Thursday, 11 October 2012

Tweet, Tweet

Tweet, cluck, caw, coo, cock-a-doodle-doo! These sounds once attributed to birds, now to Twitter. A chorus of voices, muttering pathetic gems or pearls of wisdom. Mocking. Opinions. Songbirds replaced by human tweeting. Repeating and general twittering. Permission to chirp ad nauseam. A written 'X-Factor', like giving the mike to those who think they can sing, except in this freedom of speech, there is no auditioning. Voices out-of-tune automatically through to the chorus round, no training. No practising scales, warming up the vocal chords, or warbling, just thrust out on an unlit stage and performing.
Letters forming words, forming sentences. Their comments contained in speech bubbles. The voice unheard, words seen. The audience reads an improvised script, adding their own thoughts to it. Repeating opinions. Following the latest news. Obsessed with twittering. The tweets get stronger, if not in actual sound, then in volume. The flock grows more shrilling. Lyrics reduced to abbreviations, unusual punctuation and smiley faces. Language used as a violent form of gesticulating: angry gestures spew from the mouth instead. Some words that are better left unwritten, unread, unsaid.
Vindictive and spiteful like The Twits. A children's book by Roald Dahl which some adults said made them feel physically sick. It was the descriptions of their practical jokes on each other that did it: Mrs Twit's glass eye and Mr Twit's beard where food would be saved for later. Adults were repulsed, kids loved it. A Roald Dahl reader, I was sucked in by his words, his characters, but now I understand how some adults felt: I feel the same way about Twitter. Would I love it if I were younger? If I wasn't quite so principled? I don't doubt it; I'd probably be addicted to it. But social networking came on the scene after my teens and I'd functioned perfectly well without it. Like Mrs Twit, I'm happy to turn a blind eye, but what I can't concede is the pressure to join it. Tweet, re-tweet, twitter, keep up, follow tv, radio or sports personalities, politicians, and trending. Who has the time? Everybody it seems – tweeting is part of the job, essential to everyday life. A web entourage of people, like the glue Mr Twit coats tree limbs with to catch birds for his pie.
The vast majority have fallen for this social trap: this interactive map of new technology. A social platform where everyone from Joe Bloggs to David Cameron is connected. Points of view from the mundane to the offensive. Freedom of speech from behind a safety blanket. Greater debate, we all get to have a say – fantastic! Nobody is oppressed, excluded. Yes, but what about when this freedom is intentionally used to champion an horrific act or slander an emergency service? People verbally abused on cyberspace. Mr or Mrs Twit gets what they want: a response. Attention. Is everyone entitled to their opinion? Of course, but some thoughts need to be self-policed. Kept private. Or conveyed in such a way so as not to cause indignation or distress. Twitter basically says while it may not be wise to speak these words, you can tweet it.
What and how to tweet is a linguistic problem: how do you engage in mistranslation? Where the written word is not black and white? Where there's no body language to accompany it? In a public forum, the words we use are important and should be tweeted carefully. Birds need to be alert – don't get caught by The Twits.