So I was reading a blog today that said blogs were dead. The writer was well aware of the contradictions in this. I wonder what will be next to die. Print ‘died’ a long time ago, and people have for years been predicting the fall of the professional writer and the rise of the citizen journalist. To some extent, it’s pretty much already happened, and I can’t make up my mind whether this is a bad or a good thing. Anyway, this writer reckoned that the future lay in the further contraction of information, and that the quick-fire immediacy of those little 140-character Twitter updates was far more conducive to intelligent mass debate than the inconvenient depth of longer pieces.
Just as the text message is a telegram for the modern age, to me Twitter seems a teensy bit like a 21st-century version of that extensively satirized phase back in the 70s when people sat surfing the airwaves on crackly old CB radios, listening to any old shit just because it meant they were communicating with someone out there. Except of course that Twitter works, and instead of becoming impossible to use when too many people are on it, has the potential to become something quite extraordinary if it continues to grow. Of course, you’d need something to filter out all the white noise of narcissistic irrelevance that swamps anything good, but that is the case with the internet in general.
I was thinking earlier, sitting at my computer with a bunch of different windows open – various blogs, email, Facebook home and a Reuters page with scrolling headlines, Spotify cranking out the playlist of some anonymous music blogger – how you’d have never believed half of this stuff even ten years ago, let alone the fact that you would be so effortlessly and unconsciously immersed in it. I remember when I thought the Star Trek communicators were cool, and now you have internet independent of wires on tiny machines the size of pocket calculators – roving and immediate access to an enormous world visible only through screens. All very easy to ridicule Second Life users, but most of us are on 1.5. Yesterday I needed some directions from Manor House tube to Camden Garden Centre, and could just pull up a map on my phone, my own position marked by a little blue dot. I rarely use Twitter actually, but when I do, I have FOLLOWERS. Amazing. I’m like L. Ron Hubbard or Trotsky. And let’s not even start on Facebook. I barely even use email any more for personal stuff. Facebook lets me email my friends, find them when they go AWOL, chat to them in real time slumped in my easy chair with twice-microwaved coffee in dirty jeans and no shirt; it fans the furnaces of my vanity when people comment on my status or my notes. Sure, put me out in the country, in mountains, woods and beaches, and I couldn’t care less about the internet or my phone, but wash me up in the big city without my virtual umbilical cord and I might feel quite isolated.
I am inexorably bound up in it, but I can’t say I truly like it. It occurs to me that you could take a tweet as a little virtual emblem of our era. For a news update it’s fine, of course, or for a single, illuminating thought, but I would like to believe that there are ideas in life more complicated than 140 characters. It is no secret that I am not the most modern or realistic character ever to emerge from my own imagination, but nor am I some hippy who wants to live in a yurt in Cornwall with fifteen children and grow carrots in actual poo. Quite the opposite in fact. I love technology and the internet, and much of its potential for opening up opportunities. I just dislike the idea, somehow inextricably linked but not necessarily consequential, that the world should be convenient, bite-size and easy to swallow. Reduced to tiny informational vitamin supplements, the day-to-day lives of one’s considerable circle of complicated and interesting friends and acquaintances distilled down to a Facebook news feed, concise, small and beautiful. The Wasteland in a haiku, A Dance To the Music of Time in a Wikipedia page. All well and good, but life is about more than functionality and easy answers. Anyone who has seen Demolition Man knows that it is all about the rat burgers in the tunnels and not a little plate of pills in Taco Bell.
I think what gnaws just a touch is that the fact that the Brave New World just seems to make us less brave. I’m not saying we need Kurt Russell in an eyepatch to input the world code, shut us down then walk off into the dark, sparking up a tab from a conveniently-discovered pack of illegal cigarettes. I’m just saying it might be fun.