Thoughts on Noxious Twitter
Now, I wouldn’t want to play down the monstrosity of Chemical Warfare railed against by Adrian Mitchell, or indeed to connect modern notions of mental health with the now threadbare ideas of irrational destruction in his use of the word madness, but ideas in this poem struck me as a good allegory on how Augist went for me with a smaller engagement with Twitter. While I will acknowledge (see below) some of its benefits, I also need to be clear that some of what I see is akin to what Mitchell calls bottled madness.
We all really hate manufacturing madness
But if we didn’t make madness in bottles
We wouldn’t know how to be sane.Adrian Mitchell: Open Day at Porton
Twitter is very often a useful tool, a support for learning, a source of inspiration, and I’m not going to indulge in a game* of Ain’t It Awful? In this month where at least to start off with I limited myself (more or less) to hearts and maybe a Tweet or two in open Twitter once a day, I have had time to read and appreciate: this account of a mountain thunderstorm is one of those exemplary pieces. But this is not the whole content of Twitter. James Durran talks at one point about “sneery, in-crowd obnoxiousness,” and it only takes a few clicks to move beyond this into much nastier in-fighting. I’ve seen some appalling behaviour that to my mind should at the very least call into question whether the Teachers Standards should be invoked against people belittling or bullying other professionals: if you wouldn’t allow that behaviour to go unchallenged or unrebuked in a staff room, it has no place in professional dialogue on social media. It is as if we seek the global brainquake, as if the seeking of it affirms our place in the world.
It would be odd of me to use social media to say social media is a Bad Thing – after all this blog relies on Twitter for traffic on items like my piece on Nen and the Lonely Fisherman. If I felt Twitter was not for me I hope I would simply, quietly, close my accounts and go away. I’m not sure. I have tried the “Look at me I’m leaving Twitter” only to find that, when I wanted it, coming back (during Lent, for example) I simply felt foolish. FOMO seems a major driver for why I am on Twitter and why little by little this month I have come back: a comment here, all the photos of the lovely Jeff (here’s another) who has been with us. I launched off on a rant on the 20th about the Guardian’s adverts for private schools and then thought: Why am I playing this game? And then on 24th August I start a hare about school uniforms and then think What on earth will this add to anybody’s life? Drip by drip from the bottle of madness, or, to change metaphor, I wobble along the tricky line between joining in and attention-seeking. I feel like I am back in the playground of my Junior Phase in Essex: will you play with me? Maybe I am better off posting photos of a trip to London or Lyme Regis, or commenting on the soapwort at the site of a Victorian laundry at the head of the Lye Valley. One thing I am realising is that I would not be missed here, or on Twitter or Facebook or Goodreads, and that’s mostly because people who actually are interested in the same things as I am, or even are interested in what I have to say, often contact me in other ways too. Old-fashioned it might be, but they ‘phone me up, or in more recent style email or WhatsApp me to attract my attention. Who knows? Maybe in September and October I will get to see some Real People! That’s not to say that Twitter is false or utterly shallow, just that the authenticity of reactions and relationships is differently calibrated on Facebook and Twitter, the internet’s version of sticking a post-it on a a noticeboard in the hopes that someone special will see it. Do you know who retweeted me yesterday? To misuse an image of Thomas Merton we are – I am – shooting, round after round into the dark.
So do I give it up? Or how might I fit a valve to my using the media at my disposal?
That reminds me: I have a postcard to send that I picked up at the British Museum Becket exhibition.
*I do find the characterisation of some forms of adult activity described by Eric Berne illuminating as I read Twitter, Ain’t It Awful being one of them, Let’s You And Him Fight being another. This website has a good, brief categorisation.