Chilean Miner Twitter feed

Chilean Miner Twitter feed

A poetic analysis of the Chilean Miner Twitter feed (@Chilean_Miner).

Form

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 keep spirits up by telling each other stories. Last night Juan told us Legally Blonde #miners 11:00 AM Aug 27th via Twuffer

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

Looking forward to the weekend. Will probably have a lazy one. #minders #weekend 27 August 2010 12:55:53 via web

Language

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

Ernesto has been talking about Cher for hours. What IS his problem? 29 August 2010 17:00:52 via Twuffer

Imagery

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

We’re out of tin foil. Furthermore Ramon is now parading about in a jacket he claims to be made of ‘Mithril’ 22 September 2010 14:01:05 via Twuffer

Was convinced our advent calendar pictures were becoming more festive until todays snowman turned out to be a scarecrow in a puffa jacket 23 September 2010 09:00:19 via Twuffer

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

Rhythm

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.

Tone

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.

Our SAD daylight bulb is on the blink and strobing. Everyone experiencing VERY rapid mood swings 27 September 2010 10:00:39 via Twuffer

We just all said goodnight to each other like they do in the Waltons. Yeah that’s four hours I wont be getting back. 03 September 2010 04:00:09 via Twuffer

Rifts and cliques starting to form in the group. It’s like West Side Story down here 29 August 2010 19:00:47 via Twuffer

Ramon has tried to oust me as mayor of Gold Mine by kicking me in the buttocks. He does not understand geo-location gaming services 29 August 2010 18:00:40 via Twuffer

Juan has befriended a bat. Many of us are jealous of their blossoming friendship 04 September 2010 11:05:18 via web

Subject matter

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.

@AmeriCares in our funny way, by keeping it in people’s minds everyday, we miners are trying to get people to dig deep 30 August 2010 22:49:26 via Twitter for Android

Please remember to dig deep. Donate to the Chilean Earthquake fund here: http://bit.ly/9qdK3k 02 September 2010 03:00:15 via Twuffer

You Raise me Up! With your compassion and generosity that is. Please give all you can to the Chilean Earthquake Appeal http://bit.ly/9qdK3k 03 September 2010 07:00:31 via Twuffer

It is this combination of humour, hope and social awareness that makes @Chilean_Miner important, on a conceptual if not ideological level.

-Unseen Flirtations

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