Chilean Miner Twitter feed
A poetic analysis of the Chilean Miner Twitter feed (@Chilean_Miner).
On August 5th 2010 a cave-in at the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert, Chile, left 33 workers trapped 700 metres below surface. The world’s media swooped on the story and international news switched its focus to the fate of these 33 men. Soon, a fictional Twitter account emerged, purporting to be one of the miners armed with his observations and a handy laptop. @Chilean_Miner was born, documenting the day-by-day experiences of the trapped miners in a steady stream of tweets.
Now, anyone who uses Twitter will know that it operates as a running commentary of disjointed thoughts, cheeky one-liners, existential observations and so on. @Chilean_Miner is no exception, using the required 140 character limit to keep the world informed. The interesting element of the feed is that it goes beyond individual, stand-alone tweets. As the days rolled on, a loose but arching narrative began to emerge, complete with character, plot, climax and pathos. We learn all about the idiosyncrasies of Juan and his musical limitations, the tensions created by gold chip poker sessions, Sergio’s welcome impression of Susan Boyle, the formation and breaking up of a boyband, and so on. As the weeks progressed, a complete narrative emerged and it became clear that (unlike the usual Twitter feed) this narrative would have a beginning (entering the mine), middle (survival) and an end (rescue).
Ooh, hello! There’s a plug socket in here. So glad I brought my laptop into work today. 6:26 PM Aug 25th via web
How many people do you need to make a basketball team? We were thinking of forming an amateur league down here 27 August 2010 16:35:51 via web
We just took a vote on whether or not to smash up Juan’s repetitive harmonica with a mallet. Results were as follows. FOR: 32 AGAINST:Juan 4:29 PM Aug 26th via web
The first @Chilean_Miner tweet is actually in Spanish, after which we are presented with English ‘translations’. Obviously, this is to appeal to the English-speaking readership but the writer’s use of English goes beyond mere convenience. He speaks in the kind of off-hand, conversational idiolect that we can associate with Web 2.0 aficionados, typified by the dropping of personal pronouns, short, punchy sentences, all-cap emphasis and liberal use of punctuation. On a technical level, it is worth noting the tweets are written in largely formal English, the writer opting to avoid phonetics, elision and ‘text speak’. Perhaps to ensure a level of authority in voice. That said, sparing use of slang (eg: wig out) relaxes the tone and reminds us that this is an ordinary person.
All of this creates a lively, personable tone and helps carve a tangible persona that the reader can relate to. This is not the language of an actual Chilean mine worker at all – more the words of an ipad-prodding office jockey who has a few spare months to fill.
Ooh, hola! There’ zócalo del enchufe del S.A. adentro aquí. Tan alegre traje mi ordenador portátil en trabajo hoy
Can someone PLEASE let us know what’s going on with Brangelina?? There is literally no gossip down here 3:37 PM Aug 26th via web
We’re assingning roles to each miner down here to keep us proactive. It’s my job to slap people really hard whenever they badly wig out. 10:09 AM Aug 26th via web
Fashion advice…beards are IN! 28 August 2010 14:46:34 via web
Due to the constraints of a 140 character count, there is little emphasis on painting vivid landscapes in the average twitter feed. The @Chilean_Miner writer does not offer up any specific images to detail his surroundings, instead letting the anecdotal tweets create a sense of place. He remains economic with description throughout, only telling us what we need to know to appreciate a particular scenario (eg: describing the use of mined gold for poker chips). The descriptions are literal and unembellished. As a result, the reader is required to create these embellishments and imagine the world in which @Chilean_Miner lives. It is a fantasy world, full of rock-based sports equipment, eccentric leisure activities, tin-foil jackets, fajita-shaped moons, brass cut ‘DVDs’, and all manner of unusual objects. This fantasy world, implausible as it is fictional, is made real in the reader’s imagination – small details working as seeds for a broader mental image.
We’ve created the illusion of being above ground using a fajita as a fake moon. We nibble a bit off each night to make it wane 24 September 2010 17:12:12 via web
Juan’s pirate DVD’s aren’t even DVD’s, but discs cut out of panelled brass. Some of them aren’t even discs. Some of them aren’t even brass 04 October 2010 11:02:17 via web
We’ve improvised a version of Angry Birds using pit supports and Juan. He’s bruised like a month-old banana but having a GREAT time! 07 October 2010 12:00:03 via web
Juan is really hogging the rock microphone on rock Sing Star (rock edition) 27 September 2010 12:38:24 via web
On the one hand, Twitter feeds are fairly monotonous. Relentless tweets arriving with relative regularity, almost predictable in their scheduling. However, on the other hand, each individual tweet is a complete surprise – a new joke, a new addition to the narrative, a further development of character. Rhythmically, this creates a kind of droning steadiness punctuated with regular peaks of excitement. Steady fluctuations, like a heartbeat. Overall, the episodic nature of the narrative works to create sustained peaks of action. The five consecutive tweets outlining the rise and fall of mine boyband 32 Carat are a good example of this.
This is where the true poetry of @Chilean_Miner comes into its own. The overriding tone of the feed appears to be light, with a sharp emphasis on humour. Comedy is the one constant across all the tweets, each delivering a joke, almost without fail. The numerous pop culture references reinforce this, acting as a reference point that is very much in safe, comfortable territory for the audience. We see references to Glee, Sex and the City, Singstar, X Factor, Stargate, et cetera, and are put at ease. This is not a feed about emotional trauma, impending doom and looming tragedy.
Or is it? Underpinning these ‘light’ tweets is a palpable sense of despair and trauma. Darker elements simmer beneath a bright exterior, usually implicit. We are told of squabbles and conflicts over petty mine goings-on, but more serious problems are alluded to. Mood swings, depression, anxiety, fear, insanity, everything you would expect from a group of trapped victims. Cleverly, the author masks the darker elements of the tragedy in lighter observations, delivering jokes that (once the laughter fades) leave us pondering the trauma of the situation. The humour is not simply the purpose the feed, but an important means of delivering hope and refuge. We are invited to laugh at the observational comedy and surreal plot developments, but simultaneously acknowledge real concerns. Like all the best comedy, elements of tragedy are at Chilean Miner’s core. The line between laughter and tears is thin.
Juan has befriended a bat. Many of us are jealous of their blossoming friendship 04 September 2010 11:05:18 via web
As stated above, the biggie here is comedy, but it’s obviously not as simple as that. The feed is designed to raise a laugh, using the common reference of the mine disaster as a basis from which to build characters, plot and zany situation comedy. But to leave it there would be unfair and inaccurate. @Chilean_Miner is an important piece of writing because it transcends this. Its means may be humour, but its subject is more profound. This is a Twitter feed about hope, empathy and resilience. As the weeks passed and the world’s media dwindled slightly in its attention on the miners’ plight, @Chilean_Miner served as a daily reminder of a very real (potentially tragic) situation. The irony is that the feed itself is so obviously fictional, even though it alludes to a stark reality. Whilst the miners were struggling to get through each day, the writer of @Chilean_Miner had to struggle to keep his narrative alive. No mean feat when we in the outside world had literally no idea what was going on down there.
The writer does not ignore the severity of the subject matter. Every so often, amid the jokes, we are presented with a plea for aid and a link to the Chilean Miiner donation appeal. At these moments we are being reminded of the real tragedy behind the fantasy, asked to evaluate our own empathy.
It is this combination of humour, hope and social awareness that makes @Chilean_Miner important, on a conceptual if not ideological level.