Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Why I don't follow Stephen Fry

My knees and ankles are playing up today. I put this down to one of two things; it’s either the boot camp style training regime I was put through at last Friday’s morris dancing session; or it could be a result of all the bending and stretching I’ve been doing over the weekend in putting together some IKEA furniture. Either way, the pain’s the same. I wonder if they have morris dancers, or something similar, in Sweden? They could do the Hemnes dance, which involves complex machinations with allen keys and cross-head screwdrivers as they put together a jolly nice set of drawers; or perhaps the Ektorp, where the dancers sit on a sofa for hours at a time, sloshing aquavit and eating Lant Chips…but I digress. Having set aside my Ikea-ing, I sat down at my computer to read my emails, do a bit of writing, and check to see if anyone new was following me on Twitter.

I’ve spoken at length about Twitter before, so I’m not going to bore you with explanations as to how it works; suffice it to say that one aspect of this micro-blogging site is that it allows you to ‘follow’ (ie read comments made by) fellow Twitterati. Amongst us ordinary folk there are a good many ‘celebrities’, including US President Barack Obama, comedian Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus (he of Never mind the Buzzcocks), the wife of PM Gordon Brown, and a fair old smattering of singers, writers, broadcasters and actors. One of the most popular tweeters is Stephen Fry.

I don’t follow Stephen Fry. And, by this, I don’t mean “I don’t know what people see in Stephen Fry”. Mr. F. is an exceptionally witty, talented, well-read and urbane gentleman. I thoroughly enjoyed the Fry and Laurie programmes a few years ago. I still laugh at his appearances in Blackadder, particularly in his incarnation as General Melchett. And, if I can help it, I never miss QI. What I mean is, “I don’t follow Stephen Fry on Twitter”. And before you accuse me of being churlish, let me assure you that I have nothing but Mr. Fry’s best interests at heart. Allow me to explain.

On the 14th of January 2010 at around 5pm, I logged into Twitter to see how many followers Mr. Fry and I had. My total stood at 336. Three hundred and thirty six individuals had, at some point, decided that they were interested enough in what I had to say (whatever that might be) to click on the little 'follow’ button on my Twitter page. And Mr. Fry? Oh…he had 1,244,658 followers.

One million, two hundred and forty four thousand, six hundred and fifty eight people have pushed Stephen’s button, if you’ll pardon the expression. Take the population of Birmingham, add the good people of Brighton, and you’d still have to find another four thousand people (twice the population of St. David’s, the smallest city in Wales) to equal the number of Mr. Fry’s followers. On a world scale, his followers outrank the population of seventy countries, including Swaziland, Bahrain and Luxembourg, and represent 0.0183 percent of the world’s population. Assume that this number consists roughly of half men and half women of average height; if you laid them end to end, not only would they be quite comfortable, but they would also stretch in an unbroken line from Lisbon in Portugal to Haasdonk (pop: 4000, twice that of the city of St. David's aforementioned), a little village about 7 miles south-west of Antwerp, a distance of 1315 miles. If Stephen decided to stand for the Fry Party in the next general election, he would, using the stats from the last general election, be the fourth most popular “party” behind the LibDems with 4.59 percent of the votes, outgunning UKIP and the Scottish National Party combined. Perhaps we could persuade him to stand for Parliament…

Can you imagine what it would be like if every single one of those individuals decided to send a “tweet” to Stephen in response to some erudite remark he had just made? A “tweet”, if you didn’t already know, is a Twitter message, and can be up to 140 characters long. I calculated that it would take about six seconds to read a single tweet. For Stephen to read the tweets of every single one of his followers would take a solid eighty six and a half days. If, intelligent chap that he is, he decided to spend only eight hours a day reading them, then it would employ him for nearly 260 days. I think I’m beginning to understand why ‘celebrities’ rarely reply to tweets from us mortals. One and a quarter million messages in one hit...it’s like being shouted at by a major conurbation.

I know what you’re thinking. Not all of Stephen’s followers would be online at the same time. Some would probably be working; others watching TV or listening to the radio. Still others might be digging a hole, putting on makeup, having sex, eating a banana or playing a trombone. (That’s what I call multi-tasking). This being a likely scenario, I decided to carry out an experiment. I sent a tweet, asking those of my followers who read it to reply to me. Of my 336 followers, I received twenty replies; around six percent of the total. Apply this to Stephen’s followers and you arrive at a figure of around 74,680. That’s still more than twice the population of Liechtenstein, and equates to being yelled at by every inhabitant of the town of Carlisle in Cumbria. This 74,000-odd are a heavy lot, too. Heavy, but quite useful. Using rough averages, their total weight would be around 11,855,767 lbs, or 5293 tons, if you prefer. If we decided to break these 74,680 into their component elements for recycling (something I’m sure Mr. Fry would heartily approve of), we would have enough phosphorus to make 164,296,000 match heads (that‘s 1,932,894 boxes of Swan Vestas); carbon to make 67,212,000 pencils; sufficient fat for 522,760 bars of soap or 5,601,000 candles; and iron enough for 75,000 3 inch nails. Of course, we mustn‘t forget water; from these lucky people we could extract 746,800 gallons of water; far more than the 660,253.09 gallons it would take to fill an average Olympic-sized swimming pool. If we decided of dessicate every one of Stephen’s followers, we could collect 55,687 tons of water - a weight equivalent to eight fully-loaded Saturn V rockets.

If Mr. Fry is reading this (and I hope some day he may do so), I trust he will begin to understand why I don’t follow him. For one thing, there are already one and a quarter million people tugging at his virtual sleeve; I’m astonished that he ever finds time to make polite replies to any of his followers. For another, he probably doesn’t need another 2200 matches, 900 pencils, 7 bars of soap or 75 candles, a single three inch nail or ten gallons of water that an additional individual could provide. And, since I’m not very tall, I wouldn’t bring his unbroken line of followers that much closer to Haasdonk.

I logged on to Twitter a moment ago. I see I’m down to 333 followers - The Number of Half a Beast. Stephen, on the other hand, has 1,267,172; 22,514 more than last time which, curiously is very close to the population of a small town in East Sussex. It’s called Seaford. It’s where I live…

28 comments:

Karen Redman said...

What a gently witty blog! Am sure that the lovely Mr Fry will understand your reasoning behind not following him ... but what a shame he isn't privy to your musings! x

chris hale said...

Blimey! That was quick, Karen! You never know, perhaps Our Mutual Friend (you know who I'm talking about!) will draw it to his erudite attention...

punk in writing said...

We don't have morris dancers as far as I know, but we do have folk dancing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYiRp7JBxM0

My Mother has a Hemnes guest bed (http://www.ikea.com/se/sv/catalog/products/50080315) that was delivered in a thousand pieces... It took me two days to put that thing together. And I kept wishing I had more hands. And a Mother who could assemble her own furniture.

chris hale said...

Hi Punky. I shall take a look at the folk dancing later. You're right about needing extra hands to assemble some IKEA stuff; a friend who is also an octopus might be useful!

Helen Smith said...

Marvellous. Very funny xx

Raph G. Neckmann said...

What a wonderful and amusing post, Chris! Really enjoyed it.

I haven't quite got my neck round Twitter yet - I've explored around and found some interesting sites to follow, but unlike blogging, I'm not sure what to do with it!

Hope your knees are soon better - I find a tot of banana liqueur helps mine.

Sandy Calico said...

Great post and a valid reason not to follow. I tend to follow 'celebrities' to see if they interest or amuse me, but usually end up unfollowing after a few weeks. I haven't the heart to unfollow the fabulous Mr Fry. You can see how many @replies he (or anyone) gets by typing '@stephenfry' into the search box on Twitter. You can then be certain that a celeb is either a)unable to cope with the volume of replies, or b)rude.

mo.stoneskin said...

Phil Jupitus is the wife of Gordon Brown?

Ooops, I think I misread that.

In some ways you are the anti-Stephen Fry.

chris hale said...

Helen - Thank you. I'm taking bookings for weddings and barmitzvahs...

Raph - Thanks. The more you get 'into' Twitter, the more you realise it's folk saying the first thing that comes into their heads. A bit like this blog, really. An extra tot of banana liqueur should help get rid of the inhibitions!

Sandy - I didn't know about that search facility - I shall take a look!

Mo - You didn't know about the PM and Mr. Jupitus?

Stevyn Colgan said...

Splended, splendid, splendid. Always a joy to read. Just so you know, I've emailed it to Stephen for his amusement. You may get a comment, you may not (he's writing the second volume of his autobiog at the mo and has 'gone dark' as they say.) Who knows? I'm sure he'll hoot though.

@MrBoffly said...

How on earth did Mr Fry manage to spot that one mildly derogatory tweet which sent him into a tail-spin?

chris hale said...

Stevyn - Thank you! And thank you for advising Mr. Fry of my ramblings. I thought about 'going dark' myself, but I think blonde would suit me better...

Ivy Black said...

I know what you mean. I would follow Mr Fry anywhere but not on Twitter.

X

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

I'm afraid Twitter is lost on me and I'm sure I would be lost on it! Mr Fry probably has a personal assisant sifting through his tweeters for any worthy of notice, of which I'm sure you'd be one!

chris hale said...

Mr. Boffly - I can only assume he's a consummate multi-tasker!

Ivy - Exactly. People have followed me, you know; but only out of idle curiosity!

Derrick - You do wonder, don't you? But I have a feeling it's himself that checks the tweets. As for Twitter, it's easy enough to get started. You just have to make sure that you don't get dragged too far in, otherwise you'd never get anything done!

rallentanda said...

I don't think going blonde will increase you tweeterer numbers.
Derrick tried..it didn't work for
him.
Mr Fry's tweeterers are probably all boring celebrity crazed groupies whereas your blog followers are erudite intelligent and discerning.I wont allow any celebrities to visit my blog so I do understand why you do not following Mr Fry.I am not a tweeterer but if I were I would allow you to tweet me.

chris hale said...

Rallentanda - Perhaps I should try ginger...and thank you for your kind comments. Maybe you should give Twitter a try; you would probably be able to squeeze a haiku into the 140 character limit!

Madame DeFarge said...

Completely with you. I have yet to fall to the power of twitter, but can feel the siren call daily. Help me resist!

chris hale said...

MDF - Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated...unless you can persuade someone into stopping your ears with wax and tying you to a mast!

Everyday Goddess said...

Twitter envy is a damnable thing. Get well soon.

Debby said...

I twittered once. I decided it wasn't something that I wanted to stick with. I still get e-mails that new people are following me on twitter. It makes me happy. They're following me there, I ducked out, and I'm pretty sure that I've lost them.

*casts nervous glance behind her*

Everyday Goddess said...

BUT the numbers are enough to make anyone dizzy.

I have yet to Tweet.

willow said...

I haven't Twittered. Should I?

We don't have an Ikea in my neck of the woods. I'm so envious. (of the store, not your knees and ankles)

chris hale said...

EG - Twitter Envy? Interesting...and yes, the numbers are rather dizzying. I think I ned a little drink to steady meself!

Debby - They do say that with Twitter 'You either get it or you don't'. Whatever that means...

Willow - I see you have bitten the Twitter bullet. I have started following you. In a good way, of course!

@Angpang said...

OK, late to the party here.

Wow you really did your homework here, love the way you've put Mr Fry's Followers into context.

Have you ever set up a @stephenfry search to glimpse the chaos of 'pick me, pick me' tweets that are launched at him with his slightest utterance?

I think I got to the same point on Twitter and let go of a lot of celebs. I am mostly on there to chat, and can't help launching into conversations I find interesting, and when I get no reply there's no fun in it.

And of course there are PLENTY of non-celebs who are interesting and available.

chris hale said...

Angie - Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I have done the Fry search and it's a bit like kids in a classroom competing to see who can put their hand up the highest. And I concur with your view that there are plenty more interesting people on Twitter. Take that @angpang, for instance...

jinksy said...

Oh, yes, I'm a follower for life of anyone who can cope with those HUGE numerical sums, lay people end to end, and post a cross-eye picture of himself alongside! All while playing a trombone and eating a banana, no doubt...

chris hale said...

Jinksy - Thank you. And thank you for being my 50th follower!