pop goes the world: country curators converse

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  27 December 2012, Thursday

Country Curators Converse       

There’s an interesting communication phenomenon happening on Twitter through “country curators,” or Twitter accounts officially sanctioned by a country and handled by a different citizen or resident of that country each week.

The foremost example is @sweden, which opened its account in late 2011 as an initiative of two government agencies, the Swedish Institute (cultural promotion) and VisitSweden (tourism promotion).

Sweden

Other accounts are @curatingturkey, @Netherlanders, @TwkUSA, @PeopleOfUK, @ireland, @PeopleOfCanada, @WeAreUkraine, @MoroccoCuration, @iam_pakistan, @CuratorsMexico, @ScotVoices, @WeAreFrance, and many more. The Philippines’ is @WeAreFilipinos.

There are also “city” accounts – @londonisyours, @PeopleOfLeeds, @WeAreDresden, @MunichLovesU, @TweetWeekManila, @WeAreMumbai, @AnotherToronto, @Bangkoking, and others.

In general, the main objective of a country Twitter account is to provide a portal for outsiders to that country through the Tweets of the week’s “curators,” in 140 characters or less per Tweet.

They explain customs and traditions, mention interesting places to visit, discuss current country and global events, share pictures, recipes, and get a conversation going between them and the rest of the Twitter world.

This holiday season, it was interesting to learn about the Christmas customs of different cultures. Ireland/Luke spoke about “the importance of ritual, reconnecting us with our childhood selves at Christmas, the power of nostalgia,” citing how his mother lighted “a candle in the window on Christmas Eve.” John Fay said his grandmother did the same thing and “left the door unlocked. Holy Family was welcome.” Rob from Ireland replied, “My nan used to hand two bars of soap to neighbours on Christmas Eve. She’d say it was for luck. No idea where she got it from!”

Ireland

Luke later described their Christmas feast, starting with Slovakian soup (sauerkraut, sausage, ham, mushrooms, paprika), and “turkey, ham, stuffing, roast potatoes, sprouts w cream, pancetta & Parmesan, squash w pecans & Roquefort, red cabbage, gravy, bread sauce.”

For dessert they had “trifle, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, whipped cream, truffles, white macaroons, dessert wine,” giving credence to Luke’s assertion that “the average Irishman consumes 6,000 calories on Christmas Day.”

Their dinner discussion, Luke said, escalated into an argument “about bishops interfering with politics. Of course this is the stuff of history books, right?”

Apart from the holiday’s groaning tables of food and license for gluttony, that’s one more thing we have in common with Ireland.

Sweden’s curator this week, Hanna, recounts a “very Swedish tradition…at three o’clock we all watch Donald Duck and company (Disney clips) on national television!”

The accounts handled by real people (as opposed to account administrators, as ours seems to be), are real and vibrant. Sweden, for one, does not censor, no matter how offbeat the personality in charge for the week. In June, Sonja Abrahamsson, a self-described “low educated” 27-year-old single mother, incited controversy when she Tweeted about Jews and “used crude language” (according to an online news item). Her Tweets, while carefully monitored, were not deleted, but would have been taken down had they crossed into hate speech.

The Tweets from @WeAreFilipinos are informative – “To Catholic Filipinos, today is the start of Simbang Gabi, a series of nine pre-dawn masses leading up to Christmas Day,” or “Latest fashion trend for men: meggings (leggings for men)” – but they sound scripted because the style of writing is fairly consistent.

The bionote on the account says “A new Filipino every week,” but after scrolling through weeks of Tweets, I can’t find this – no introductions of the week’s curator, and so on. What I do see a lot of admin activities (marked by [ADMIN]), many retweets of a Fil-American named “Kyno”, and #FFs (Follow Fridays) of the other curated country accounts.

WeAreFilipinos

Too bad, because this is our chance to show the world different points of view of what a Filipino thinks and experiences, engaging the world with honesty, not one carefully moderating Tweets to present a certain image. That smacks too much of PR in the manipulative sense.

Communication theorist James Carey often quoted Kenneth Burke as saying, “Life is a conversation.” It’s one “that continuously goes on,” said Carey, where “No one has the last word; there are no final thoughts. There is no end to the conversation.”

Computer-mediated communication has given the world the ability to open and carry on conversations in real time, something that was once impossible. This has facilitated the discourse between cultures, at least for this particular audience.

There will always be differences, but we instinctively seek similarities to find common ground with each other, to bring about cooperation rather conflict. This is achieved through building trust. To build trust, truth is required.

Between countries and between individuals, let’s keep it honest.

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To my dear readers, thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts and ideas with you in 2012. My warmest wishes for health, peace, and prosperity in the New Year! ***  

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