Why This Shepherd Loves Twitter

"Tweeting is kind of an act of resistance and defiance, a way of shouting to the sometimes disinterested world that you’re stubborn, proud, and not giving in as everywhere else is turned into a clone of everywhere else."
The author's sheep (@herdyshepherd1)

I'm not really an “early-adopter.” In fact, I'm the exact opposite. I'm a Luddite and a shepherd. 

Our shepherding work in the English Lake District is all about continuity and being part of a living cultural tradition that stretches back into the depths of time. Our work is often little changed from the way things were done when the Vikings first settled these valleys. Even our dialect is peppered with Norse words.

I like old things, old ways of doing things, old stories, old places, and old people. I'm deeply conservative with a small 'c'. Ask any half decent economist and they'll tell you that most new ideas are a waste of time, most new ideas fail. Our way of life results in fairly conservative people suspicious of pointless chatter and new technologies for the sake of newness.

I am, in short, about as unlikely to get excited by something like Twitter as anyone alive.

If you spend your life working with sheep in the fells (what you’d call mountains) you perhaps don't really need to be 'connected' and you probably don't have time for, or need to have, fancy techno gadgets in your pocket. Our world is one of mountains, meadows, dry-stone-walls, sheep, sheepdogs and managing the landscape much as our ancestors have done over many centuries (it’s being nominated for World Heritage status because of its unique landscape culture).

So I was a little behind the curve on getting an iPhone, and accepted it reluctantly as a free “upgrade” when my perfectly fine old mobile died after years of good service. I hated the cult of Apple: I was going to resist.

But whatever I wanted to happen, I suddenly had a camera and Twitter app in my pocket whilst I worked. And though it took me a while to realize it, I had the tools to connect to thousands of people around the world.

I could now defend the old in my own quirky and probably misguided way.

* * *

I first tweeted as an experiment in whether anyone might be interested (some friends told me it would be popular and I thought they were crazy). I’d just helped a ewe to lamb on a snowy morning and took a quick photo of the newborn lambs and posted it on Twitter. 

By nightfall we had something like 200 followers. My wife heard the phone pinging, “What the freaking hell is going on with your phone?” Apparently people are interested, but it rather surprised us, and still amazes my neighbors. “Why do people follow you?”

I tweet anonymously because that's how I like it. My feed is not really about me: I’m just a narrator. It’s about the way my people farm an amazing landscape, the sheep, the land, the sheepdogs, and the characters in our valley. It’s not really in the spirit of my community to self promote... The individual is not that important here compared to the collective way of life. At the start of my tweeting I feared that my farming peers would disapprove of it, so its been amusing to discover that they worked out who I was very quickly, many follow me on Twitter, and funniest of all they ask me to post pictures of their sheep or to tell the wider world things ‘that need to be said.’

Now we have close to 13,000 followers. We’ve been featured on many of the world’s leading news channels, had features written about us in many magazines, hosted film crews from around the world, and featured on several radio programmes. Weird for something that everyone here thinks is normal, and ‘Just what we do.’

Three things work for me about Twitter:

1) The 140 character limit forces a brevity that suits my way of life;

2) Sharing my world through photos is even quicker, and my world is, I’ve learnt, exotic, strange and beautiful to other people who are disconnected from the land; 

3) It works on my smartphone so I can tweet whilst I work outdoors, without needing to stop work to do so. If I spend more than 20 seconds taking photos or tweeting then I’m not doing my real job properly. My tweeting is, and has to be, quick, dirty and real.

The combination of these three elements means that my world has become shareable in real time with other people. I'm no Robert Capa but the combination of a very good smart phone camera, an amazing landscape and working life, and Twitter letting me post pics in 2 or 3 clicks means that my world can be in your world within 10 seconds. And some of you appear to like my world.

Presented by

Herdy Shepherd is the pen name of a sheep farmer based in England's Lake District.

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