A Message for all you Older Guys/Gals: Get on Twitter

By older I mean about 50-plus, including old-timers like me who can still learn new skills. Younger people can ignore the following advice; they’ve mostly discovered what I’ll be saying, years ago.

I have long ignored the idea of social media. I saw no reason to inform others about my daily trivia, or to know the same about them. But then, thanks to two daughters, I discovered Twitter. It’s marvelous.

For sure, Twitter can be about trivia, and often is. But it’s also a phenomenal means of keeping one informed almost instantly. And about issues which are really important.

Twitter helps me in farming. It was my best source of timely information in 2012 on the spread of armyworm and aphid infestations – as well as what to do about them. It’s equally good for real-time information on crop performance, markets, ag policy, weather damage, or just about anything else you’d want to know. And it’s free.

I’ll not give details on how to get onto Twitter and into “tweeting.” I got help from my family and you can too. It’s not difficult. Emailing was a harder learn 15+ years ago.

Don’t be deterred by the 140-character-per-message limit. It’s actually your friend – forcing tweeters to be concise. Tweets can include encrypted (abbreviated) web links to more information, and often do. For many of you, there is no need to send tweets at all; it’s what you learn from the tweets of others that provides the most benefit. I know farmers with twitter accounts who have yet to tweet once; they just use it to learn from others.

The whole trick is in choosing whose tweets “to follow.” If you choose good sources, you’ll get good, timely information. If you choose bad ones, you’ll get a stream of useless nonsense about going for coffee, bathrooms, and bitching about sports events. One huge advantage: you can be ruthless and still polite. Try different sources but drop bad ones quickly (“unfollowing” is the term) if they waste your time. (I dropped one source after only 15 minutes.)

If you are in Ontario crop agriculture, there are some essentials: Peter Johnson (aka @WheatPete), Mike Cowbrough (@cowbrough), Pat Lynch (@PatrickLynch13), Tracey Baute (@TraceyBaute) and Dave Hooker (@cropdoc2). Many others are about as good – including several for market information. A characteristic of good crop info sources is that they tell you what you need to know, when you need it, but don’t flood you with countless tweets.

Include good farmers, indeed many of them, as they are your best scouts for what’s happening on farms. Two of my favourites are Brent Royce (@brfarms09) and Andrew Campbell (@FreshAirFarmer). Use sources well beyond Ontario and Canada. I value farm/ag tweets from the US and Europe, and international agencies like the Gates Foundation and CIMMYT.

There are dedicated individuals who voluntarily make it their mission to scan information from everywhere and summarize it on Twitter. Two top examples are Cami Ryan (@DocCamiRyan) at U Saskatchewan and Calestous Juma (@calestous) at Harvard University. I like “Frank N. Foode”  (@franknfoode) which is a great, though cheeky source, authored, I’m told, by a group of US ag students. Carl the Corn Plant (@IowaCornPlant) is another. UofGuelphOAC (@uofGuelphOAC) is a top source of news from the Ontario Agricultural College. You can see everyone I follow, if you like, by checking @TerryDaynard .

One huge benefit for an old guy like me is that most of the information on Twitter comes from young people. I value that immensely.

Fax machines first arrived in the mid 1980s – a marvelous communications break through. Then came emails a decade later – even better, as were high-speed internet and modern web site technologies to follow. Twitter is the next wave. If you’re not part of it, you’re missing something great. Indeed, soon you may be in the minority.

Until recently, I started most days reading the (Toronto)  Globe and Mail on line. But now I check Twitter first, and read several articles I’m attracted to by Twitter links. I read stuff from all over the world, often in obscure on-line publications I’ve not known before. If I still have time at breakfast, I’ll then check the Globe – good to know what’s on the national stage – but it’s pretty boring compared to Twitter.

(This item appeared initially in the Ontario Farmer, and is now being posted here.  I’m pleased to hear of folks  in their mid 80s who are now on Twitter, as well as 70-year-old youngsters, like me)

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