Op-Ed Spotlight: Margaret Atwood's Adventures In The Twitterverse

Adorable septuagenarian novelist asks, "Is Twitter like telegraphs?"

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The vast majority of Twitter users are between the ages of 15 and 29, which you might think makes users from the 60-plus crowd feel unwelcome. Not so for Margaret Atwood, the prolific Canadian novelist, poet, and activist. After joining Twitter in 2009 to promote her newest work, The Year of the Flood, Atwood has taken to the ultra-short-form medium like a natural. In an eloquent article in The New York Review of Books, Atwood chronicles her entrance into the Twitterverse with wide-eyed amazement. For those seeking a lyrical take on the incessant microblogging service, the entire article is too good to miss. For a highlights reel, see below. (And of course, follow her on Twitter here.)

On Twitter and Time

A long time ago—less than a year ago in fact, but time goes all stretchy in the Twittersphere, just as it does in those folksongs in which the hero spends a night with the Queen of Faerie and then returns to find that a hundred years have passed and all his friends are dead…. Where was I?

On Claiming the Title of 'Margaret Atwood'

I plunged in, and set up a Twitter account. My first problem was that there were already two Margaret Atwoods on Twitter, one of them with my picture. This grew; I gave commands; then all other Margaret Atwoods stopped together. I like to think they were sent to a nunnery, but in any case they disappeared. The Twitterpolice had got them. I felt a bit guilty.

On Exploring the Strange New Universe

The Twittersphere is an odd and uncanny place. It’s something like having fairies at the bottom of your garden. How do you know anyone is who he/she says he is, especially when they put up pictures of themselves that might be their feet, or a cat, or a Mardi Gras mask, or a tin of Spam?

On Building a 'Brand'

I was told I needed “followers.” These were people who would sign on to receive my messages, or “tweets,” whatever those might turn out to be. I hummed a few bars from “Mockingbird Hill”—Tra-la-la, twittly-deedee—and sacrificed some of my hair at the crossroads, invoking Hermes the Communicator. He duly appeared in the form of media guru McLean Greaves, who loosed his carrier pigeons to four of his hundreds of Twitterbuddies; and with their aid, I soon had a few thousand people I didn’t know sending me messages like “OMG! Is it really you?” “I love it when old ladies blog,” one early follower remarked.

On Building Relationships

They’re sharp: make a typo and they’re on it like a shot, and they tease without mercy. However, if you set them a verbal challenge, a frisson sweeps through them. ...They really shone when, during the Olympics, I said that “Own the podium” was too brash to be Canadian, and suggested “A podium might be nice.” Their own variations poured onto a feed tagged #cpodium: “A podium! For me?” “Rent the podium, see if we like it.” “Mind if I squeeze by you to get onto that podium?” I was so proud of them! It was like having 33,000 precocious grandchildren!
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