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…
18 hours ago