I’ve pulled the plug on my Twitter account for a bit. Or rather, turned the light off, but left it plugged in.
It’s partly because it’s not helping my current mood be reminded how busy and successful everyone else is at four second intervals*, and it’s partly because I’m just not very interested in Twitter now. I liked the old fashioned chat-room simplicity of it when I signed up three years ago, but it’s not really like that anymore.
For one thing, I can see it succumbing to commercial pressure to add Facebook-like bells and whistles… and as you might have gathered from the other things I’ve written about on this blog, none of that interests me at all. Personally, I like the sandbox – the feeling of inventing your own rules and games. Twitter has been the most beautiful demonstration of the fact that if you leave people to themselves for long enough, they will start to play… and not just play along the prescribed structures – but invent new play. Because there’s only so many ways you can go with noughts and crosses, and increasing the number of people playing never changes the unmoveable rule-bound game in the same way it can change – actually write – the unwritten game. People-power can invent things, but it can’t argue with maths. So let us play.
I once saw Simon Munnery climb down into the audience and push a microphone into someone’s face. “If you could say anything, what would you say?” The bemused punter just shook his head and Simon looked up at the crowd and said “And THAT’S why democracy will never work.” I think about that a lot, I’m not sure why it made such an impression on me. Munnery was asking his victim to play with him, I think, but the game is rigged. Whatever the punter says, the punchline will work. It’s a game you can’t win, but it’s still fun. We know we’ll never be as clever as Simon Munnery, and for some reason that makes me very happy.
The joke also sounds the basic truth that, individually and in isolation, no one has anything sensible to say. Individual bias, personal history, preferences, personalities, the basic physical state a person is in when they declare an opinion – they all get in the way of credibility. One needs reinforcement, interaction, backing up. Following. Retweeting.
So if Twitter is more than just a bit of fun, maybe it’s not about empowering our individual views at all, but rather contextualising ourselves in a like-minded gang. Ours is a peculiar age of entitled democracy. The internet’s ubiquity no longer looks like a million monkeys on a million typewriters** but has settled into a series of rippling competitive status bars of opinions. If anything characterises the last decade I think it’s the disingenuousness of a massively expanded pool of contacts and brains. The trouble is, the bigger and more varied the world seems, the more we defend our own corner and our own identity. And paradoxically, we feel much more ourselves around those able to reflect us right back. It’s fair to say that most of the people I know on the internet are rather like me – they reinforce my ideas and attitudes and I reinforce theirs. And that’s why we get on. People like me help me to feel like a special unique snowflake. And it’s great that we’re building our own tower together but, you know, sometimes I’d rather make a sandcastle.
None of which is very new to say. Twitter is still fun, of course. And having said all that, I’m fairly sure my decision to back away has more to do with my current mental state (using it as a crutch, addictiveness) than anything Twitter has done wrong. Munnery is right: there’s a sense in which democracy will never work because, when their identity is relatively anonymous, isolated individuals just don’t know what to say. As I think this blog post proves.
*Not random bitterness: I am currently unemployed, haven’t been paid for any work for a year now, and now struggling even to get Jobseeker’s Allowance. I was robbed last week and lost iPhone, keys, purse, bag etc – it’s all turning out quite expensive. I have enough money in my current account to get me through about six weeks, maybe two months assuming Christmas is cancelled this year. Publisher ‘no longer able to pay advances’ which means it’s unlikely I’ll be doing another book in the foreseeable future. Without wishing to beg, if you know of anyone with any work going at all… well, clearly I have been reduced to actual begging.
** Another Munneryism.