I think it was Stephen Fry, who, in the early years of texting and emailing, welcomed a coming age of 'written' communication. Or at least, typing.
Now of course, we QWERTY minute by minute, many of us, and in the current climate of claustrophobic yearning to communicate, the Houses of Social Media are teeming. And it struck me that a lot of those Tweeting and Facebooking (Instagram takes a bit more sobriety) are more or less pished.
There is, after all, a great deal of alcohol being deployed to fill the tedious, isolated hours. And yet drunken writing, unmoderated, unrestrained, often belched out in the wee sma' hours, is being taken seriously and quoted along with the carefully calibrated statements of those who do know, and tweet, better.
Twitter and Facebook are pubs. In their heaving howffs you will find dribbling bores, furious aggressors, sad, desperate seekers of approval, as well as hardened, sober bartenders of bilge, selling their addled customers another litre of the old mood-altering. There will also be relatively sober observers of humanity talking sense. Clever academics with pithy encomiums. Guttered senior officials who should know better. And bleary, semi-literate tossers who badger you with brainless, dangerous rubbish.
These virtual bars are not the local of your choice, the one filled with friends and music you know and love. This is not The Eagle and Child in Oxford, with Lewis, Tolkien and the other Inklings conversing in a corner about Middle English and Norse Legends. Nor is it Cheers. Everybody does not know your real name.
Twitter is one of those horrible airport departure lounge bars on a (pre-virus) bank holiday Friday night or Saturday morning. You've got everything there from stag parties breakfasting on Special Brew to ginned-up delegates for a conference in Estonia on Signifiers of Loss and Alienation in The Later Works of S Club Seven. There are sherried tourists, single-malted fish farmers, absinthed sales executives. There are the brilliant and the fuckwitted, and they're all shouting, all grabbing your arm, all breathing fumes into your face. Ninety-nine percent of them are talking shite.
Facebook is the same, only at Christmas, with loads of pensioners who will not stop mumbling, and keep showing you pictures of their great-grandchildren.
Just as journalists, (professional drinkers, listeners and scribblers, or they once were) used to hang out in bars to cultivate contacts (or at least, claim those tip-off fees were for that), hacks love to cut and paste social media ramblings. It's easy. It's lazy. It's often perceived as 'news' in the third-hand reportage of today's last-chance-saloon publishing.
So how to navigate the sodden halls of the Tweeter's Arms and the Spread Facebooker? Here, in response to some of what's been going on over the past week, are some tips. Particularly if you've had a few. Or a lot:
(1) Twitter is public. Facebook can be limited to a group of friends and family, or workmates, or indeed fellow fans of boutique rum. But if you tweet, the world can read it. Your employers, your family, your friends and your enemies. Unless you've blocked them. They see your responses too, and don't count on deleting them next morning. That's what screenshots are for. Also, you may think your Facebook account is not public. But believe me, there are so-called Facebook Friends out there who will share your pissed fulminations at the drop of a space bar. See 'screenshots' above.
(2) You can edit a Facebook post but you can't edit a Tweet. You need to delete it and start again.
(3) The words 'PM me' (personal/private message me) are your best friend. Though bear in mind that unscrupulous arseholes will cut and paste your private communications into their public tweet if it suits their purposes. Choose your arseholes carefully.
(4) Journalists were (in my day) usually able to operate drunk or at least Not Very Sober. The main reasons for this were the safety nets called editors and sub-editors. And, if you go back far enough into the history of newsprint, copytakers. (Note: These were ferociously efficient audio typists who typed up stories telephoned in from reeking call boxes, correcting grammar, style and slurring of words. Their glory has never been properly celebrated).
In other words, hacks had, maybe some of them still have, corrective filters in place to stop their worst excesses reaching the page. Also, it's fair to say that reporters tend(ed) to be trained or at least experienced in professional drinking. They do/did that stuff for a living. If they weren't good at it, they wouldn't live.
Also, newspapers and broadcasters used to have lawyers actually on shift with the editorial staff. Legalling a story was obligatory if there was anything potentially problematic.
You don't have editors, copytakers, sub editors or lawyers. It's just you, firing off your Cab Sauv bile into the Twittersphere. Feel better? Well, that wee pixel flicker was the electricity used by a hundred lawyers screenshotting your statement about the Alex Salmond trial. See you in court.
Unless if course, you're a senior Scottish Government employee. In which case, you have a team of communications professionals eager to ensure you don't make any false moves. Here's a thing: They DO know better than you.
(5) People on Twitter tell lies all the time. And so do Twitter statistics.
(6) Do not get addicted to likes and retweets. You really don't need to be that insecure. Unless you do and you are.
(7) The only people making real money out of Twitter and Facebook are Twitter, Facebook and 'social media consultants.'
(8) Watch the time. If someone has tweeted after midnight on a Friday, best leave it and walk away. If you're tempted to fulminate yourself at 1.00am after that last wee Highland Park - buy something on eBay instead. Like a car.
(9) Don't tweet. Don't comment. Write a letter. Longhand. Or type it out, and print it. Read it in print. Decide whether or not to go and get a stamp and post it.
(10) Before you do, take a snap of it and stick it up on Instagram. Or don't.
(11) Use the sharing facility to get it onto Twitter and Facebook, then switch off all your devices.
(12) Block everybody you disagree with. It's easier that way. Or just use Instagram and post pictures of dogs, cats, scenery, food and knitwear.
Copyright Tom Morton 2020.