A week staying in a cottage without a whiff of a 3G connection, let alone wi-fi, was all it took. I’d been mulling it over for some time prior to this moment, but circumstances rather splendidly forced me to confront the reality of not being able to share mundane observations with a very small percentage of the world. How had posting pictures of what was playing on my turntable and bitching about the prices, availability or pressing quality of various records become such a constant part of my time?
The internet is a truly remarkable platform for so much and yet it is also a compulsive draw, a technicolour black hole competing for every available second of every available day. The sense that it is never done is the subconscious hypnotism that it exerts, a little like the moreish magic dust they put on Pringles. I know people who appear to be online at all hours of the day, to the point that I’ve wondered when they do ‘other’ stuff. Of course, it takes a bit of welcome perspective to point out to you that if you’re conscious of their near omnipresence, you might not be best placed to cast the first stone.
A record, playing
Twitter is the apogee of this perma-broadcasting culture and, while it undoubtedly provides a rich cultural collage if you curate it right, it is an incredibly repetitive torrent of blah, quickly reaching a stage where it is just another form of digital noise in our lives. As part of the second series of ‘Black Mirror’, stand alone stories of digitally-driven dystopias, Charlie Brooker wrote the rather powerful episode ‘Be Right Back’. It is a sharply focused commentary on the versions of ourselves we present online and, the final attic scene aside, a fantastic piece of drama. Domnhall Gleeson’s ‘Ash’ is always on the look out for ‘content’ to post to his followers, relentlessly conscious of how everything will be perceived. If you’re somebody who does just glance at Twitter once a day, or even week, then you are an enviable totem of self-control. I suspect such users are increasingly few and far between, but I’m starting to see the appeal.
Before anyone points out that you almost certainly ended up reading this because of a tweet I emitted promoting it, I’m not writing Twitter off as a means of communication, of discovery and of collaboration. Far from it. If anything, I’m trying to reclaim its potency by not diluting it and spreading it over everything, like the squeezy bottle of mayonnaise in the fridge door. However, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading a lot more, fixating on the glorious sound of my new turntable and actually doing stuff.
All of which leads me, mercifully, to my point. Twitter pretty much killed long form writing for me. I never ‘had time’ to do it and I reckoned I could share my thoughts more effectively in little bursts of 140 characters here and there. Which is, of course, utter shite. I love the power of words and I adore the intensely satisfying dance that is entered into when attempting to arrange them exactly how I want them in order to convey a point. Carefully applied language can tickle, massage and seduce the brain and the current drive to keep content coming and stay up to speed with the perceived rapidity of the world around us is crushingly fatuous. Does anyone really want little fragments of loads of things as opposed to small portions of well-curated, carefully constructed material? And I know these things are not mutually exclusive, but the incessant presence of the former pushes the latter to the background and makes it far harder to sustain. The endlessly spouted media narrative about teenagers having almost zero attention span spun by middle-aged white men who live in large houses and drink a lot of coffee through those bloody stupid tiny holes in the plastic lids, is utterly asinine. It may well be positively received in board meetings, but when I read about Radio 1’s big ‘listen, watch, share’ drive and encounter phrases like ‘the smartphone generation’ it makes my soul ache. Teenagers still buy albums, still watch films, still get obsessed with cultural heroes that have been passed down through time and still want to be intellectually stimulated. That older generations are so utterly obsessed with scrolling and refreshing is the actual source of such lazy, potentially self-fulfilling cultural desecration.
We’re at risk of trying to solve situations that only initially exist hypothetically, setting in motion a chain of events whereby we try to address each artificially constructed set of circumstances. How do TV advertisers feel when the channels they’re paying put up specific hashtags during programmes to encourage viewers to be actively distracted during their broadcast? What do artists really think when they pull on their best shit-eating grins to tweet all of their adoring followers about how their new album is only 99p this week via Google Play? I’m no luddite, despite my vinyl obsession, but I am feeling pretty digitally numb right now. I feel slightly ludicrous saying that I’m weaning myself off of Twitter, but in lieu of an intervention from concerned digital citizens I’ve deleted the app and I’m keeping an eye from a distance. I intend to return to the more conversational blogging style I pursued some years ago from time to time, but who knows. I’m certainly going to try and offer much less needless fluff. I’ll still be lurking, watching what’s going on, no doubt, but when, or if, I feel like I have something worth saying, I’ll probably say it here. And that’ll do.