Ten years on, Twitter sober is Twitter free

Ten years on, Twitter sober is Twitter free

Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30

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Every day I get down on my knees and I thank the Good Lord that there was no Twitter when I was drinking.

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There are 105 characters in that line, as you will no doubt be aware, and when I tweeted it last year, I felt that I might be doing someone, somewhere, some good. Perhaps for some tweeter in the depths of a drunken ecstasy, it might serve as a distant note of caution – whatever you want so badly to say, whatever this desperate need to share, just don’t.

Personally I have no way of knowing exactly how much trouble I’d be in, given all the opportunities for self-destruction that would have arrived after closing time, and the ominous encroachment of the libel lawyers onto these once- lawless territories.

But I would hope that even in drink, the old traditions of Twitter – some of which have existed as far back as its foundation 10 years ago – would have had a civilising effect.

There are things that strike me about the custom and practice of Twitter which don’t really fit with the universally accepted wisdom. My own experience has been mostly pleasant, not least on the day when I went to my “Notifications” and saw the astounding words, “Van Morrison followed you”.

Though I only joined in August 2013, there are times when I feel that that one incident has probably justified the entire creation of the internet, regardless of all the atrocities -I followed him back, by the way.

So I have been fortunate in my tweeting, and perhaps as a result, whenever I am tempted to make a brutish intervention, I try to resist. Sometimes after a football match I am just too stricken with grief not to place my great sorrow on the record, and to name the guilty men. Yet I always feel a bit better about myself when I spurn these opportunities, and any others that might arise in matters of less importance.

For example there’s a bunch of lads, mostly political journalists, who tend to get very excited on certain Saturday nights when they get the results of a new opinion poll which is to appear in one of the Sunday papers.

Back and forth they go, debating whether FF is up 3pc due to the weakness of Labour, if it’s a blip or perhaps a sign of a more permanent re-alignment of the parties and so on.

Many times I have seen them like this, on Saturday night of all nights, and many times I have wanted to tweet directly to them: Lads…go home…go home and forget about that stuff…go home and get a life.

But with that admirable restraint which for me is the essence of Twitter, I let it pass. For any journalist, Twitter is both a crucial resource and a threat to the very existence of the ancient craft – not just because of “the challenges of the internet” but because it’s never a great idea for journalists to be talking to one another all the time, lest they all end up saying the same thing – then again in olden days you also had a kind of Twitter, it was called Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street.

And interestingly, while many exchanges stop short of outright personal vilification, for some mysterious reason this can change when the debate is taking place at 2.30 in the morning.

Yet I don’t entirely agree with the cliche that Twitter is “an online echo chamber”. While many of the tweeters I encounter seem to be decent, intelligent people, in that they agree with me on just about everything, there are others who are clearly wrong-headed – I follow some people who openly support Manchester United.

And I deal with their failings largely by doing nothing. Indeed you could say that I have a policy of actively doing nothing, when confronted on Twitter with signs of great error – whether I would be able to walk away from such situations with a few drinks on board, mercifully I will never know.

And if I am being rigorously honest, I think there is truth in the line that Twitter tends towards a “left-leaning mob mentality” whereby “so-called liberals” actually show how illiberal they are.

But looking at it closely, I can see two flaws in this “illiberal liberal” argument, the first of which is that it’s such a terrible old line, anyone even thinking of using it should be shot – which I know is a tad illiberal, and might prove their point if it weren’t for the other flaw, which is that people who really enjoy making that argument tend to be wrong about almost everything.

Undoubtedly the internet is a producer of hate on a phenomenal scale, but on Twitter you are not obliged to follow everyone in the world, indeed you can follow Joyce Carol Oates and her fine tweeting on literature and art, and nothing else – in a perverse way, Twitter itself can be a shelter from a Twitter storm.

That it will also consume your existence, waste your time, mess with your attention span and leave you chronically addicted may also be of concern to some.

But you can still have some kind of a life, however little of it remains. What you need to do, above all else, is stay away from that first drink.


Sunday Independent