Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Twitter is just a giant dummy-tit for the masses

Twitter – and social media in general – is all about presenting a certain carefully constructed image of yourself to the rest of the world.

I'm still not on Twitter. Still digging my heels, refusing to sign up to the most vacuous time waster on the planet. Incredulous friends and acquaintances ask me why. Well, there are several reasons – such as having a life – but the main one is that I hate the inane self-obsession that Twitter tends to breed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm as self-obsessed as the next person. But there's something undignified about continually announcing that fact, over and over again, in the form of a stream of dopey, meaningless tweets.

I don't assume that the rest of the world needs, or wants, to hear about the minutiae of my life, just as I certainly don't want to know whether a random acquaintance thinks the latest episode of a TV serial is "awesome!!!".

And maybe I'm lacking some instinctive journalistic urge for self-promotion here, but neither do I assume that there's any appetite out there for a running 24/7 commentary, by me, on every aspect of social, political and cultural life in Northern Ireland.

Some local media figures tweet so much, spewing out urgent updates to their followers every few minutes, that I'm surprised that they have time to think and reflect at all, let alone simply be.

It's as if they are only truly alive if they're online, superficially documenting their entire existence, reminding us all that they are terribly, terribly important – if only to themselves.

To my mind, it betrays both arrogance and an embarrassing neediness that, if I were them, I wouldn't be keen to display so eagerly in public.

Twitter – and social media in general – is all about presenting a certain carefully constructed image of yourself to the rest of the world.

So, it's not surprising that the "selfie" – defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone, or webcam, and uploaded to a social media website" – has just been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors.

Apparently, its use has increased by 17,000% over the past 12 months. It's been reported that there are 90m photographs on Instagram – which is the favoured place for sticking your selfies – with the accompanying hashtag "me".

And that says it all, doesn't it? Me, me, me, it's all about me. That's fine if you're a 15-year-old girl larking about and posing with her mates. But what are supposedly sentient adults doing on there, taking witless snaps of themselves and posting them online for others to gawk at?

By the way, I have nothing against the witless snaps themselves. One of my favourite photographs is a selfie of me and my husband on the dancefloor at Clarchens Ballhaus, the last Weimar-era dancehall in Berlin, laughing giddily into the camera at two in the morning.

But I would never put it online, because I don't expect anyone else to share my enthusiasm for it. To me, it's silly and funny and evocative, but most of all, it's private.

And maybe privacy, or the lack of it, is at the real root of this particular issue. Why do people have the urge to display themselves – or a highly selective version of themselves – in public, in this deluge of snaps and tweets?

Dig down below the narcissism and self-obsession, all the silly boasting and childish showing-off, and you find a desperate anxiety to be in contact with others. To be listened to, recognised and approved of. To connect. To find allies, with whom you can gang up on perceived enemies. To be reassured that you're not alone in a hostile, or indifferent, universe.

More than ever, our lives are lived on the public stage of social media. Increasingly, it's how we understand ourselves and the people around us. It's the place where we judge and, in turn, are judged. It's where we create ourselves, the person we want to be, with all the awkward, unpleasant, or unwanted, bits edited out.

But that's not reality. We're cooking up a confection, an illusion of selfhood, a fake and empty version of the real thing.

Twitter is a giant dummy-tit for the masses: it's comforting and cosy and it makes us feel safe, all tucked in together like a nest of lemmings, babbling away about nothing to each other. But it's also making us stupid and lazy and complacent.

Which makes me wonder what will happen when we're faced with a looming cliff.

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