THE fact that Ray Foley is a Twitter quitter just might start a trend.
Because Mr Foley, a radio and TV presenter who, until recently, tweeted for several hours a day, has stopped, not because other Tweeters attacked him, but because he realised what a God-awful waste of time Tweeting represents.
The guy who invented Twitter, one Jack Dorsey, tweets the content of his own breakfast. He was asked, on a recent visit to Dublin, why he does this. Good question. Let’s face it, unless someone eats roasted roadkill or boiled budgie as their first meal of the day, the rest of us aren’t that bothered. Oh, Dorsey casually responded, the breakfast tweets are for his mother. His mother likes to know what he eats.
Now, let’s parse that for just a moment. Young Dorsey isn’t actually that young. He’s 35 and looks older. He’s a multi-millionnaire. So what’s with his mother being thrilled to learn what he swallows? What sort of sad life does this woman have that she goes on Twitter to find out what her son is ingesting? What sort of weird relationship do they have that he puts his bloody porridge or kedgeree or whatever the hell he eats first each morning on his Twitter site, allowing hundreds of thousands of “followers” along with his Ma, to go sailing up and down his alimentary canal, like that Salinger character.
If your mother wants to know what you eat every day, you have choices.
Firstly you can tell her you’re all grown up and to get a grip. Your second option is to yield to her weirdness and ring her every day to report on how you’re doing with the French toast. Thirdly, you might slap yourself on the forehead to acknowledge the incoming insight that maybe she’s just using your breakfast as a way to ensure you stay in contact with her, in which case you can spontaneously ring her and discuss her geraniums or current affairs. (Given the state of current affairs right now, I’d stick with the geraniums, if I were you.)
But to not contact your oul wan, and instead post on a public site the contents of your fast-breaking meal in the expectation that the woman who gave birth to you will check your morning Tweet on the topic, says more about you and your mother than would fit within one hundred and forty characters. None of it good.
Despite Mr Twitter and Mr Twitter’s mother’s strange use of his invention, Twitter has become something of a must-have.
“You can’t not have a Twitter account,” its aficionados tell you. “You’ll gain so much by having one.”
So much what? The fun of being the follower of someone who effectively invites you to play rat to their Pied Piper? Follower? The fun of sharing with a handful of total strangers the failure of your soufflé or how infuriating it is when rain stops play in the Ashes?
“Oh, it brings you news so quickly,” they say.
What news? Somebody in the Green Party pulling the plug on the Government? For God’s sake, this Government has had so many plugs pulled on it, it must, at this stage, be running on batteries.
You don’t get verifiable news on Twitter. You get gossip before it has been fully researched, and while there’s a kick to being in on a marriage break-up, a scandal or a death before anybody else is, the fact is that if it’s on Twitter, that sense of being ahead of the posse is an illusion: everybody else knows about it anyway.
One early attraction was that it was the site where wannabes could kid themselves they would get close to celebs. Now, it’s become so corporatised that each star’s site is a marketing device with Tweet updates which are clearly not written by the star himself or herself.
Another attraction was that it allowed celebs to show off or, in the words of the Twitter-pushers, “connect in a unique way with your audience as individuals”. Being able to lower the drawbridge on people whose comments you didn’t like seemed to offer each celeb the chance to effectively breed their own fans.
It didn’t take long for stars like Stephen Fry and Ryan Tubridy to learn the downside of opening a conduit for the masses to talk to you: it allows them to say stuff God gave us the private telephone line to avoid hearing.
That wasn’t Ray Foley’s problem with Twitter. Foley’s position is that he’s well able for anybody who wants to kick lumps out of him, so the inflow of criticism wasn’t upsetting to him.
His difficulty was the realisation that he was spending half his day messaging people he had never even met, at an enormous cost in time. He writes on the Joe.ie site that, in his more committed Twitter days, if his daily Twitter usage had been added up, some days would have seen him spend several hours on his phone. He would think up a witty remark, upload it and check to see the reaction. Then he’d check again. And again. Before uploading some other craic.
“Instead of doing my job — which is essentially to come up with ideas for things to say and put them on the radio — I was wasting all of my ideas by putting them on Twitter first,” he writes. “By the time I’d come into work I’d have nothing fresh to use.”
Foley, despite having 12,000 followers, began to realise that he was spending rather too much time making up material to please a bunch of people who, clumped together, would represent little more than a tiny fraction of his radio audience. What he calls “the futility and ridiculousness of it” eventually hit him — as did the addictive nature of Twitter. Part of that addiction derives from the press release function increasingly served by Twitter: it lets you be first with the latest. Part of it is speeded-up celeb watching: Twitter allows you to listen in on the howls of abuse that happen between stars. Part of it is the sense of being among friends, although that wears off pretty quickly when they turn on you under cover of anonymity.
“Now every radio presenter I hear is talking about his tweets, and how so-and- so or someone-or-other says this or that on Twitter,” Foley accurately points out. “And it makes for such boring radio to listen to, I could puke.”
It’s not clear from his Joe.ie feature that Foley has done the full cold turkey withdrawal from Twitter. But he does say it came to a head a few weeks ago when he and his wife were out for dinner. Chatting afterward over a few drinks, a lull in the conversation arrived.
“We both picked up our phones at the same time, reflexively,” Foley reports. “We laughed at that and I was about to write it up. And that’s where I stopped.”
He’ll know he’s really in recovery if he doesn’t go on Twitter to find the reaction to him quitting.
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