A day without Twitter and I'm thinking for myself

Twitter encourages conformity; sometimes the radio is best

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The Independent Online

My joy at England’s Test Match victory in India felt unusually solitary. This may not be surprising, given that victory came at 5:30am this morning. But technological turmoil meant that I was not able to watch the win, nor to tweet my feelings about it.

I will not bore you with my theories about the reasons for Monty Panesar’s 11-wicket match haul. But my few days living as a technological Neanderthal showed the extent to which television and the Internet shape my opinions. And, perhaps, the more we absorb from media about events, the less we actually engage with them ourselves.

Consider the recent presidential debates. As a US political obsessive, I am not easily bored by even the most wonkish policy aspects of debates. But watching on TV I found my focus shifting from what the candidates were saying to how they were saying it; to Obama’s inability to look directly at the camera during the first debate and just how weirdly white and shiny Mitt Romney’s teeth were. And then there was Twitter: my constant, compulsive checking of what others were saying about the debates. So immersed was I by all this ‘other stuff’ that I didn’t allow myself to think about what I thought. I was too distracted by trivialities to focus.

The wonder of the Internet is that it has never been easier for a curious-minded person to glean the necessary information to form a considered opinion of topics. And yet this can have the opposite effect. Opinions can easily become homogenised; and conventional wisdom can develop a dangerous momentum. When distinguished commentators are retweeted, their words quickly acquire the status of fact.

Following events by radio may seem a poor substitute to actually seeing them. Yet in a sense the absence of visual coverage allows you to see much more. You can think, really think, about what matters – in this instance, what candidates say in debates, which is supposed to be rather the point – unfiltered by the distractions of others’ opinions. There is less scope for your attention to wonder, and a chance to develop your own opinions unfiltered by what others think. Easy to forget though it may be, but we did experience events in the pre-Internet age.

Yes, Twitter can be an excellent accompaniment, even to the cricket. But in my bleary-eyed state this morning, the reassuring tones of Test Match Special were all I needed.