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Rugby and the nation: Tweeting our devastation

“Sympathies to the Wallabies,” tweets the comedian Brendan Jack. “After the tournament, they still have to go back to Australia.”

It’s a sardonic comment on a morning which for many across South Africa has been an emotional rollercoaster. I’m very aware of this because I’ve watched my fellow citizens veer crazily from hope to despair and back again in real time and it was fascinating.

My experience of Sunday morning’s match, which no doubt will go down in history forever attached to the descriptor “heartbreaking”, was somewhat different from the typical Springbok shirt-wearing South African. For one thing, I missed most of the match, opting to go on the Zoo Trot instead. On the drive to the zoo, I listened to my straight best friend Sean Shannon commentate on Radio 2000, but once I started the walk past gibbons and red forest hogs, Twitter was my only source of information. This meant that I experienced the match through the reactions of others, a kind of meta-viewing of proceedings.

Watching a match purely through the reactions of other people is fascinating. You immediately become aware of the emotional tenor of an event, far more so than when you’re also watching it — perhaps because there’s some distance involved.

This is the match in tweets:
“Is Bryce Lawrence blind? Hands in twice. Should’ve been a penalty.”
“Ingxaki asiyisusi lantakumba” #XhosaCommentary
“Even the ball is bouncing in our favour. The ancestors are with us.
“Keep it up, Boks. South Africa deserves this win (and we won’t be able to take the depression otherwise …)” (That was the US Embassy in Pretoria.)
“The Boks look hungry! I like this second half team.”
“There is a god. #Lambie”
“I hate talking about the ref in rugby, but what a fucken idiot is Bryce Lawrence”
“Changing back to the F1. Rugby is bad for my nerves.”
“I can no longer cope”
“No nails left. Trying to write tweets using my bloody stumps is no fun at all #Bokke”
“This ref DOES NOT want me to come over there!!!! #GoBokke”

Afterwards, there is time for reflection:
“Can we please not now start ‘building’ for the next WC and just try to be the best team in the world ALL the time? Pick the best players,” tweets Business Day editor Peter Bruce.
“I’m now one of those Capetonians supporting the All Blacks for the rest of the RWC,” declares Jannie Momberg, editor of news24.

One thing I love about Twitter — and why I follow lots of people without filtering them — usually don’t filter it, is that there’s a certain democracy in the timeline. Celebrities, comedians, editors, journalists, students, writers, geeks, nobodies — everybody gets to express their opinion and every tweet is equal.

What comes through very strongly when you watch matches in this way is how effective sport is at creating national cohesion. Support for the Boks came from across the spectrum. Some of the most vocal support came from young black women: think back to where we’ve come from, and don’t underestimate the power of that.

Twitter saves TV

Something that has always struck me about Twitter is the way in which it amplifies a shared experience. As I wrote back in September 2010, Twitter could be the saviour of broadcast TV. “For the experience to be truly meaningful, it must be shared,” I wrote, “and to be shared, you need to let know that others also know what you are witnessing along with them. Twitter has become part of that shared experience, and reminded us that it still matters. So maybe it’s not that the old way to watch TV was better because it brought us together; the new way does too – just in different ways.” This, essentially, is the idea behind the concept of social TV and we saw it in action again during the rugby. (I’ve often wondered why advertisers don’t exploit this. As more and more people use PVR and stop watching ads, wouldn’t it make sense to incentivise them to watch by using Twitter?)

On a day of national mourning, when coffee shops and pubs are filled with sad people in Springbok-branded shirts, I’ll leave the last word to writer Aneshree Naidoo: “Ah. We lost then. Who needs DSTV when you have Twitter.” Indeed.