In the virtual world, it ranks as a major news story. If you searched for Gary Lineker on Twitter yesterday, you would have received the following message: “Gary Lineker does not exist”. Hang on a minute, what do you mean he doesn't exist? I've just seen him on Match of the Day, in his best smart casual outfit, helping to explain to a grateful nation the weaknesses in Norwich City's back four.
Lineker was one of the most popular figures on Twitter - he had 1.3 million followers, and was admirably demotic in his willingness to engage any of them in a discussion - but, with a startling statement that left one of two questions hanging, he tweeted himself into virtual obscurity.
Lineker, a prolific tweeter who has posted 8,000 tweets in the past twelve months, simply said, “I'm leaving Twitter for personal reasons. Thanks all,” and, with that, he became a non-person on the world's most powerful communication network.
His explanation was that Twitter was taking up too much of his time, and that he wanted to see what life was like without it. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. There can't be many among us - and I certainly include myself in this - who hasn't wondered at some point whether our relationship with Twitter is a healthy one. Because it is so powerful - as a news source, as a debating forum, as a means of keeping in touch with friends without going to the trouble of actually talking to them, as a way of feeling you are having a real conversation with someone in the public eye like, for instance, Gary Lineker - it has a truly narcotic appeal.
Checking my Twitter feed is sometimes the last thing I do at night and the first thing I do in the morning. My name is Simon and I have an addiction. Well...not quite, but I can easily see how, for someone like Lineker, Twitter can take over your life, and what started as bit of banter with Piers Morgan - no chance that he'll retire his tweeting finger, in case you're worried - and developed into a chance to converse with genuine football followers, became a beast that constantly needed feeding.
Unsurprisingly, Lineker as Twitter quitter has been one of the most popular discussion topics on the network over the past 24 hours, and it was difficult to avoid the observation that, in contrast to many resignations, Lineker has actually chosen to spend more time with his family. But isn't that just a little bit selfish, Gary? What about all your followers? Who can they now complain to about the running order on Match of the Day?
And they'll never be able to go to the pub again and say that they've just been having a chat with - guess who?... only that Gary Lineker. Even in the real - i.e tabloid - world, Lineker's retreat from Twitter has been treated as something of a news event, which does illustrate the importance attached to the virtual presence of public figures. I suppose we'll just have to get used to Gary Lineker as a real person again, and forget all about our mate, @garylineker.