A life less soundbitey

I’m not dead. I’m just not really using Twitter any more. That old reflex action—oh, I’ve got a picosecond idle, better catch up on Twitter—has gone. It’s not that hard to break a habit.

I used to listen to the radio every morning to wake up—to the Today Programme on Radio 4, in fact. Waking up to aggressive journalists interviewing dissembling, vapid politicians often just made me angry, but I didn’t understand it until I left my last job and stopped setting the radio alarm, and realised that ignorance—not knowing what stupid idea the Home Office had come out with before I’d even had my morning coffee—had a distinct improvement on my mood.

If you can’t have any effect on politics—and we manifestly can’t—then why worry? Paradoxically, my spell working for the government just made me even more convinced that almost nothing can be done to fix the system.

I know that sounds cynical, but what can you do about it? Vote? There’s not much choice, your vote won’t have an effect unless you live in a marginal constituency, and there’s no guarantee that the party elected will actually follow its manifesto. It’s not just the politicians, either, but the whole rotten towering edifice.

I don’t think that meaningful political change can be effected in the UK without some massive external event—something on the scale of the Black Death. And I don’t think that’s much to look forward to.

So I decided to forget about it. I’ve made the excellent life choices of being white, male, and privately educated, so I’ll be all right as long as I’m careful not to get sick or poor.

But Twitter’s full of political outrage. That’s not surprising: politicians do astoundingly awful things for the cheapest and most banal reasons. However, I just can’t be outraged all the time. I know they’re egregious shits doing egregiously shitty things, but I don’t need a shot of righteous outrage a hundred times a day. It’s as useful as an erection on a neutered dog.

It wasn’t just the politics, though.

Maybe I’m just getting on in years, but I prefer the old internet. The decentralised one, of interoperable systems and open protocols. Not the endless venture-capital-funded attempts to re-intermediate all human communication through a few central portals that we see these days.

Twitter was useful. Twitter still is useful. But it’s not what it was: look at this post on the developer blog. See that quadrant chart! The old Twitter was a message bus for the internet. That’s dying in favour of something far more anodyne and nakedly commercial, and maybe just a little bit evil.

But …! You may say, Twitter has to make money! But therein lies the problem. That’s only the case because we’re funnelling everything through a central service. You can get email from any number of providers for free, or as part of a hosting or internet access service, or you can set up your own server and bear the running costs yourself. The same is true of websites. I don’t have to make money off this website, not does anyone else. I pay for the running costs.

There isn’t a real decentralised alternative to Twitter yet, unfortunately. There are several contenders, but none of them has achieved any significant penetration, and Twitter’s rules make it hard for anyone else to try.

I didn’t flounce off Twitter, though. I just stopped one day. I closed the browser tab, removed the client from my phone’s screen, and just stopped thinking about it after a while. Whenever I go back now, I scroll down a bit, get bored, and close it. The old compulsion has been replaced with ennui.

Instead, I’ve sought out the RSS/Atom feeds of everyone I know and added them to my reader, though 140-character writing seems to have quieted many a blogger.

It may change, but, for now, I’m quite enjoying the life less soundbitey.


  1. James

    Wrote at 2012-09-13 09:56 UTC using Safari 536.22 on Mac OS X:

    Everything you say about politics is right. I stopped listening to the Today Programme years ago and my life improved markedly as a result. Events continued as before; I just chose not to get as annoyed about them.

    Sad not to have your acerbic take on things popping up from time to time though.
  2. Craiggybear

    Wrote at 2012-09-15 14:31 UTC using Safari 534.48.3 on Mac OS X:

    I too have suffered the annoying decline in quality on Today for a number of years and finally stopped listening around the start of this year. I had filtered it out gradually for months (years) before until one morning on the way into work I finally just snapped … I couldn’t take it anymore.

    Radio 4 has been getting progressively worse across the board for some time now, and I now basically listen a lot more to Radio 3 and the World Service (even this is not immune to the creeping dumbing down or whatever the hell it is, but its a lot less offensive).

    Twitter is the eternal September now and I can’t see how anyone intelligent can still use it. The signal to noise ratio is just too bad.

    Same with just about everything.

    The internet isn’t entertaining anymore.
  3. Elise Huard

    Wrote at 2012-10-11 09:27 UTC using Chrome 22.0.1229.94 on Mac OS X:

    I won’t lie – I’ll be sad to see your voice go on Twitter. However, I respect and understand your decision.
    Twitter doesn’t lend itself to any but the most superficial of discussions, and it definitely has a detrimental effect on attention span.
    For me it’s more about seeing what people I respect or like are doing, at the moment.
    I may consider doing the same thing as you do – the reverse of what you describe may be true in that leaving twitter may encourage more synthesized and reasoned thought which could then lead to more blog posts (reminding me of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death).