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Nicholas Lezard: So you're eating lunch? Fascinating

I've nothing against Stephen Fry. But I certainly have against Twitter

Monday 02 November 2009 01:00 GMT

Where does one start with the momentous news that Stephen Fry was considering leaving Twitter? Apparently someone, although broadly sympathetic to Fry in general – no, better, someone who admired and adored him – complained that some of his tweets, as I gather they are called, were "a bit... boring." Fry took hurt, and announced his intentions before having a re-think.

Now, I have nothing against Stephen Fry, although one questions the wisdom of someone with an easily-bruised ego telling 800,000 people that he's eating a sandwich and expecting every one of them to be thrilled by the news, but I certainly have something against Twitter.

The name tells us straightaway: it's inconsequential, background noise, a waste of time and space. Actually, the name does a disservice to the sounds birds make, which are, for the birds, significant, and for humans, soothing and, if you're Messiaen, inspirational. But Twitter? Inspirational?

No – it's inspiration's opposite. The online phenomenon is about humanity disappearing up its own fundament, or the air leaking out of the whole Enlightenment project. In short, I feel about Twitter the way some people feel about nuclear weapons: it's wrong. It makes blogging look like literature. It's anti-literature, the new opium of the masses.

Its unreflective instantaneousness encourages neurotic behaviour in both the tweeters and the twatted (seriously, the Americans have proposed that "twatted" should be the past participle of "tweet", which is the only funny thing about the whole business); it encourages us in the delusion that our random thoughts, our banal experiences, are significant. It is masturbatory and infantile, and the amazing thing is that people can't get enough of it – possibly because it IS masturbatory and infantile.

Answering the question: "Why do so many people seem to like Twitter?" Twitter itself does not say: "Because people are idiots with a steadily decreasing attention span, and 140 characters is pretty much all anyone has space for in their atrophied brains any more," but instead, "People are eager to connect with other people and Twitter makes that simple."

Twitter asks one question: "What are you doing?" (It also adds, in the next paragraph, that "Twitter's core technology is a device agnostic message routing system with rudimentary social networking features", and I hope that clears everything up for you.)

Oh God, that it should have come to this. Centuries of human thought and experience drowned out in a maelstrom of inconsequential rubbish (and don't tell me about Trafigura – one good deed is not enough, and an ordinary online campaign would have done the trick just as well). It is like some horrible science-fiction prediction come to pass: it is not just that Twitter signals the end of nuanced, reflective, authoritative thought – it's that no one seems to mind.

And I suspect that it's psychologically dangerous. We have evolved over millions of years to learn not to bore other people with constant updates about what we're doing (I'm opening a jar of pickles ... I'm picking my nose ... I'm typing out a message on Twitter ...) and we're throwing it all away. Twitter encourages monstrous egomania, and the very fact that Fry used Twitter to announce that he was leaving Twitter shows his dependence on it. He was never going to give it up. He's addicted to it.

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