Editor-At-Large: Twitter ye not, for it will not change the world

Janet Street-Porter
Sunday 16 August 2009 00:00 BST

Never mind the twitterati – and here, unusually, I agree with David Cameron – anyone suffering from the desire to communicate what they are doing or thinking every minute of the day in fewer than 140 characters is best described as a twat.

The inexorable rise of Twitter from cult to middle-class badge of honour was fanned by nerds like David Miliband, fame-addicted slebs like Demi Moore, and techno bores like Stephen Fry, but has now reached the point where tweeting has replaced sex as this summer's hot activity. Since the G20 riots in the City of London and the highly controversial Iranian election, there's a determined lobby trying to convince us that Twitter represents the ultimate in news gathering. For facts, we've traded reactions. It's so hot that even our Prime Minister, not someone who normally communicates in understandable concise chunks, was quick to defend the NHS on Twitter (and make sure we all knew). His wife cleverly used Twitter to reshape her profile, presenting a cosy version of life at home and on the road with the Browns, telling us about their hols, the G8 menu in Italy, and what's growing in her garden. But all twittering really delivers is the ultimate in mini-munchie banality. Instead of real emotion, in-depth opinion, considered arguments about why the NHS works, or the many reasons for not eating veal, what we get is breathless trivia. It certainly says bugger-all about what really happens at home with the Browns – which is why, presumably, Sarah, a former PR, loves it.

Twitter works for the middle class, the middle-aged and for work-weary wannabe trendies because it lets them feel they're part of a big happening club, when in fact all they are doing is exchanging mindlessness. If I want to know whether a show is worth going to at the Edinburgh Festival, or if Bonnie Prince Billy's latest album is worth buying, I certainly don't want a 140-character Twitter; I want an intelligent review written in real sentences, not some bastard lingo that's the ugly love-child of texting and abbreviations. Interestingly, teenagers have already sussed Twitter is crap and aren't taking it up. According to a Nielsen survey, only 16 per cent of the people twittering are under 25, while a whopping 64 per cent are between 25 and 54. The largest group of users are aged 35 to 49 – and that's enough to deter the young. The use of social networking is already dropping among teenagers as the number of 25-34 year-olds using sites such as Facebook increases. In fact, ITV might have sold Friends Reunited in the nick of time, because at this rate the only people trying to meet up via websites like it will be so middle-aged, dreary and dull that no one will bother logging on.

Twitter panders to all that is shallow and narcissistic in our society, reducing lives and experiences (like childbirth and death) to missives that last even less than the average British male's attempts at foreplay. Needless to say, there are sad examples of bandwagon-jumpers everywhere you look. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is encouraging the public to submit tweets, which will be turned into a libretto. I guarantee that this headline-grabbing initiative will not get one new member of the audience through their doors. The novelist Philippa Gregory plans to tweet her next work in stages throughout August – hardly something to curl up in bed with. The police in Cumbria are using Twitter to appeal for information and pass on messages about crime. Great as long as you can condense the description of your alleged rapist into the requisite number of characters. By the time the average plod will have done this, you can rest assured that any criminals will be in the next county. The Edinburgh Festival is featuring Twitter comedy (well, they have to try to sell seats somehow), and Lily Allen is selling an unwanted watch using Twitter. (I wouldn't have thought she needed the cash, the press or had the time.)

Twittering about the pros and cons of the NHS reduces a complex subject to less than a soundbite or a jingle. Don't tell me Twitter is brilliantly democratic and lively. It makes me angry that we're so keen to stop talking in sentences, and are swapping having real conversations for knee-jerk reactions. If this is the future for politics, we're in trouble.

Knock out! Women boxers have scored a victory

I started boxing when I worked with Kelvin MacKenzie at L!ve TV. I'd sneak off to the gym and imagine his face on the punch bag. I recommend the sport if you work with people who drive you nuts.

The news that female boxers can compete in the 2012 Olympics brought predictable reactions: the British Medical Association is "disappointed", while Olympic medallist Amir Khan whinged, "Women should stick to tennis." Professional boxing is run by some of the biggest Neanderthal chimps going. Twelve years ago they refused to allow women to fight in the UK claiming premenstrual tension made us "unstable". Presumably, it was OK for us to run the country but not to put on protective clothing and challenge another person.

Amateur boxing relies on point scoring, not knockouts, and is no more dangerous than motor racing, rugby or downhill skiing. Hopefully, this decision will pave the way for women to compete equally in other sports. It's ridiculous we can compete in only three track disciplines at the Olympics compared with seven for men. We already have a potential medallist, Nicola Adams, who won a silver medal in the world championships in China last year. The moment a British female bags a medal in 2012, the carping will stop as patriotism kicks in.

Stick-thin Mandy should tuck in

Peter Mandelson regards his personal life as private, but he doesn't mind sharing the intimate details of his diet. This is the regime of someone who hates food, with a worrying idea of body image. He starts the day with granola and green tea, shuns lunch, snacks on a tiffin bar (whatever that is) and eats only the first course at dinner. He proudly states, "My diet chiefly involves me being hungry."

This remark reveals someone who feels superior to the rest of us, and that sense of superiority is achieved by shunning one of life's most basic pleasures: food. It is possible to eat enjoyably and not be fat, but I don't suppose that sends out the message Mandy is interested in. He has to be in control of everything he touches.

MP Ruth Kelly has been sneered at for being a devout Catholic, but is Mandy's self-obsession any more acceptable?

Burqini takes an early bath

Nicolas Sarkozy calls the burqa "a sign of subservience" and wants to ban it, and many French voters agree. Muslims were clearly targeted when the French government banned the wearing of headscarves in state schools in 2004. In this country there have been court cases in which female students claim it's their "right" to wear the niqab or the burqa, and this remains a grey area. I don't have a problem with headscarves, but I do find the wearing of burqas offensive – an unnecessarily extreme interpretation of the Koran that debases women.

Three cheers, then, for the swimming pool attendant in France who banned a female because she was wearing a "burqini", left, claiming it wasn't hygienic. The garment looks uncomfortable, ugly and should be banned on style grounds if nothing else. I hope this isn't a trend that will cross the Channel.

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