apply and one were appointed. New Media opens up a whole ‘nother world and Jamaicans are a part of it.

Media houses do not have to go as far as a Bloomberg but to remain viable must step up to the new media plate. How else will they satisfy their increasingly mobile and demanding audiences? With Tivoli I experienced the good, the bad and the ugly via Twitter but would be hard-pressed to go back to life without tweets and my tweeple.