Today Twitrelief launched - a series of ebay auctions whereby you can 'win' a celebrity as a twitter follower for 90 days, and they are obliged to tweet to you once. Naturally these auctions are going to be bid on regularly and will probably make a lot of money for charity, which is laudible. Reading the news on Google you'd think we were all shiny happy people.
However a lot of the Twitter community have reacted negatively, yours included, stating that this is a grandstanding event, where it's celebs vs plebs and this has prompted some equally vitriotic responses from the celebrities and their supporters with a level of righteous indignation and melodrama on the level of Commodus's "Am I not merciful?" speech in Gladiator.
Ah, you say, surely having a celebrity who has better things to do than read your 140 character length drivel as he/she commands a fee that can be measured in pounds per minute, drag their mouse pointer over the follow button next to your name has some monetary value (though why they have to 'waste' such time unfollowing you after 90 days is beyond me -- are non-celebrity tweets really that offensive?).
Do we live in different worlds? Depends on your metric - but some seem to measure it by success. As an academic, and a reasonably well paid one I could argue that my time is worth more than yours or better spent talking to my 'fellow intellectuals', and you could make the same point in reverse I'm sure. I personally wish we lived in a world where fireman, medical doctors and nurses were the highly celebrities as their jobs have real merit. Imagine a world where David Beckham (or rather his equivalent, if I'm stretching credulity) was a world class surgeon who was Britain's best surgeon, rather than someone who kicks a ball pretty well.
I've spent time in a queue at the post office or whatever calculating the monetary worth of the time I've wasted. Sometimes that seems relatively ass-holish thoughts - I'm no better than thee or Fred Bloggs at the end of the day, and thankfully I have people around me who'd keep me grounded if I started getting delusions of grandhood.
Celebs on the other hand don't get this kind of reality check. Some of them end up like Lohan or Sheen. Others do douchebaggery - for instance charging for access to their exclusive blog when or running their own fan-club for profit. WilliamShatner.com is hawking Star Trek props, when quite frankly Shatner could probably buy every Star Trek fan in the world a plastic phaser by this point. It goes to their heads.
As for some of these celebs - c'mon! Would they get involved if there was no exposure? No good PR? Take John Prescott - his achievements are (IMHO - I'm an equal opportunity politican hater now) being part of a government that has bankrupted the country, and himself is a champagne-socialist hypocrit who has managed a transformation that is practically taken out of the final pages of Animal Farm when he joined the House of Lords. Given he has fed his Dickensian frame on the tax payer, why is having him join twitter worth any money? Yes it is for charity, but if 1 person pays £310.00 to go out with him for pies (subsidised by the taxpayer in the Parliament bar) is it better than a well-thought out scheme that gets 31 people to donate £10. (Incidentally these charity auctions where things go for masses of cash seem less effective than something where lots of people donate small amounts of cash).
Interestingly the cult of the celebrity has even gotten to 'internet celebrities'. There are vitriotic blogs about the gang at http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/ about how they indulge in e-begging and ego trips. For example one guy charges for autographed pictures for him, not for charity but for his own pocket and all these guys do is give amusing pub-level commentary on films and games.
Tangentially a twitter-ego rating can be obtained by dividing the number of followers of a person by the number of people they're following. I come across a mildly humble. Stephen Fry's ego in this metric is massive.
As I've said these auctions will go for lots of money. There will be a lot more losers than winners though - surely a system where 320 people donate £1 and get a thank you is better than one person donating £310 and winning a brief chat with a celeb? I've often looked at ridiculously expensive charity auctions for things like movie memorobilia or walkon roles in movies and shaken my head. Who has thousands of pounds to spend on such things? Certainly no-one I've met. Why not do a raffle? £1 an entry. Winner gets celeb X to follow them. £1 is pushing for something that really has no value, and prevents (the admittedly extreme case of) some eejit getting themselves into debt by charging £3000 to get Celeb Y to follow them to a credit card they shouldn't be allowed.
So Twitrelief is endemic of a larger ego-problem. Just because it's for charity doesn't make it automatically brill, and the reactions from some of the celebs makes it even worse. And it makes money for charity. Which is brill. But so could robbing banks, shooting the teller at gunpoint and donating the proceeds to charity. Nothing wrong with critiquing that methodology.
It's all relative. (As an aside Twitrelief is more like kicking the low-income in the gut for charity, not shooting an autoteller).