Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Is twitter the new oral tradition?

It has started to dawn on me, as I spend several hours each afternoon and evening tweeting about trees, that twitter is a new form of an old thing.

As part of the A-B-Tree project,  at dusk each day I'm creating what several folk have now described as a 'forest of tweets' about a tree - one tree per day, taking them in alphabetical order, according to the Gaelic tree alphabet. Today it was oak. Yesterday it was hawthorn. Tomorrow it will be holly.

I normally begin with nomenclature and botanical facts, move onto practical uses and then gravitate to snippets of folklore. I throw in links to poems from time to time, and most days I have finished with a poem.

I'm enjoying this process, although it feels a bit strange to be sitting in my shed in the dark, throwing out titbits into cyberspace to see if anything bites. But increasingly, it seems, people nibble.

The poet, former librarian of the Botanic Gardens, Colin Will (@colindwill) is hugely knowledgeable about trees and chips in most days with fascinating gems. Environmental archaeologist specialising in trees, Coralie Mills (@dendrochronicle) has shared knowledge too. I'm delighted when people ask me for sources or for clarification, or start to speculate what something might be about. It's great when people pick up on something and retweet it to their followers because they think it's interesting, or weird.

I've been corrected about several points, which is fab. For example cricket stumps are unlikely in ancient times to represent the Triple Goddess because there were only two of them until 1775, though isn't it interesting that they're called wickets (echoes of wicker and wicca...)

Then there are the jokes - and I love the banter around some of the stranger magic spells I've put up, or the just plain silly responses. I'm being heckled! Go cybercrofter!!

But most pleasing is the realisation that a lot of the stories and traditions, taboos and warnings, rhymes and spells, go right back to the oral tradition of storytelling and the bardic culture. Although this project started out as all about writing, the content of much of this stuff predates written communication and was passed on around firesides, in songs and tales. And twitter is a bit like a giant, global fireside at a giant global crofthouse, where people can drop in, listen for a bit, throw in an idea, nod or laugh or take the piss, and wander out again. I like that.

Tomorrow at dusk, thig a-steach (come away in), pull up a stool and we'll give holly a chewing over @cybercrofter. Slainte!


  1. Great post - I love the idea of twitter as the new oral tradition. Loving the stuff on trees too.

  2. Thanks Ann, glad you're enjoying A-B-Tree!