“I am happy when I get up in the morning” (part one)
May 28, 2012 Leave a comment
In the first part of our interview with journalist and radio personality Nico Prat, we talked about his first book, Les Miscellanées d’Internet, and the one that will be released next year, Twittus Politicus. In the following lines, you will read about his performance, how Twitter impacts the political world, and what a non-political journalist can do with all this information.
Photos taken by Celeste Rhoads.
Tell us more about this book you released earlier this year.
It was released in January, it’s called “Internet Miscellaneous” and talks about the internet, not in a chronological way, which tells about Internet-based characters, Internet etiquette, and Internet-based stories. So of course we talk about Mark Zuckerberg, about the military use of the Internet during its first steps, MySpace’s Tom, etc. It’s full of little articles and anecdotes that reveal a global, and I hope fun, vision of Internet. It goes from the 60s, during the first try outs, to today. I can’t really pinpoint when the book starts, but I clearly remember the end: when the book in its final form was due, when we could not make any more changes at this point, Steve Jobs died and naked pictures of Scarlett Johansson were leaked. So we gave everyone a call and that’s how the book ends, at this very precise point in time.
So you didn’t make it chapter by chapter in a precise order?
No, that’s why it’s called “miscellaneous”, it’s because it’s a bunch of different stories that are unrelated to each other. It’s a mess, but it reflects Internet’s mess in a way. We thought it would be better to approach things that way. It’s the kind of book you read on the train.
How did the book do? How did you perform, sales-wise?
I have absolutely no idea. It has never been communicated. I think it did well because we had a lot of promotion going on and we also had the opportunity to sign up for a second opus. So I assume we didn’t sink our publishing house to the ground, but I don’t have any numbers. The fact that we have a second one in the works means that it did at least as much as the team expected.
That’s a book that we can all relate to. We all have an Internet connection and we’ve all been Rick-rolled.
That’s the thing. We all have a lousy friend that keeps emailing us links to the latest supposedly funny meme. But despite that I learned a lot doing research for the book. For instance, the founding fathers of the Internet, if you will, had created a network so they could exchange thoughts and ideas. It was back when Internet had only five users. They started testing it and all went back to their respective homes. One of them forgot his electric razor at the hotel. He used the network to tell his friends, “you guys, I forgot my razor, can someone ship it back to me?” it was one of the first emails. It was encoded and everything, totally not what we deal with Gmail today. The second book will be a bit different, it will be about Twitter and called “Twittus Politicus”, we will work on who represents the politics on Twitter, the vets, the newbies, who clashes with who, does it have any weight in the real political world, etc.
So there will be a chapter about me having a fight with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
No, we will focus on french politics. Characters and people such as Humour de Droite. We were waiting for the end of the presidential and parliamentary elections. So we will work on it this summer. We will try to interview Benjamin Lancar, people from radio station Europe 1, and journalists who I’m sure will have a lot to tell us. We have contacts, on the left wing side but also on the right wing hand, that handled the communication for prominent political characters during the campaign.
Do you think Twitter plays a definite role in politics in general or do you think it’s yet another gadget?
It is a social network, so it is what people make of it. I personally never question myself twice before posting. If I see a funny picture of a cat, I’m going to post it. And this cat can find itself in my timeline between an article on how Sarkozy made a serious move to the right and another one on the weather in Corsica. I don’t ask myself any questions. You can also choose what you’re going to see. People always believe that Twitter leans to the left. Benjamin Lancar himself talked about the “Leftosphere”, when talking about social networks, that would be allegedly left-sided. I’m not necessarily sure this is true. And it can give nuances. I was talking with a friend the other day who said he was generally voting on the right side of the spectrum, but that didn’t mean he was subscribing to everything Sarkozy was doing and saying. You can be critical.
You will see certain political parties, mostly on the left, very much present on the Internet and some, like the National Front, totally absent.
But young people vote for the National Front as well, and massively so. I think there is still a bit of shame attached to being close to the National Front and adhering to its ideas. I thought the whole presidential campaign was pathetic. The closer we were to the end, I thought the right wing was losing its mind, losing its cool. Hollande was playing on its calm, poised, still side, whereas Sarkozy was all over the place, and he paid the price. He shouldn’t have chatted up to the National Front.
Since you’re going to write about it, do you think communication advisors will see Twitter as an integral part of their strategy?
Absolutely. It’s an important part of your presence on the Internet. Beyond what you can say in your official page, it can also help relay one-liners, help relay slogans, in a fast paced way. I think the right wing are also losing their cool on Twitter. They tend to tweet way too easily, way too fast. They’re accusing, they’re being aggressive. And that’s what people remember. They’re not less present, they’re just not using it wisely. Because Twitter is about the immediate, everything can happen. You can of course delete your tweet but someone will already have screencapped it, or found it in a cache. The DSK story was so massive on Twitter. I remember it woke me up on a sunday morning.
Since you’re not a political journalist, how will you talk about politics on Twitter? What will your angle be?
Precisely through the prism of the guy who doesn’t know anything. I know about Twitter, but I don’t know about politics. It’s not about Twitter or politics, it’s about how a social network that is usually about lolcats, can become so massively important in politics.
In the US, organizations such as MoveOn and the ACLU are using Twitter the best they could for their campaigns, and I’m not even talking about Occupy.
It’s the people that are on Twitter that make Twitter what it is. What’s interesting is the people that can control it and those who watch the carnage. Politics itself, I don’t really care. What I care about is how someone’s tweets play a role in their relationship with other people and how it represents the communication control of the whole party. How someone’s tweets shape a strategy in communication.
And in the US, there is much more control, it is entirely part of a communication strategy that will never be left to the person itself. It’s being taken seriously.
Whereas here, people forget that Facebook and Twitter is where an opinion can forge itself. You can also try to create your opinion and share it so easily. Being present on Twitter equals a dozen of meetings. No one has to move from their couch and go someplace to hear what you have to say. It’s such a huge tool that is misrepresented and misused. What you have to understand is that the right wing had someone that I believe is profoundly stupid at their head, Benjamin Lancar, who does precisely what should never be done. He’s the standard against which every mistake is now being measured.
There is still a huge belief that people on the internet are an acquired cause to the left wing; that bloggers belong to the left, that people on Facebook and Twitter signing petitions are on the left, that the right is more traditional and therefore will use traditional ways to make themselves known.
No, this is not true. The ring wing is present on the internet, it’s just that if you’re not that inclined, you won’t necessarily pay attention. Hollande was in the opposition, so he was in a position to attack the president. It was easy to use Twitter for that, to be a watchdog against the government. Now that Hollande is president, if the right uses Twitter to note his mistakes, you won’t be able to say that Twitter belongs to the left. Twitter belongs to those who are not in government and are trying to create a movement against it, to be critical, to force critical thinking.
Do you believe you are influential on Twitter or elsewhere? Do you often get reactions to what you tweet?
Depends on what you call a reaction. If I post a picture of a cute kitten and I get a thousand retweets saying yes, this kitten is adorable, I don’t think I’m influential, that I have radically changed the world’s position on cats. But sometimes people are indeed unnerved by what I post, by the article that I choose to post, by what I believe is important. People have a different opinion on everything that I’m capable of saying, but I wouldn’t say that with two thousand followers, I’m influential. You can stumble upon my own tweets the way you can stumble upon anyone else’s.
Wait a few days for the second part of the interview in which Nico discusses how his first book came to be, his career in radio, and what’s ahead for a 26 years old who already achieved what most of us don’t even dare to hope for.