In mid January I was more or less offline for a fortnight as my laptop had a serious problem (more about that here). Yes, of course I have a smartphone, but I tend to access social media the old way through a web browser, and Twitter through Tweetbot on my Mac.
Did I miss it? Actually no, not really. Because many aspects of social media, especially Twitter, had become a drag. Bear in mind that I’ve been using Twitter intensively since autumn 2008, and have racked up more than 98000 tweets, so it is a big part of what I do online.
“If anyone had told you it was getting you down and you should disconnect,” a close friend said to me, “you wouldn’t have listened to them. You needed to find this out for yourself.”
True, and lesson learned. But before I come to what I actually have done about this, a bit of a further diagnosis of the problem. This tweet from Garry Kasparov is a good start:
The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) December 13, 2016
Twitter was wearing down my capacity for critical thinking, not least because much of what I have written about on Twitter since the summer concerns Brexit. Something like a third of the tweets on that topic are bots and it’s not always altogether easy to spot what is a bot and what isn’t, not least because poor grammar and incoherent argumentation can be either human or bot. But the flood of trite rubbish you receive means the nuggets of good information you are actually looking for get lost.
I’m also lucky – I am a white bloke – so I am not subjected to the racist and misogynist abuse that anyone of colour or women have to suffer. The most common whinge at me is that because I live in Germany I am not entitled to a view on Brexit – that line makes me especially annoyed as I only have a UK passport, and freedom of movement is a right I have in the EU thanks to that passport, and Brexit means I am in danger of losing it. And that’s before we come to the freedom of speech issue.
Previously I would also spend hours trying to make people understand my point of view, even if they did not agree with it. I’d try to explain how EU institutions work, how the claims of the Leave campaign did not stand up to scrutiny, but ultimately to little avail. I could manage to get a vague frisson of joy out of crushing a ridiculous argument put up by the other side, but then would fall back into anger and incredulity at the ignorance and prejudice that would continue to pour out.
So enough of that.
If you think that Brexit will not have an impact on the Irish land border, or will not be negative for UK ports and hauliers, there is nothing I can do for you. You’ll have to suffer and queue when Brexit comes; if you can’t read the reports and see the obvious problems, that’s your headache. If you think the Boris Johnson Prosecco argument – that the UK imports more than it exports – means the EU will cut a good deal for the UK, then I can’t help you. If you believe that Brexit will ultimately be a net financial gain to the UK, or that free trade deals with far flung corners of the world can replace trade with the EU, don’t even bother writing the tweet. And if you so much as dare blather on about the ‘will of the people’ to seek to justify your particular variant of Brexit, or tell me that I am a Remoaner, that I ought to unify behind the government, or that I am not entitled to a view on Brexit – well you will be muted immediately.
This is not ducking criticism. This is avoiding boorish idiocy that’s actually preventing me getting to the good stuff. By all means come to me with a coherent case, probe my arguments, and the conclusion may be to have to agree to disagree. I actually manage that not too infrequently with some pro-Brexit people on Twitter. We can all learn from the other side, and I am happy to dissect thoughtful views.
But from now on I am not going to be as tolerant as I once was – life’s too short to spend it on lost causes on Twitter.