Friday, March 2, 2012

Why for this old fart tweet is still rather uncomfortably close to twit. But don’t worry, you young things, I know my place

For many years after Twitter came into being, I simply could not see the point of it. Tweeters, I thought, were simply irritating neophiles who would sup on shit if they were assured it was the latest, coolest thing to do. It wasn’t that I was behaving as your standard meldrew, hating whatever happened within 20 years of my birth. In fact, I didn’t hate it at all. It was that I simply couldn’t see the point of it. At it’s silliest it is just another PR tool to keep the client in the public eye. Or there is the angle of drumming business, with Robin Lustig trailing an interview with the Devil in tonight’s The World Tonight (he’s a keen tweeter) or Evan Davis twittering away about what this morning’s Today will be doing.

Most certainly there’s an element of neophilia, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of Guardianistas twittering to inform us of their most recent thought. But there is most certainly more to it than that, although for the life of me I can’t put my finger on it. The silliest thing is that I have had a Twitter account for the past few months and have tweeted now and again. But still can’t tell you what the point of tweeting is. And how daft is that? I do it but I don’t know why I do it. Unkind readers might suggest that I have lost the plot, and who might I be to deny it. If I have indeed lost the plot, I would most certainly, by definition, be the last to realise it.

It’s not that tweeting is simply a new technology. The fact that a great many people tweet - and here I really must stress that in the following analysis I am not including those press agents who tweet on their clients behalf - in an odd kind of way signifies a paradigm shift of some kind. It seems to indicate dimension in our conception of how we might relate to others. Now that sounds, or possibly sounds, rather grand, so let me bring it down to earth if possible. I suspect that essentially tweeting is not very new at all. What gives it the impression of novelty is the technology which makes it possible. That is to say if in years and decades and centuries gone by folk were able to proclaim their very opinion to the world, they would most certainly have done so. The difference is that they didn’t have the technology. That reminds me of what someone once said after the first transatlantic cable had been laid and Europe and America were able to communicate telegraphically. ‘Now,’ said someone portentously, ‘London can speak to New York.’ To which someone replied with what to me seems to be the obvious comment: ‘Yes, but does London have anything to say to New York?’

It’s rather the same as tweeting: it’s all find and dandy that we now have the means to trumpet our view and opinions to everyone on the planet with  access to a smartphone or a computer, but it doesn’t necessarily make those views and opinions any the more important or even interesting. Part of me is as yet unconvinced and suspects that it simply boils down to the fact that the larger the crowd able to make a noise, the greater the cacophony. I’ll be more impressed by technological advances such as Twitter and the epistemological shifts they are claimed to bring about when rather fewer people vote in X Factor polls than bother to turn up to cast their vote in national elections. We all have opinions, but unfortunately 99 per cent of us are also as thick as shit.

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