Twitter is no place for novels. Unless you're David Mitchell

Bravo to him for discovering the site and then achieving anything at all

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The Independent Online

After becoming fascinated by the medium of Twitter, the author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, has written a rollicking short story – The Right Sort – to be broadcast in 280 chunks of 140-character tweets. I’m enjoying it greatly, and want to congratulate him for discovering Twitter and then achieving anything at all.

The dark secret about Twitter – which no creative type who devotes earthly hours there wants to admit – is that Twitter is one of the most toxic tools of life-frittering folly ever invented. And I say this after 63,000 tweets and amassing 207,000 followers. Twitter is the Devil’s own social network, cluttering up idle hands that could be writing a film script, sketching the first draft of a new novel, or penning that tricky second album.

Yes, Twitter is indeed fantastic for keeping users utterly up to the minute on current affairs, zeitgeist in-jokes, whistleblowings, cross-party slander, media slanging matches and the story behind the story, but the use of this in creating art is perilously limited.

In 1845, Charlotte Brontë created Jane Eyre after a long, tedious stare out of the window. The Beatles lost themselves in India and penned 45 tracks of varying intricate splendour. Right at this moment, finer minds than even Charlotte, Paul and John are staring slack-jawed at computer screens or iPhones, mulling over the fact that Tweeter A (whom they don’t know) is gently passive-aggressively sub-tweeting about Tweeter B (whom they know a tiny bit) while frantically refreshing their screen to see whether either of them (whom they wouldn’t even give the time of day to in a pub in real life) has taken the bait and is starting a Twitter scrap.

Social media, and specifically Twitter, give us a previously unthinkable, seemingly omniscient perspective on the world, but it’s a bit like when the boys from This Is Spinal Tap were at Graceland staring at Elvis’s grave. “Well, this is thoroughly depressing,” David St Hubbins said. “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn’t it? Too much. There’s too much fucking perspective.” We’re granted so much access to everything to think about, there’s literally no time to think.

Of course, here’s where works like The Right Sort – so gorgeously slender, and to the point, and comprising manageable bite-sized chunks – find their forte. Who of those deeply involved with social media has time to read an actual whopping novel like Cloud Atlas? I’ll just wait for one of the Twitterverse’s great readers to tweet their views, or buy it and add it on my Kindle to the stack of other books I was recommended on Twitter which I haven’t read yet, and never will as I was on Twitter.

I’ve been really rather busy. Far too busy to write another novel. Besides, Tweeter A (whom I don’t care about) has remarked that Tweeter B (who everyone knows is a crank) is a bad feminist and now all Tweeter B’s fans are trolling Tweeter A’s account and she is claiming to be bullied.

It’s a terrible to-do and I’m really not terribly interested but that will take me up until lunchtime, when people who become angry about the cliché that Twitter is “people discussing their lunch” will readily explain their lunches. I might try to read a few chapters – 280 characters or so – of David Mitchell’s novel, but I’m really rather busy.