Where do you go to seek solace when you get the glums?
If you’re feeling bored of lockdown, worried that the economy has contracted by 20%, frightened that we are hurtling towards a No Deal Brexit – the possibilities are endless – do not go anywhere near Twitter. Last week, Twitter was cyber space’s answer to hell.
Generally speaking, Twitter can be depressing, even if you have censored your followers in order to avoid negativity, anarchy or bores. But Twitter surpassed itself in terms of doom and gloom last week, and that’s saying something. In the past seven days, we have endured the customary dose of Coronavirus statistics – at the time of writing, the UK had clocked 296,000 cases, of which over 41,000 had resulted in death; the USA’s figures were 2.14 million and 117,000 respectively – and all the fear-mongering that comes with it.
Added to the misery of Covid-19, we witnessed the JK Rowling debacle. The Harry Potter author, arguably one of the most inspiring writers of our time, became embroiled in a row about trans terminology and identity politics. Rowling now plays Witch to a Hunt led by identity fascists, many of whom are violent and threatening in the language they use when Tweeting her. To an observer, the tale has become so complicated – and littered with acronyms – that understanding it would be simpler than unlocking the Da Vinci code. One thing is clear, though: it’s ugly.
We have witnessed the vandalisation of our monuments, both in the UK and the USA. The week saw violence and brutality across central London, later condemned by Boris Johnson – on Twitter – as “racist thuggery”.
Our churches and houses of worship remain closed. There is nowhere to go. And so we turn to Twitter, and shout into the darkness.
We have, on Twitter and in life, followed the fallout of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which have been widely covered here in Chapter House. They will deeply and irreparably affect this generation in ways that are yet to be determined.
From this tree another evil root grew – and with it, more poison in the Twittersphere. Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary, appeared to dismiss certain racist experiences whilst saying she herself had been subject to racial slurs in her childhood. Thus the Is Priti Patel Racist? row ensued. See Twitter for more information. Actually, don’t.
Twitter inflames anxiety. The constant flow of information, the endless voices and opinions, that “successful” individuals have hundreds, thousands, or millions of followers.
Lots of people felt they had something to say on some or all of the above. And so they turned to the place where it is now customary to do so: Twitter. Let us not underestimate the popularity of Twitter, the social media platform founded in 2006. As of February this year, Twitter reported 330 million users, 152 million of which are deemed “active”, and 500 million tweets a day.
And yet, our collective habit of logging into Twitter and adding our opinions to the debates demonstrates a more sinister problem: we no longer have places of refuge. We are lost, we are miserable and we are relatively powerless. Amidst all the turmoil, we have nowhere to retreat to, nowhere safe and silent.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes “refuge” as “the state of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or difficulty”. It can be either a physical place or a psychological space. One such example can be found in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie, and George, two displaced labourers suffering the effects of the Great Depression, talk of a place where “we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some pigs and… live off the fatta the lan’”. As the world becomes darker to them, this imaginative place offers hope and light.
What do we have? Our churches and houses of worship remain closed. There is nowhere to go. And so we turn to Twitter, and shout into the darkness.
Twitter inflames anxiety. The constant flow of information, the endless voices and opinions, that “successful” individuals have hundreds, thousands – or in Barack Obama’s case, 119 million – followers. It is bad for our minds and it is bad for our souls. Let’s switch off and rediscover the real world: it offers more solace than Twitter would have you believe.
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