Friday, May 13, 2011

Twitter and the death of Sufjan Stevens


Last night's Sufjan Stevens show - the first of two dates at the Royal Festival Hall for the US indie deity - was remarkable for two reasons. Firstly, it may just be the best show I've ever seen at this fantastic venue. Secondly, the excitement he managed to whip up in the room led to so much Twitter activity that some users seemingly considered the possibility he'd died.

Fascinating, because it highlights both the best and worst of Twitter. It's a fantastic thing that a digital outlet allows for the mass outpouring of collective enthusiasm in that way. It gives us a forum to ask: 'It wasn't just me right? That was amazing, wasn't it?' And despite a few churlish types (notably those most active on Twitter last night) the collective record they created conveyed at least something of the wonder of the show but also hinted at its flaws and contradictions.

However, the Twitter community deals in absolutes and what struck me halfway into the show was how challenging it would be to review, to do justice to its variety and vitality, to his creative imagination and its startling contrasts in light and dark, calm and chaos, simplicity and the utterly baroque. But on Twitter of course, it was either 'amazing' or 'ridiculous', in fact the most insightful commentary I've found in a single Tweet is this, from @kofisarfo: 'It was fantastic and absurd!'

David Cheal, writing for The Arts Desk, manages to clock up both the most Twitter mentions riding the trending wave and the only comprehensive review to be published less than 12 hours after the show. Huge respect on that count, given what a challenge it is to deliver a review of a show like this to such a tight deadline.

The downside to all this activity is that this is, so far, the only professional review that's been published. So, why aren't more publications rising to the challenge of editorial that can rival the instantaneity culture of the social web and deliver satisfyingly nuanced reportage? After all the Twitter stream itself is really just one long, crowdsourced review of sorts. The answers are complex and the diminishing value of editorial in our connected culture and suspicion of the singular author both play their part, not to mention the clear superiority of Twitter's business model over that of websites like The Arts Desk.

Wonderful gig though, and a great indication of what makes Twitter so compelling. It's a passion platform; a medium for those that intrinsically have something to say. So when will online journalism rise to its challenge.

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