"Indeed, a minimum of life, an unchaining from all coarser desires, an independence in the middle of all kinds of outer nuisance; a bit of Cynicism, perhaps a bit of ‘tub’."
Friedrich Nietzsche

1 Apr 2012

Twitter Twatter: culture of gossip and culture of narcissism

The logo is ubiquitous, there is no escape from the little 't' or bird that appears alongside the equally pervasive 'f' at the bottom of just about every web page. Not surprising then that, in the best tradition of the of the ancient Cynics, social networking sites have been 'sampled' and parodied to ridicule their banality. The image above belongs to one of the more forthright sites summing up the vacuous side of Twitter as follows (click buttons below for their full Facebook and Twitter parodies):

"Twatter is a service for twats who think other people give a fuck about the small twattish, mundane detail of their sad, socially impotent lives..."                            
  cuz no other fucker will.

I already hear the cries of hypocrite  yes, by virtue of this blog I am guilty of the same narcissistic tendencies (that people are interested in my own ramblings) as all the other tweeters and bloggers. Tweets are, after all, just mini blogs. And I also confess to feelings of inadequacy for not fully embracing Twitter myself. Everyone I know keeps telling me that if I'm serious about promoting my blog, I must  tweet mercilessly to assemble a band of 'followers': "If you follow other people's tweets then they will follow yours." Call me selfish, but I did not retire to spend my life reading and commenting on the banality of other people's lives in the vain hope that they will read my own ravings in return. When I'm not reading (old fashioned books) or writing, I want to spend my time in the company of those I love and care about, whether walking through the park or discussing life over a glass of wine. So many folk these days seem to be missing out on in their immediate surroundings because their nose is buried in the virtual world of their smart phones. I write because I love writing, but once the words are 'published' I am already thinking about something else. The words I have just posted must find their own destination. Which brings me to the current relationship between writing and reading.

In 1936 Walter Benjamin wrote the following observations in his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction:

"For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century [18th]. With the increasing extension of the press ... an increasing number of readers became writers ... And today [1936] there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principal, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus the distinction between author and public is beginning to lose its basic character."

As if anticipating the social networking phenomena, Benjamin's 80 year old prediction has come back to haunt us with a vengeance. Now everyone with a smart phone is a published author. But what does that say about the state of 'literature' today. I don't blame anyone for wanting to circumvent the unforgiving world of publishers. Why spend three or four years writing a book, another two trying to find an agent or publisher (if you are lucky to get any interest at all) then wait a further two years for the publisher to get your book to the top of their busy publishing schedule, when you can instantly publish your words globally at the press of a button? 
     And what does this say about the state of writing today? Is the quality of the written word for public consumption of a lower quality than it was in Benjamin's day?  Probably yes, but that is not simply the fault of electronic text. The average book being published also lacks literary merit. In fact, if Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett or Jack Kerouac were to send novels out to publishers and agents today, they would likely be returned with a cutting comment about their lack of commercial potential or criticism for lack of plot and narrative progression. Celebrities with no literary (or other) merit, many created by lurid or sentimental reality TV melodrama, now dominate the shelves of bookstores. In the same way, tweeters and facebookers also aspire to celebrity status. It seems these days that just about everyone wants to be a celebrity, even if that means attracting notoriety by being downright offensive.
Given some of the oafish behaviour and bigoted opinions that circulate freely on the web, we should be wary of claims that social networking is democratic and has even helped to oust former dictators. Given the increase and cult status of cyber bullying and 'trolling', are we really ready to hand over the power of forming public opinion to drunken idiots with smart phones? Jailing the tweeter who made racist comments about Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba while other equally offensive behaviour goes unchecked, demonstrates just how unprepared governments are to respond to this new phenomena. Celebrities have their own defense against the barrage of hate mail they receive  the child being bullied by classmates and trolls does not. In Muamba's case it was the massive public outrage that resulted in the tweeter being jailed  maybe for his own protection. The comedian Stewart Lee posts the hundreds of offensive comments and hate mail about him on his own website and also incorporates them into his act (posts that are homophobic, racist and threaten actual violence)  even though they also clearly hurt him. And so, pandering to public opinion is another danger of tweeting, whether, as in the case of Muamba, banging the offensive tweeter to rights to gain public approval, or, being one of the many politicians who tweet for self publicity. As often happens, it seems that technology has once again outstripped our ability to fully understand its potential or manage its consequences. 

1 comment:

  1. Yup! Wholeheartedly. Sadly, all this will probably not be considered by the throngs of brainscrubbed masses that they've become well-dressed bots in pursuit of their next fix. Our emotional brains are way behind what they create!
    Keep at it though, I appreciate your cynicism(realism)!