Realtime WWII. The most interesting use of Twitter so far

72 years ago today, Brussels, the capital of my adopted country, fell to the advancing German army. It was declared an open city to save it from the ravages of bombardment and the Government retreated to Ostend on the coast.

In the days prior to this, the neighbouring countries of Luxembourg, the Netherlands and  France had also been invaded. My home country of the UK went on full alert, recruiting volunteers for home defence and would soon be evacuating any remaining  troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. For the next 5 years war raged in Europe and longer in Asia. We all know how the story ends.

“What does this have to do with Twitter?”, I hear you ask.

Now, 72 years, later I am able to follow the Second World War in real time on Twitter thanks to the efforts of Alwyn Collison of @RealTimeWWII . It’s a fascinating and really rather unsettling experience. Knowing how a story ends doesn’t make it any less dramatic. I’ve been reading as the war approaches the city where I spend my days and sometimes feel a shudder down my spine as I recognise the names of towns to the East that I could easily get to in an hour.

Today is a holiday Belgium. After publishing this, I’ll be having brunch with friends in an apartment near the Grand Place in the centre town. But before ringing the doorbell and going up to greet my friends, I’ll pause for a moment in the square. I’ll probably have a very different perspective from most of the tourists wandering around, just admiring the guild halls. I doubt that most of them will know the significance of the date. We tend to think of wars in terms of beginnings and ends, great battles and the number of lives lost.

@RealTimeWWII has reminded me – in real-time – that it is also very much about day to day survival, loss of freedom, unbearable choices and lives postponed. Observing this war flash by in real-time makes me read more about the events and challenges what I thought I knew. That has to be a good thing.

So thank you @RealTimeWWII. It’s a reminder of how things can change so dramatically in a relatively short amount of time. How the liberties that we take for granted can suddenly be removed. How the best laid plans can be blocked by events bigger than ourselves.

5 years is a long time to look ahead in relation to tech companies these days and there’s speculation in the press that Twitter, Facebook and Google could be shadows of their former selves by 2017. But I for one hope that Twitter stays the course and survives another 5 years just so I can keep watching the drama of @RealTimeWWII unfold 140 characters at a time.