Succour for the vain and vacuous: why I loathe Twitter
09:47 GMT, 1 January 2013
Tweet me: Mr Cameron himself has given in to the 'social' media tsunami and signed up to Twitter
The clue, perhaps, is in the name. Write a blog and you’re a blogger. Hack into a computer and you’re a hacker. So it’s safe to say that when they came up with ‘twitter.com’, they weren’t expecting much in the way of intelligent discourse. And so it has proved.
David Cameron may have got into trouble in 2009 when he joked: ‘The trouble with Twitter … too many twits might make a tw*t.’ But he was spot on.
In the three years since the Prime Minister made the remark, Twitter has elevated inanity to a global art form.
I have no doubt that on the stroke of midnight, millions of people — perhaps hundreds of millions — felt compelled to reach not for a glass or a loved one, but for a phone or laptop in order to type the following vapid salutation to no one in particular: ‘Happy New Year x’.
To question the point of it all is to mark oneself out as a ludicrous Luddite. All must ‘tweet’ in the modern age.
Mr Cameron himself has given in to the ‘social’ media tsunami and signed up to Twitter. So, for that matter, has the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dalai Llama. Even the Pope has caved in, albeit under his Latin title of ‘Pontifex’.
In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that I have had a go at Twitter myself and would acknowledge that there have been more interesting paint-dryings.
If you have a message to peddle, then why not use a public platform which is both free and succinct (for those unfamiliar with Twitter, no message can be longer than 140 characters)
But, for many, it has also become the default means of modern communication. Twitter might like to regard itself as ‘social’ media, but the euphemism only stretches so far (as it does for, say, ‘social’ diseases).
Of course, it has its uses. If one happens to have a pressing urge to unburden oneself on total strangers, it is a lot less embarrassing than sounding off to passers-by.
As an uncontrollable means of communication, it has kick-started revolutions, as in Egypt. Harnessed properly, it is a cunning marketing executive’s perfect tool to promote everything from pop groups to politicians.
But it is also a celebration of vanity and vacuity. It encourages us to dwell on the superficial, to echo the predictable. Why bother writing a letter or making a donation or doing something about something when we can just retweet someone else’s sentiment and feel better
Outspoken: The contributions of Mr Speaker's wife, Sally Bercow, have greatly added to the gaiety of the nation – and, more recently, the pockets of the legal profession
Twitter can be as infuriating as it is often unintentionally entertaining in the hands of the socially insecure — particularly celebrities obsessed with projecting ‘the real me’ to their doting followers.
The contributions of Mr Speaker’s wife, Sally Bercow, have greatly added to the gaiety of the nation — and, more recently, the pockets of the legal profession (thanks to her twitterings on the subject of paedophiles and the blameless Lord McAlpine).
Indeed, all this mindless rumination is not without its downsides.
Jobs and, in some cases, entire careers have foundered thanks to a careless ‘tweet’. As for productivity, how many millions of man-hours have collectively been lost to letting the world know that the Bond film was quite good really and that it’s probably time for a pizza
All of which is why we should bow down and thank Lord Coe for his timely reminder that, in the scheme of things, Twitter is for twits.
Reflecting on the state of modern sport, the great Olympian has just observed: ‘I’ve always found quite a high correlation between people who spend their time in competition texting and tweeting and under-performance.’
Bizarre: Lord Coe is astonished at the way that so many young sporting stars feel obliged to impart utter drivel to the world
Now, after the year he has had, no one can call Sebastian Coe a Luddite. He cheerfully ignored the critics (me included) who argued that he was too ambitious with his big Olympic vision.
Instead, he let history be his judge.
And his own gold medals — all the more impressive in an age when Britain was at the other end of the medal table — mean that his views on competition are beyond reproach.
And he is astonished at the way that so many young sporting stars, on the cusp of the most important moment of their sporting lives, feel obliged to impart utter drivel to the world.
Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, he said of those stars (and surely he can’t be thinking of the showbiz-minded diver Tom Daley): ‘I just can’t imagine why you would want to be doing that when, at the most important moment in your career, you are thinking about telling the world you’ve just had a haircut or seen a movie.
‘I just find it bizarre that people can be sitting there figuring out in 140 characters what they would say to the world at that moment. Just go out and win the bloody race.’
Quite so, my lord.
No doubt some will make excuses for younger athletes, arguing that social media like Twitter and Facebook are as much a part of life for them as football stickers were for the Coe generation.
But it’s not an age thing. One 2012 swimmer wrote the following a week before the Games: ‘From Friday, I’ll be off Twitter for a month so I have no distractions. I’m taking a new phone that can’t give me internet access so I can’t even be tempted to break my Twitter ban.’
Those sage words came from teenager Ellie Simmonds. She went home with two Paralympic golds.
Nor is it just a sporting thing. Come the big moment, how many GCSE or A-level students have under-performed because they have felt compelled to update a bunch of not-remotely-interested online ‘friends’ about the minor details of their lives
But if their celebrity heroes are taking time out to inform them that they are enjoying the sunshine, or planning a trip to the shops, shouldn’t they be doing the same
Tom Daley was a victim of such unpleasant Twitter abuse that one of his tormentors was arrested
There is also another hazard of wasting time on social media when there are more important things in one’s life.
It is not just the distraction of composing twaddle. It is the distraction of the abuse pumped out by trolls and nutters.
Many sporting coaches impose a media blackout, wary of the potential effect of barbed remarks on athletes whose minds should be thinking only of the podium.
So why on earth are young stars exposing themselves to the free-for-all that is cyberspace Twitter addict Tom Daley was a victim of such unpleasant Twitter abuse that one of his tormentors was arrested.
But beyond the world of sport, with all its support structures and psychologists, we read increasingly tragic tales of young people who start out being ‘social’ and become suicide victims of internet bullying.
We read of the bereaved or the sick who suddenly find themselves mocked by warped oddballs who derive pleasure from heaping anonymous agony upon a stranger.
The internet has brought untold blessings and advancements to the way we live. But I would not say that Twitter is one of them.
At best, it is a succinct method of despatching a brief round-robin.
More often, it just encourages us to be self-centred — to waste time and to become crashing bores.
Just listen to Lord Coe or Ellie Simmonds. On the eve of your own Waterloo, focus on the matter in hand — and spare the rest of us the fact that you quite fancy a pizza.