Twitter continues to fascinate me, though probably not in the way it’s supposed to.
(A Caveat: I suspect it’s deeply unhip of me to still be interested in this sort of thing. Twitter has, after all, been in existence for Three Whole Years Already, and is used by far too many people to be in any way Cool or Worthy Of Comment. Nonetheless, in the absence of a sudden bolt of Bleeding-Edge Energy to transform me into someone vaguely au fait with What’s New, I’ll keep on cheerfully flogging the Necrotic Nag long after it’s been retired from Zeitgeist-Racing, put out to pop-culture pasture in the Meadow of Mediocrity, and ultimately rendered into the Dogmeat of Drear. Thus: Twitter.)
What I find so brainitchy about the whole Comment Cluster isn’t the technology it uses nor the cultural trends it preys-on, but the way it changes the personalities of its users. This isn’t a new phenomenon per se: ever since the dawn of Online Communities (and arguably, before then, since the advent of Telephones, CB radios and Confessional Booths) otherwise charming chaps and chapesses have been transformed into obnoxious, venomous and utterly repellent Cunts through the simple reality of Nobody Being Able To See Their Faces. Over the past few decades people’s “real world” personas have become increasingly eclipsed by the “Be Who You Want” vibe of a faceless, aphysical tech-society, to the point where we’re looking at a future in which people’s Real Selves are just a cruel and disappointing punchline to be encountered after years of happy online communication/discussion/romance/digi-fucking/bomb-plotting, etc. The point is: Twitter isn’t the first medium to mutate the way individuals represent themselves, and it certainly won’t be the last.
But it is the first to generate patterns of mutation.
How? I’m glad you asked. Behold as I dazzle and amaze you with my armchair sociology, then send me Gin Tokens and Twiglets in revelatory gratitude:
It’s the bloody Trending Topics, isn’t it? Those silly little hashtags you stick at the end of your latest Witpiphany, so your contribution will live in eternity among the Search Results for — variously — #thingsyouwanttolick, #80scartoonstheyshouldvemade, and #poopsounds. Most of them are either funny, ignorable or reassuringly asinine, but there’s been a host of trends recently which invite users to associate with one “important” Attitude, Politic, Movement or Position in favour of another. #NHS encouraged us all to show our support for Disagreeing With Sarah Palin by putting a little blue banner across our Avatars. #IranElection invited us to change our Location Status to Tehran, supposedly to confuse the vicious Sharia Censorbots of the Oppressive Regime. #Atheist wanted us to… well… to declare we’re Atheists; supposedly to give someoneorother a notional census of Atheist numbers; more realistically to give people the opportunity to tell the world I’M AN ATHEIST.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. Some of them are even vaguely worthy. It’s just that there’s something a bit sticky and band-wagony about it all — something Not Terribly British, maybe — which puts you in mind of schoolkids all loudly and competitively agreeing with The Popular Girl (no matter what drivel she spouts) to try and share just a sliver of her glowing hypercool aura.
What’s worse is that a lot of people don’t just append themselves to these trends — like electronic bumper-stickers of the mind — but allow their online personas to meld with the message/moral/campaign in question to such an extent that they become little miniature digital activists: incessantly reporting or opining on that one subject… Until the trend passes.
It’s unique to Twitter, as far as I know. Try this sort of thing in the pub with your mates and you can be sure that — sooner or later — someone is going to challenge you with an alternative viewpoint (“my mum died after being hit by a stray ocelot — where was your bloody NHS then, eh?”), or at the very least tell you to stop bloody going on about it, change the record, and By The Way It’s Your Round. But there’s something very magical about the way Text works which transforms an Expression Of Opinion from being an invitation for debate into something far more ironclad. Possibly it’s because we all know the author can’t be forced to confront our responses — he can ignore whatever he wants — and so often we don’t even bother to argue. The upshot is that the Written Word — from the most appallingly-researched bit of Ike-esque bollocks all the way down to Joe-The-Twitterer’s latest mimblings on the subject of #ObamaIsntReallyBlack — takes on the appearance of Fact. It has entered the permanent record. It’s been stored as 1s and 0s in a packet of magnetic invisibility in some humming server-god somewhere, and no matter how much I direct-message Joe-The-Twitterer about what a deluded sheep-tickler he may be, I can’t disrobe him of his insufferable sense of self-fucking-importance and Validity.
Some twitterers, in fact, start to mistake themselves for demagogues. They start thinking their opinions Matter to the Flock. They don’t just sign-up to a #trending-circlejerk of mutual back-slapping and perpetual-motion nodding, but make the critical leap to a position of Everyone Who Isn’t Involved In This Trend Totally Should Be, And Is Consequently Entitled To My Opinion On The Subject Until They Are.
Cue political storms-in-teacups. Cue foreign policy flag-waving. Cue patriotic bullshit, Metaphysical Assertions, TV newscrews using Twitter as a weathervane of public opinion, and an army of uninformed cunts spaffing-out self-righteous nonsense about This Week’s Important Issue. It’s like reading an issue of The Independent — so ferociously well-meaning and Worthy that it completely forgets to be in any way readable — except with all the Facts, Rationality and helpful diagrams taken out.
In essence: Twitter has the magical ability to turn people into over-excitable members of the Student’s Union.
I love it.
This Week I Have Been Mostly Hating:
…The Ubiquitous TwoShits.
He or she is the dickpig who is fundamentally incapable of responding to anything you say except by relating it to their own experiences. We all know someone like this. If you don’t it’s because It’s You and you should seriously consider an immediate razorblade/wrist conjunction. (I say this in the safe and sure knowledge these people won’t kill themselves on my say-so, because the idea of Not Being Able To Tell People About It afterwards flies in the face of their stated raison d’être, and “I successfully committed suicide” isn’t something that comes up often in pub conversations.)
At its least offensive the Dickpiggery manifests in a suite of stock responses to your own casual observations or anecdotes, such as “I’m like that too…”, or “I know someone like that”, or “the same thing happened to me”; usually followed by a turgid riposte-story designed jointly to a) prove the person understood your original statement — even though you spelt it out in glittering neon cattlebrand letters — and b) to return the rest of the group’s attention to its natural — nay, fundamental — state, i.e.: listening to the Dickpig.
At its worst the TwoShits phenomenon is a headlong rush by Said DickPig to prove that his or her experiences, stories and associations are better than those currently being presented. Often the riposte-anecdote will go to extraordinary lengths to outdo the one that started it all, even though blatantly exaggerated, off-topic, or downright fucking false. Sometimes this human drizzle of conversational donkeysperm will actually say: “that’s nothing, I can do better than that,” as if every conversation is a fucking competition, and then expect everyone else to just shut the fuck up and listen-in, ideally waving their cocks in single-minded tribal appreciation.
Anyway: thus the name, Twoshits. Derived, of course, from the hypothetical scenario which runs:
You: I just did a shit.
DickPig: Oh yeah? I just did two.
Happily I am here to help you DEFEAT these atmosphere-sucking parasites of pubchat fun. You need simply fix the TwoShits who plagues you with a confrontational glare and — ideally using a screwdriver, narrow-headed chisel or knitting-needle — publically collapse ONE of your lungs.
And then wheeze: “Your turn.”
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C/O William Christensen,
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(Disclaimer: Secretly, I’m nice.)
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