‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,’, said Albert Einstein ‘it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid.’ He is cleverer than me, so please read on.
And if you judge me by my ability on social media, you will reach the same conclusion as you did about that fish, but I plough on. And I plough on, as do quite a few people in my profession, because it helps get the word out (building the profile is how the marketing people call it), so that as many as twenty people will know in advance when I have a new book coming out. In a completely legal way, I am putting myself out there.
My rules are simple: Twitter is for conservation, Instagram for pretty pictures, and Facebook mainly so that Trevor can come back with one of his withering one-liners. Which makes me a digital straight man, I suppose. And, up until yesterday, you could have comfortably sat all the ‘likes’ I had ever cumulatively managed on Twitter around my kitchen table, and still had room for the family, and for Carla next door.
But yesterday, something strange happened. I put up an admittedly quite cute picture of a one-day old head-started curlew chick that was taking its first tottering steps into the waiting world. It is artificial (it is from an egg that has been moved from a more productive area, and then incubated), and just about everything is still against its chances of hefting itself to the hill on which it will be released, and coming back to breed successfully in a few years time.
But you don’t want to know about all that. You want to know what happened to my tweet.
The definition of ‘went viral’ is unclear, but, in my book, what happened next was that something that I had written went bonkers. I don’t want you to think that I mind about this sort of thing (I do, but I don’t want you to think it), but when I glanced at it after a couple of hours, views were registering in double figures. 12 to be precise. That was phenomenal. I only have about 6 followers, so some black magic must have been going on, something called a re-tweet. By lunch time, it had gone up to 30, and by the time I set off for an evening event our charity was involved in, 100.
Parking up in Bournemouth, that had gone up to 500, then 1,000 and then, mirabile dictu, Robert MacFarlane re-tweeted it. Now, in my world, a re-tweet by Robert MacFarlane is like a summons to the Vatican for a parish priest, or a Michelin star being awarded to the local fast-food joint. More people noticed it.
Up it went. 1,000 became 10,000, and 10, 000 became 50,00. By the time I went to bed, it was over 100,000, of whom about 2,500 had liked it, and 400 or so retweeted it.
Not that I’m obsessed, but I answered a call of nature in the middle of the night, I checked the phone and it had got to around 125,000 and by this morning, 150,000, which is about the population of Portsmouth.
No one has been particularly rude about it yet, which is nice, because rudeness is the stock in trade of the Twitterati, and I have all the sensitivity you would expect of my profession. (When, on a recent walk, I tweeted that Kielder forest was utterly devoid of wildlife, every angry forester in the north came out of the woods to call me a ‘blind twat, or ‘utterly ignorant’, and presumably hoped that I would die along with my bunny hugging opinions.)
But you can’t take those 154,604 views away from me. I have become an embryonic digital version of that little curlew, starting to flap my uncoordinated way into a yellow brick online road.
I neither know nor care what lies ahead. I am basically a Kardashian.