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Big Ideas -

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(generated from captions) This Program is Captioned Live # Theme music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi, and welcome to Big Ideas. one of the big attractions Modified Tweets was this year. at the Sydney Writer's Festival It was a great panel discussion into 140 characters about how shaping our thoughts impacts on our use of language. and compulsive Tweeter Mark Colvin The panel comprised ABC broadcaster Catherine Deveny. and former Age columnist with moderater Neil James, of The Plain English Foundation. executive director to keep their phones on Neil James invited the audience which they did. and tweet throughout the discussion, A lot! has about 25,000 followers Colvin, or @Colvinius, idea how many followers she has and @Catherinedevaney says she has no and what's more, she doesn't care.

when she was a columnist for the Age Deveny attracted big controversy and finally parted company with them about Cardinal George Pell after some of her edgier tweets and Bindi Irwin.

Deveney doesn't pull any punches

from a very different perspective and although she writes to Mark Colvin in this discussion. they really work as a great pair our two panellists today. Let me start by introducing otherwise known as @Colvinius, Mark Colvin, known as @CatherineDeveny. and Catherine Deveny, otherwise Mark describes himself as

in the awkward squad'. 'a lifetime lance-corporal (Laughter)

But he is, in fact, of Australian journalism. one of the living national treasures He started out as a radio cadet such as the Iran hostage crisis, who went on to bring events the Gorbachev era, to us all the rise of solidarity in as a foreign correspondent. a rare blood disease Then in 1984 he contracted

when in Rwanda. '94. '94. Not 1984. '94...

Oh, right. I've got it written here '94. that nearly took his life. ..when he was in Rwanda and Zaire his foreign correspondent days That may have curtailed we all know him so well but for the last 15 years flagship current affairs program PM. as the presenter of the ABC's the first to move Aunty along As @Colvinius he was one of

and embrace the Internet. from its cuttings library era Twitter users in Australia, He's one of the most prolific Tweets having posted more than 50,000 and attracts - (Laughter) I looked it up. Get a life. (Laughter) 25,000 cyberspace followers. ..and attracted what is approaching You may not know is archiving every Tweet ever sent that the Library of Congress

that there's a dedicated cyber shelf and I'm reliably informed just for @Colvinius. Mark Colvin. Would you please welcome (Applause) also, I understand, Now Catherine Deveny, in the Library of Congress has a dedicated cyber shelf but part of it may be restricted who are easily offended. to those of us her as, and I quote, Catherine's Twitter site describes and social commentator 'a writer, so-called comedian with a thing for IT guys. True. in television and radio She has an extensive background that she honed her skills but it was as a columnist and general pain in the (Bleep) as a professional polemecist at the Melbourne Comedy Festival Her one-woman show That's the good news was called God is Bull (Bleep): sold out. which of course immediately For the better part of a decade, Catherine's columns in the Age in equal measure challenged and entertained

It's Not My Fault They Print Them. the first of which was titled (Mark snorts) Twitter's capacity And then Catherine discovered

to a whole new level. to take the offensorati Her 2010 tweets about the Anzacs, in their front yards, about people who have flags and finally about Bindi Irwin... (Laughter)

..lost her her gig at the Age. to write, speak, perform, But undaunted, Catherine continues and, at times, still offend to dyslexia on subjects ranging from sex from atheism to asylum seekers.

More recently, the legal department at Twitter she's become acquainted with about Cardinal George Pell. over comments that she made Mm. Catherine Deveny. Would you please welcome (Applause)

Thank you. asking each of you I'd like to start by social media, particularly Twitter. your experience of picking up the technology How did you come to embrace and use how has your use changed that you do today? and how important is it to the work I remember being at a party in 2009 'Are you on Twitter?' and somebody saying, And I going like, 'What's that?' it's just something And they said, 'Well, characters and people listen to you.' where you say kind of stuff in 140 why would anyone want to do that? And I just thought,

end of 2009, But what happened was at the called 'God is Bull(bleep)' I decided to do this one woman show 'You have to get on Twitter', and my producer, Karla Burt said,

'What is that again and why?' and I said 'Well, you need to get - And she said, and get your audience.' it's a great way to advertise own news channel So you basically have your news, information, whatever, which has got comedy, insights into life, and they're all listening and then you get them on board your show's on. and you can tell them when Wil Anderson And was telling me stories about 25 minutes just by Tweeting them out. being able to sell out shows in so I started doing it So I thought it was a great idea I've always been a huge fan of SMS, and it was fun 'cause

passing notes, letters, graffiti on a postcard, either side. I really love anything that can go So it was really good fit for how I like to communicate technology does. and human nature doesn't change but this is kind of what I've always done So it was just like, well but in different fits and starts. So, I think that there was a really amazing moment for me at the start of 2010 leading up to God is Bull(Bleep) and also me finishing at The Age, and I wasn't sacked for Tweets, that's incorrect, they've been trying to get rid of me for quite some time and they couldn't sack me for my writing

and there's lots and lots of video footage of me for, probably the year before, at events like this people asking me about my relationship with The Age and I've said if they had their opportunity they would stone me and kill me - well, not killing. And people have come up to me in the street saying 'Wow, when you said that I thought you were mucking around,' and I've said, 'No, it's true.'

But with that I also don't think that anyone should be allowed to have a column for more than two years. 'cause we want new voices out there, so I was not sacked, but liberated.

I think that there was a moment for me that really stood out was when I changed, you know when you open your computer and it just goes to the page you set, and when I changed it from The Age to Twitter and it wasn't about - it was - when I woke up in the morning, getting the curated good links of information and stories that had come to me through trusted sources and I remember that moment being quite profound, actually changing it from The Age.com to Twitter.com.

And so now I use it as a scratching pad, I use it as just a bit of fun, just to -

I never censor myself, I say what exactly I think, I've only ever deleted one Tweet and that was the one about George Pell and only because I wanted to shame him and humiliate him and it keeps evolving and Twitter's not going to be there forever and I'm kind of fascinated by what's going to take over from it. So, now it's just a part of my life, it's just bizarre, any technology I've ever gotten - I remember getting a laptop and people saying 'Do you want to go on the internet?' And I'm just going, 'Why would I want to do that?' They said, 'Well, you can send emails to people.' I'm going, 'Why wouldn't you just ring them up?'

So anytime I've ever gotten a piece of technology I have never known what I'd be using it for

by the time I've considered it obsolete. So, when I got this phone I remember thinking well, this is what I'm using it for, but by the time I'm finished with it,

I'm going to be using it for something different. So, yeah, it's a part of my life and everybody else's life and it's taking over from other things and I think it's got pros and cons. So that's my story. Right, so a bit like passing notes in class except to 13,000 people.

Yeah, yeah, people who want to tune in. And Mark, we've had quite a strong response already to your number of followers, it's very intimidating. Somebody had Tweeted in saying, 'He has 25,000 followers and I have 185.' I'm with you, I think.

It's not the number of followers. It's never been the number of followers for me, I started off at the beginning of 2009, I think probably about February 2009 and I just mucked around with it for a little while. I remember quite early on I was just experimenting with it, I found a site that had a lot of Hakius by Basho, who's one of the great Japanese poets. And I then was going and finding photographs that seemed to me to work with the Haiku and I would just post that. I was doing silly things like that, little jokes as well. Then I was in - I had a bit of an accident and I had some fairly major surgery in April 2009 and so I was bedridden for a little while.

And that's when I really started to sort of see it as something else. And I started - I've always been, I'm a very lucky person in that I have one of those jobs where they actually pay you to read a lot and I've always read a lot. Around newspapers, magazines, obviously I read books as well, but there was always a lot of stuff that I wanted to share with other people. Because I read in the New Yorker or the Atlantic or various British publications, various - I read French newspapers as well, it's harder to Tweet those, people get annoyed. But, I had all this stuff and I used to quite often send it off in emails to my friends. And it just struck me that this was a really good thing to do. And I also was following people who did the same thing, Tweeted links to interesting stories. And the more of them that I saw the more also - it's one of those things, it grows like topsy. You find people who do the same things you do and then you notice that they are re tweeting other people. So you follow down the line and you find other interesting people. I now follow nearly 2,000 people which is an awful lot of material going through my stream, people say to me why do you follow so many people, how can you follow so many people it must be just overwhelming? But I don't see it that way, I love a thing that Stephen Fry said a few years ago,

where he said that Twitter is like walking through a forest in Autumn and there are a lot of leaves falling down and you can just get the general impression of the leaves falling down or you can pick up one of them and examine it in detail. So that's sort of what I do, or it's like dipping into a river and the old line, a river is never the same twice,

and you dip into the Twitter stream and I might just go and I could switch it on now and just go through maybe 40, 50 Tweets and I will find, inevitably, because I've been careful about the people that I follow I will inevitably find at least five or six and often many more articles that I want to read and I'll click on them and then I'll read them and if they're really interesting then I'll re tweet them. And so it goes on. I re tweet plenty from things that are still from things that I read through other means, like going to The Guardian site or the New York Times site or wherever it may be. But, quite a large proportion of what I re tweet now is just coming to me in the stream.

Then there is still probably within that, probably 10% comes to me because people send it to me direct.

You know they put @Colvinius you might be interested in this. So, it's this fantastic - for a journalist it's just the most fantastic source,

not only that, but we can talk much more about this, I'll just say briefly, that you can also use it as a crowdsourcing tool,

it's a bunch of things, it's just amazing. Well, because many of us might initially think that social media is a young person's game - I turned 60 last month. ..that it's about something that teenagers do - but in actual fact, the larger users are 33-50 demographic, it's largely being used by professional people for professional - I mean you do have a lot of those tweets of 'I'm combing my hair' or 'I'm having my cup of coffee' but a lot of it is that sort of information sharing that you talked about. And key to that - sorry to interrupt - but key to that is I never see any of those 'I'm combing my hair' or 'I'm having a cup of coffee for breakfast' because I don't follow those people. No, that's exactly right. So it's not what... when you see articles attacking it - they're usually by people who don't use it or haven't learnt to use it. They are attacking out of ignorance really. Well, two things that I want to pick up on.

It has a relationship with the mainstream media which you've talked about as being a dysfunctional co-dependent kind of relationship. Can you tell us about what you mean by that? Well, because of the fact that, um... ..the (Bleep) has fallen out of mainstream media, money wise and the 24-hour news cycle. Like once upon a time you'd get your newspaper in the morning, your newspaper on the way home as you got on the train

and you saw the nightly news and that was pretty much it. But News is 24/7 and there is less money around to produce more news. And when Twitter started to happen and Facebook the mainstream media were very kind of -

generally, the ABC is an exception - they were very kind of 'what a waste of time' and 'this is all quite trite and not of any value.' But then they started to hone in on it for you know, if somebody went missing they would go to their Facebook site. If somebody... their profile started to rise they would be looking around at Twitter and Facebook to see what they could get -

you know information, or pictures. And then there's the offensorati thing. One of the things that the mainstream media often use to work out how well they're doing is how many clicks they're getting. So something called click-bait where you put something up with a kind of inflammatory headline in order to get people to click on it so one of the things they've found that people love to click on is anything which can be considered by any group as offensive. And so you've got the offesorati going 'This is outrageous, I can't believe this is going on!' And then you have the lefties hopping in going 'Get over yourselves, keep your hair on.' So as the shift has moved - like in the same way I changed my opening page from The Age to Twitter so I could get onto exactly what Mark was talking about curated news and information and articles that I was interested in by people who had valuable news sources themselves - that this thing just kind of shifted.

I mean, if you go into news rooms they've got people's Twitter feeds up there just waiting going what are they talking about? What's coming next? And a part of that really annoys me because journalists unfortunately can't, but should be out there talking to people getting proper stories but these days, the amount of times I get called and they say, 'Oh, we'd like to do an interview. Can you just fill out this Q&A for me?' So you are actually writing it for them. They're so pushed for time - so many journalists that they'll get a press release and just sort of top and tail it and that's considered an article.

So they are so reliant now on Twitter and Facebook to find what's going in

and that's where the stories are breaking.

They're breaking first on Twitter and Facebook

by the time you get a newspaper its just old news and they are furious about it because they have historically have been the gatekeepers of information they've been able to say, 'We will tell you what you're allowed to know, who is allowed to say it, when they're allowed to say it

and in what way.' 'Yes, you can go on the opinion page. No, you can go on the back page. We'll put you in the lifestyle section.' And now that they've lost that power they're furious because if you've got a computer you've got a voice - you've got a platform and you can say what you like. And it is the democratisation of information

and if it's good people will stay with you and if it is not good they'll move away. I think... Sorry. Yep.

I think one of the things you're talking about there involves deadlines too. And newspapers still tend to be - right around the world - still tend to be locked into a single deadline at the end of a day. There are exceptions and a lot of them are trying to be much more flexible. The Guardian in London has really worked very hard on this stuff and tries to run a lot of live blogs and it's a very good way in.

I mean there are two ways you can follow the Leveson proceedings the Lord Leveson's proceedings on the media in London. If it's not somebody like Rupert Murdoch himself or Rebekah Brooks where you would go to ABC News 24. But if its somebody - a lesser figure you're interested in you can go to Twitter and just go #Leveson and you'll get a big stream of people who are acting for you exactly like they are in the role a law court reporter has always been in but you've got a big spread of them giving you different perspectives But a lot of people just write down sentence by sentence what the witness is saying - it's fantastic. As I say, a journalistic resource once again. And the other way to get it is to go to the front page of The Guardian or maybe The Independent at certain times - you can't get onto The Times because although they have a very good reporter there because it is behind a pay wall. But you can pick up his tweets.

And so the cleverer mainstream media are trying to not fight fire with fire but become part of the fire themselves if you like. And I think in many ways that if you work in radio as I have most of my life. I've worked in ABC Radio and Television, half and half, I've pretty much started in radio and I've got radio in my blood. If you work in radio then that idea of a bulletin every hour or a short bulletin every half hour, that was already there for me. Yeah. I was never worried about thinking 'Oh my god, I'd better not say this now because we've got a program at six o'clock.' Yes. And so for me it is... while it is of course a medium on its own it also became an extension of broadcasting - it is a broadcast medium in my view. Well, in many ways there's nothing all that radical about it. You've written about it. It's new, but really as far as using Twitter as part of journalism relies on old and proven techniques you're just sourcing information from another source. Sure, well, I can talk a bit about that too because I said I started in 2009 and then I had that period in hospital where I really started to come to terms with it and started to behave in the way I've been behaving ever since on Twitter.

But it was also in 2009 that I started working out what a source it was of raw information because it was in 2009 that Iran went to the polls in what turned out to be a rigged election and then after that, started very soon after that. The Green Movement was an attempt at a counter revolution against the Ayatollahs and against Ahmadinejad. And as you probably remember people came out in very large numbers on the streets of Tehran but the Iranians had kicked out had refused to allow Western journalists in, in very large part.

During that period they kicked out John Lyon of the BBC, for instance, who was one of the ones who was there so we had to try and work out what was going on. And there were quite a few people tweeting from Tehran and there were also quite a few Persians, Iranians outside Tehran

who were in touch with Iranians inside the country and they were tweeting in English rather than in Farsi and so then you had the classic journalistic problem trying to work out who do you trust here? Who is telling the truth? Who's exaggerating? In any revolution or counter-revolution there are wild claims made, there are exaggerations

so you have to try and work things out. So I started following a lot of people on Twitter - a lot of Iranians on Twitter - and what I found was quite amazing. That there were you could follow a riot

or a big demonstration that was being put down by the police and because you were covering a lot of people

you were starting to get a picture from literally different points of view opposite sides of Azadi Square or where ever and there were different people saying different things and lots of them were, as I say, slogans and so forth

but lots of them were basic physical descriptions of what were going on.

And you can cross-reference all of those and by doing that you could start to build up a real picture of what was going on. So we did that. And we were also able - there was a very poignant series of tweets from one person who was involved in all of this and this was before Storyful got invented but I'll do the equivalent of what Storyful does arrange them into a little story and we had them read and that became part of one of our radio stories. So you are able to use it like that but I would say you have to be very careful and I have written about this as you say to use the normal techniques of journalism and that is to try and interrogate the material you've got to work out whether it's true or not and to be ruthless eliminating what you think you can't rely on. Mark, what's Storyful? I'm not familiar with it. Storyful is just a... do I mean Storyful? Storify. Sorry, Storyful is another site. Storify. I don't know what...

You can go to Storify and you can rearrange a series of tweets

and put them into a... make them into a coherent story. Right. It's a useful little tool Great. If you ever have time to do it. We might bring in a few comments from our audience that we've received on Twitter and see if there's anything that you want to pick up on. One that I guess was picking up on what you were saying - 'There's a light and a dark side to giving everyone a voice.' Yes, there is. I'm with Mark about the amount of followers. I'm actually - I don't even know how many followers I have. Actually, that's not true. People tell me all the time. They say, 'Do you know you've got 'X' amount of followers? I'm thinking, 'I don't care.' It's not about that for me. And there are people who will say, 'Can you follow me?' And I'm like, 'No.' I'll follow you if I'm interested in you or if I pick up that your tweets are of interest to me for whatever reason - if you have good links, if you have good information, if you're funny, if you've - I'm not just going to follow you. People will say to me, 'You don't respond enough with Twitter.

You don't answer people's questions.' Like, well, no, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be oppressed by social media. I see it for me basically as a bit of a monologue and a crowd sourcer and a scratching pad. If people want to listen they can listen. But there is things like etiquette of - people say, 'if I follow you, you follow me.' No, I don't. Sorry. But that also has been explained to me that there is a currency with that too. If people see that you have a lot of followers but follow very few, people consider that you are worthwhile to follow

because you don't have a lot of followers because you are following a lot of people

so I think I believe in the democratisation of information but, yes, there are upsides and downsides. But there's the 'block' button. I believe in freedom of speech but we also have the freedom not to listen.

So I'm not into censorship but I am into selective listening. More damage is done by giving offence than taking offence so if I get - Actually, here's something that I've never even mentioned before. Sometimes if I hit the media for something that is supposedly offensive or provocative or controversial - and this is something that is said about me constantly - 'Oh, there goes Catherine Deveny, trying to say something provocative or controversial or offensive.' You don't understand. I'm not trying to do anything. That's actually what I think. I say these things -

I think they are the most normal and logical things in the world. And people think I'm sitting there going, 'What can I say which is controversial and provocative and offensive?' So if something kind of hits the news

and then I'll end up with, you know, there'll be dickheads in there it's really good to flush out the dickheads. Because if you say something like that it hits not your intended audience but the second wave, you get people who are just haters, and as soon as they pop their head off - head up, block, block, block, block. And I don't block them because I don't like them. I don't block them because they're not agreeing with me. I block them because they're idiots and they're haters. If they want to be idiots and haters they can go elsewhere. I'm not going to give them the oxygen. They can hate someone else. I don't want them sitting around there because I don't think that's productive. I'm into 'let's get to the best possible place with the least amount of damage and if you want to spend your time stalking and hating do it to someone else or you'll have to find your own way round.' So, yes, light and dark, upsides and downsides. But I think the upsides well outweigh the dark sides. Alright. And we've got a question from another audience member to both panel members. Who is your favourite follower? Do you have a favourite follower? Favourite person that I follow? Ooh, lots. Yes! It's really hard, that one. They're wanting tips here, I think. Well, OK. I'll just pick one out. And that is a women called Maria Popova who works in New York and she's just amazing. Her hash - not her hashtag. Her handle is @brainpicker. And she tweets about creative stuff, AUDIENCE MEMBER: Brain Pickings. No, brainpicker is her Twitter handle. Brain Pickings is her blog, I believe. You know, correct me if I'm wrong but I do look at Brainpicker on Twitter every day. Yeah. It's extraordinary stuff 'cause it's just so diverse and it's about books and it's about ideas. She really likes design, just all kinds of stuff.

I retweet her quite often and I really enjoy looking at the stuff she does because it's interesting. She calls herself an 'interestingness curator'.

Um... I think Chas Licciardello Yeah, Chas is great. ..is a very good tweeter. He's from Chaser. And he's a beautiful man, too. But it's the...it's the length and breadth. You never hear anything about his personal life He just sends - he does very funny lines and very good links and he's reliable. So when -

He also has Chas underline USA because he's a complete American politics nerd. He really knows a hell of a lot about it.

He's got a program on ABC News 24 as well about it, with John Barron. Because it's an election year, I think it's on almost every day. But he's really good. That's called Chas#USA. I don't follow that one. There's some that I can see in my head, I can see the avatars, but I can't remember their names so I'm dyslexic so I see in pictures so I can see some faces of people who I think are terrific but I can't remember their names. But there are - it's like - asking me who is my favourite, it's like killing babies. They're all good for different reasons. Because everyone I follow, I read almost everything they tweet out. Unless they start (Bleeping) me. And they I unfollow. For a little while. You know, you do. I think that that's OK too. You follow someone for a while and they might be plugging something or wonderful Ben Pobjie, when he was into MasterChef, he just like take up - so unfollow. And then he set up two accounts so he could do that so we could - if we weren't into MasterChef. Very funny, Ben Pobjie. Very gifted writer too. And you should follow First Dog on Moon

that's First Dog on the Moon from Crikey and Jon Kudelka. They're often very funny when they're just talking to each other, the two cartoonists. I mean, you know, I'm just again just picking stuff out here and there. We might just incorporate a couple of comments rather than questions again from the audience. One is,

'Twitter changed the way I consume info and reduced the need to read crappy Australian papers.' And, on the other side, 'People can talk crap on any medium. It's the same issue anywhere.' I think that that's an interesting thing to think about. If we think about the time we spend on social media, where has that time come from?

What were we doing before Twitter and Facebook? And I can tell you, for me, a lot of that time was spent watching bad television and reading bad newspapers and having bad conversations and being bored in queues. The people who say, 'Oh, Facebook and Twitter, it's made the world very unsocial,

people don't have a conversation anymore.' Anyone who says that are people who don't have any friends.

(Laughter) Because anyone who is somebody who is a person you want to have contact with you're just contacting them in another way.

I can tell you right now, my mother-in-law, we gave her a Facebook. They say if you want something done, ask a busy person. No, no, if you want something done, give a pensioner an iPad. You know, she's now a huge activist in public housing where she lives, Friends of Public Housing, she's set up her own Twitter, Facebook, she's got her own activism going on.

That always really is interesting when you hear people saying, 'Oh, no, because it stops people talking.' We're all talking, we're just not talking to you. Because that's always - (Laughter) Actually, more importantly, these are the people who want to be listened to. They are, 'Oh, will someone sit next to Uncle Joe at the barbecue because somebody has to listen to him.' No, no, we don't have to listen to you anymore

because we've got heaps of people on our phones or on our computers. I think it's part of a much larger trend. I do find that I watch - the idea of appointment television, as they call it now, is almost dead, and it's not just because of Twitter,

it's because of a whole lot of things.

I watch a lot of television on this thing or using ABC iView on my television, certain other means I may or may not have for watching television programs. I'm only blaming my son for that. But, you know, the world's changed and Catherine's right - it's just taking up time mainly you might have wasted before

in many ways. I think about - I can't believe we still have the 6 o'clock news. Like, isn't that extraordinary, considering that we have news, all the time, constantly, and still - I mean, who are these people coming home and getting their hound and their pipe and watching the 6 o'clock news.

How long is that going to be around?

Quite seriously, I'm staggered that it's still around now. See, I would have a different perspective on that because I...

(Laughter) ..produce, present... PM, 6 o'clock weeknights.

..a six o'clock radio program. No, no, I see radio as very different to television. I know, but even despite that I actually think that there is still, you know, while I am 24/7, I'm right around the clock listening to people, talking to people,

and reading stuff and rebroadcasting it

I do think that it is actually quite a good idea

to have a discrete program at the end of the day where you say, no, we are going to just -

I mean, my philosophy is to put into the program more or less what is going to be in tomorrow's newspapers or used to be in the newspapers, as it were, if you subscribe to the idea that newspapers are over as a medium. But one way or another,

what we're trying to do is tomorrow's news today.

And it's a way of ordering it all

and I think people do still like and increasingly people like to have it on podcast

or, you know, stream it on tune-in radio on an iPad or on an iPhone, listen to it later. There's all kinds of ways and times to consume it.

But it isn't a bad idea to have news in a single package. That's my view. I think you're right - I mean, I said that and as you started to speak,

I did realise that there has been something quite odd which has started to happen in our household

in the last three weeks. We've started to watch the ABC 7 o'clock news again. Yeah. And it had been turned off a long time. We used to watch it all the time, there's been a few years where we don't watch it, but now we all have dinner and then the news goes on at 7 o'clock. And with the appointment TV thing

I think about the television shows that I loved and the radio shows. The radio shows I'm actually more - more likely to listen to at that time because I can be washing the dishes and have them on the iPod or riding the bike and listening to them as I go. Or in the car, which is where a lot of listening goes on. And to have that kind of background music to our lives is kind of good. There was a great - one of the great appointment television shows

that I last watched before television changed so dramatically was a show called Six Feet Under. And it was recommended by a lot of people and it was on commercial television which was something that made me think, well, it can't be any good.

But it was a terrific show. And I remember hanging out to watch it every week.

There was no way I could see it until that time. And you'd be so excited going, 'It's starting, it's starting, it's starting, it's starting. Let's hope the babies don't wake up. It's starting.' And then it would be ending. You'd go, 'Oh, no! I have to wait another week.' And I do miss that delayed gratification. Whereas now - What I don't miss - and we're getting slightly away from Twitter but it's still the same kind of general area - what I don't miss at all was becoming addicted to The Sopranos... Ah! ..you know, 10, 12 years ago and then having to wait until 10 o'clock at night and watch it broken up with ads on Channel 9 and then turning it on at ten o'clock the next week and finding that it started at 9.30 instead. And then turning it on the next week and finding they'd put it off till one o'clock in the morning. I mean, you know, frankly, mainstream media and no doubt you can include the ABC in this - there'll be cases. Mainstream media have no-one but themselves to blame for what is happening to them, in many ways, I believe. You have to get responsive to the audience. You have to say - And now the ABC, and I'm not going to - It'll sound like I'm overpraising Mark Scott or whatever, because we have a great Twitter, social media policy

and that is largely because Mark was determined

to have an absolutely flexible, short, easy social media policy and I think he's done a lot of good work. But, you know, I noticed the other day that a couple of BBC TV programs, which were shown on the ABC, and I was looking through the BBC schedules, and they were getting their first run in London two weeks after they got their first run here. You've got to do that, you've got to be up there

because, you know, it's happening all over the world. Twitter is there, everybody knows - I know because I follow quite a few people in Britain, I know what's really hot and interesting on British TV and so do lots of you and you want to see it soon and American TV and so on. I'm going to open up, in a moment, for people in the audience who want to exercise vocal chords rather than thumbs to give you an opportunity to ask questions of panellists but one major issue we haven't touched on yet that I would like you both to comment on is this notion of social media and Twitter as a way of influencing social change. The Arab Spring, for example. How much was Twitter important in all of that revolution that was happening, the activities throughout the Arab-speaking world? Because there seemed to be two competing schools of thought. On the one hand that Twitter and social media is a way of organising without an organisation, as it's been described. But on the other hand, it also provides a platform for us to be monitored. It also provides, as one commentator called it, how dictators watch us on the Web. So which side of that do both of you fall on? Is it more of a liberating technology or is it something we need to be careful of? Douglas Adams said, you know, he was very interested in the Internet and I had the great good fortune to meet him before he died on a visit to Australia about a decade ago. And he was an early uptaker of computer technology and very, very enthusiastic about the Internet. And so he spent quite a lot of time involved in arguments with people who said the Internet was just for porn, or whatever. And he said - It is very good for that. Apparently. And he said, you know, the Internet is just human nature. It's not good and it's not bad, it's just humanity. There's good in humanity, there's bad in humanity. At the time when that great porn debate was going on I noticed - this is back in the mid '90s. I got onto the Internet in 1994. And I loved all sorts of things. I remember from way back, and it's still there,

a site Bartleby.com

which is a repository of basically all of English literature. If you want to find a quote from Wordsworth or Shakespeare or whatever, you just go to Bartleby.com - it's there. The Oxford English Dictionary, I think. No. Certainly the King James Bible. All that sort of stuff. There's just an enormous resource of anything that anyone wants on the Internet and the same is true about any part of the Internet. Twitter through - let's go back to Iran. You had lots of people talking to each other. Let's not talk just about Twitter and Facebook but also what they were using much more in Iran was telephone networks. So they were telling each other on the telephone where they were going to meet up. And you could get 20,000 people, like a flash mob,

just through that. You didn't need Twitter. But then what's happened since is that big companies like Siemens have sold them very sophisticated technology for monitoring telephone networks. And, you know, you don't have to do much to monitor Twitter

and work out what people are doing. You don't have to do much to monitor Facebook either and Facebook - I don't use Facebook anymore because I regard it as so irresponsible in the way that it treats the privacy of its users. And it is, for me, the single most egregious example of that line that if you are not the product on the Internet - the product, pardon me - if you're not paying for the product on the Internet then you are the product. Catherine. I just reiterate what I said at the start,

you know, human nature doesn't change, technology does. It's as simple as that. There is something that is quite odd though, when I started to write columns for The Age, there would be mail that came in, mail that said wonderful things, mail that gave me more information, and mail that said 'I hate you and hope you die and I'd like to see your head on a stick.' And what is interesting, and at the time there was reader feedback. So you got sent everything that was written, whether it was handwritten

or whether it was email too. And it is quite bizarre when you say something

and people are talking about you on the internet

and you don't know they are. It's like being a fly on the wall at a dinner party, with all these people slagging you off. So it is amazing, you could walk through your whole life before something like Twitter or Facebook, without really knowing what people thought about you. Or without even knowing about the other side of your opinion, or what the opposition is to your opinion. You're very well armed with what the opposition is to you and what you do, if you're on social media. So, human nature doesn't change, technology does, and it will continue to change, people will use whatever they can. I mean, particularly with the Arab Spring, these people were desperate to get their information out, whatever it took. And I'll just add one thing about the Arab Spring, is that we were able to use

probably just about more than any other news outlet, PM was able to use the internet thanks to my colleagues Jess Hill and Connie Ages. They did the most extraordinary job of reaching out to people in North Africa and the Middle East who got back in touch with us, and again it's a question of working ordinary journalistic techniques. You had to make them trust you, actually that was much more the problem there. And because there were people out there saying 'Oh no, don't trust them, they're stooges for Assad or Gaddafi or whoever'. But we just got the most amazing material out of that. People who got in touch with us through Twitter and Facebook, then we would speak to them on Skype, which was still relatively secure then, I believe it's a little more dubious now.

And then we would be able to do interviews, with people under siege in cities like Misrata. People that I would never, ever have been able to get a hold of before, unless I had been travelling the Middle East myself for a long, long time and built up years and years of contacts. But we were just getting 19 year old American-Libyans who had come back and were now under artillery fire.

Extraordinary stuff. We've had several people comment on your gratuitous Douglas Adam quote on the Twitter feed. But, let's open it up to some gratuitous vocal chord quotes. Do we have anyone without a mobile phone and a Twitter account who would like to ask a question of our pannelists?

There's one up the front, Neil. Front here. Yeah, I was just wondering, when you mentioned leaves falling, and you used another example and information on Twitter is like snowflakes falling. Do you sometimes feel like you're under an avalanche? And there's just not an opportunity to even breathe, you're not getting a sense of it, which is all lovely and romantic but you are under it, you've gone to sleep for 12 hours and oh my god, look what happened. How do you deal with that? I'll repeat the question for those who may not be out here at the back. The image that we heard earlier about Twitter, about the autumn leaves falling down and you select a leaf. If they were snowflakes, do you feel at times as though you were under an avalanche. How's your avalanche, Mark? Well, I don't personally. I'm a very fast reader and I can just zoom, I'm used to that, I've been doing that all my life. Reading and extracting the marrow out of stuff. But I absolutely accept that other people don't like that. Tony Martin, the comedian down in Melbourne,

I believe has restricted himself to only ever following 12 people. Just an arbitrary number. And so you can do different things. If you don't want to be buried under an avalanche, don't follow a lot of people. And if you do want to follow a lot of people, divide them up. Have lists. I don't personally use lists, but everybody I know who uses lists - I don't use lists either. But everybody I know who does, swears by them. I prefer that kind of unmediated stream coming through, and when I've been asleep for eight hours, I'll turn it on and I'll just zoom through and I'll just start to see little patterns emerging somehow. So you pick up quite quickly, if there's a big story breaking,

has happened while you've been asleep, you start to pick that up quite quickly. You did get out of bed first, though, don't you? No. (Laughter) Certainly not. No, I'm afraid I'm absolutely hooked on this thing I turn on the iPad when I wake up

and I lie there for a while thinking about the world and reading stuff and looking for interesting stuff I might just stop and read a long piece, whatever but I'll do all that before I have my first cup of coffee. OK, and what about your avalanche, Catherine? Well, I don't follow a lot of people, I know what you mean when you talk about an avalanche but this is our challenge now. Once upon a time everything was censored and we were restricted to only certain kinds of information. It's now up to us to be grown ups and to choose how we consume our media and how we consume our information and how we interact socially. There is sometimes where you can get very hooked on a story or even like a hashtage like #mysexlifeinamovie so it would be like, people would put out what is a movie title that represents their sex life you know like The 40 Year Old Virgin or Men That Stare at Goats. Or whatever and so they can be really - people will write stuff like, you know, Snatch, or I can't even think - Three Men and a Baby. (Laughter) Or you know, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And those things can be really fun and then often if there's like a really boring afternoon. And there are things like when Andrew Bolt came and Andrew bolt was going to have his own television show he's a tabloid hack, you may or may not have heard of him. And it was like we heard he was going to have a television show and then suddenly it was like #boltshow and every one was putting up what they thought the titles would be. And that's just like heckling each other and trying to one-up each other and that stuff can be quite addictive. But it's up to us we've got to be grown ups about this. About when we turn off and when we turn on. It is difficult at times because I do think it is quite addictive.

I've been thinking recently there's something a bit

Pokie-ish about it. If you don't have much going on and you're just kind of sitting there. You can, like Mark's doing - flick, flick. Refresh, refresh. You know, go back and forward and press things. I remember once one of my kids once had one of those little like an electronic thing, that was like a snail that you pushed certain buttons and colours and lights came up and music. And I thought this is like a pokie machine and I think there is kind of a bit of a Twitter thing that can be a bit like a pokie machine. I'm not a bit fan of Facebook either. I like the short, sharp, accessible, don't mess about. And I think there is something -

Twitter is better at flushing out the dickheads than Facebook is. Do we have any other questions? Yes, over here. MAN: I don't use Twitter and in fact this question is a follow on from the last one. I'm just wondering about the all-consuming, well I'm guessing, perhaps the all-consuming nature of it. I wanted to find out from Catherine about people who block. Does it also mean that somebody, shall we say respectfully disagrees with what you say

that you don't have time to even engage with them? Oh no, I don't. But a lot of people do. I do. I have lots of conversations with people and I have got to keep it very civil. And generally because I keep a certain... I'm completely different from Catherine in the way I tweet, too. Because I'm not really representing myself only, I'm representing my program as well. So I have to obey a few basic ABC rules and I can't tell anybody to piss off. But I think people pick up on that over time. Most of the people who talk to me, talk politely. I don't ask for any more respect than anybody else. One thing I think probably feeds into that is that I never use text talk. I never abbreviate a word. I try with the links that I do I try to do, quite often, is to do what a headline writer would do in a newspaper, say something funny or clever makes you go and read it. But generally, I try to keep the tone quite high and so I do have quite a lot of conversations, yeah. If I, if somebody has got a really good - Like, if I look at the replies, which I don't do very much. And if someone does have a go, in saying 'How about?' 'Good point.' Like if I have time and occasionally I do, I will have dialogue. The thing is, with everything now even if you write a column, it's the start of a conversation. And the conversation is to keep going. And I might say something or tweet something and someone might go, 'Well that's not inclusive, that's forgetting this.' or 'that's not a very sophisticted angle' and then they can go off and continue that on themselves. And so that's one of the great things with the sharing I don't feel any obligation to respond. I do if I feel like it occasionally. But, I do like it when I can just go, 'Oh these people are just haters who are searching around going, I want to have access to somebody who their views are threatening to me, so I'm going to be a pest.' It's like, be a pest to somebody else. But I hardly ever block anyone and I think that the fact that Catherine and I are so different in the way we use the medium

is just another example of how it doesn't dictate anything to you. It's absolutely flexible. I know people who only look at it once a day. And I look at it all the time

because it's fully intergrated into my work. So, you can do whatever you like. We've got time for probably just one quick final question if you can be quick. We are lucky to live in a world with people who agree with us. And in a world where we have Google with you know algorithms that will decide what is most relevent to you. Are we somehow limiting exposure to alternate views of the world, through deciding Twitter feeds and to personalised searches? OK. The question is: Are we limiting the exposure to alternative points of view? By curating the information that we have.

I think we've always done it and we always will. I think that less so now you don't just have four television channels and maybe two newspapers if you're lucky, where you live. So yes, perhaps we do limit ourselves but perhaps we limit ourselves more broadly. I try, as a journalist, to put myself in a position where people don't, you know, aren't going to listen to my program. Oh, I know how he votes, so this interview is going to be thoroughly biased. So I try to - you know also I haven't made up my mind on a lot of things. I don't follow any particular political party. I do have divergent views on lots and lots of different policies and lots and lots of different things. So I quite often, when there is a political debate going on, find myself retweeting two exactly opposite views on the same thing. Because I think that that is one of the reasons why people follow me because there is a stream of stuff coming through, which isn't necessarily predictable. I try to be relatively unpredictable. I'd like to be like @brainpicker, a curator of interestingness. Well, unfortunately I think we've come to the end of our alloted 60 minutes. We've trawled through a lot of issues and I hope you've found it greatly interesting. We've also got the image next time you do happen to log on and recieve one of Mark's tweets that he may be lying in bed naked. Oh no, no, no! I do wear clothes. (Laughter) Would you please join me in thanking Catherine and Mark. (Applause) That was Modified Tweets with Mark Colvin and Catherine Deveny and moderator Neil James at the Sydney Writers' Festival. You can follow Deveny and Colvin on Twitter as well as us at Big Ideas. That's all in this session of the show, I'm Waleed Aly. Catch you next time. # Theme music Closed Captions by CSI.

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