Everything, information pills it seems, more about moves at an extraordinary pace. Most particularly, sales of any Macintosh product. This past week, the brand-new, high-cost alchemy of the iPad exploded into a million sales.
We’re fast buying up the machine and the idea that it is “Magical and Revolutionary”. Magical and revolutionary? Who can say? It might be both.
As I run on Open Source, I’ll never know. But I do know that hot new technology carries with it the promise of hot new magic.
And I know that new technology always threatens a new disaster.
The accident, says one of my favourite thinkers, is integral to progress. The invention of the locomotive, wrote Paul Virilio, entailed the invention of the rail disaster. In short, any new magic is a guarantee of new collisions.
The aeroplane, the mobile telephone and the automobile each exposed us to a particular kind of derailment.
Today I have agreed to appear on live television to discuss technology. So, I am flying to Sydney and will risk all the derailment that this journey entails. And, yes, I have considered the possibility that the accident most likely to occur is not in the sky but me on TV. However, I’m prepared to risk collision for Tony Jones and the passionate discussion of internet liberty proposed.
But last week I learned that I am not prepared to risk a collision every day.
Last Wednesday, I deleted my Twitter account. Just to avoid an accident. In itself, this event merits about as much discussion as, say, the removal of lint from my dryer.
However, as I removed myself from an online community at the same time the writer Catherine Deveny was removed from the pages of a Melbourne newspaper; my exit received a slight attention.
I really didn’t think about it at the time. I deleted my account in the same manner I had posted a thousand Tweets. That is to say, reflexively. Nonetheless, a handful of journalists and bloggers contacted me for a considered rationale.
You know it’s a slow news day when a Twitter Quitter attracts a charge of something so grand as “self-censorship”. I didn’t speak with that person nor did I reply to the person who called me, in the bawdy new spirit of the internet, a “pussy”. I did, however, speak with a sane person from a national broadsheet. She asked me outright why I quit and I told her that I just wanted to slow down.
I wanted to avoid derailment.
To be clear, I did not mean the professional sort of derailment. It was unlikely that my Tweets, many of which were a bit risqué, would result in any injury to my livelihood. For a start, I’m not nearly as mischievous or well-known as Catherine. And, of course, I am not as prominently employed as she was until last week.
Catherine, whom I know a little and admire, must have been terribly upset. As another mouthy broad who has been dismissed from Australian media organisations amid PR orgies of varying perversity, I knew exactly how she was feeling. I sent her a public, if oblique, message of support.
“If anyone needs me, I’ll be deleting tweets and preparing a cheeky column on bran muffins and body image,” I wrote before impulsively deleting my account. I hope she read it.
My own vanity notwithstanding, I do believe that opportunities for Australian women commentators are narrow. Every once in a while, of course, there’s a woman so incontrovertibly good, like a Crabb or a Grattan, or so dependably offensive, like a Devine, that the fact of her gender almost falls away to allow for a sustainable career.
But for the rest of us middling female lot, particularly when we pass 35, the range of expression tapers to allow for discussion of babies, cellulite and the foibles of men.
Having said this, I know that, on some occasions, I have lost work not because I am a mouthy broad but because I was either not very good or too much trouble. Or both.
But, like most newly demoted humans, my first instinct is always to blame The System. I don’t think I’ve ever left a job in this volatile industry without hissing, “Sexists!”, sometimes without justification, on my way out the door.
And so, on the morning that news broke about Catherine, a woman who once bothered to send me some very supportive bespoke words when I truly needed them, I felt two things.The first was compassion for a distinctive humorist. The second was a monumental sense of relief that I had not yet discovered Twitter on the occasion of my last dismissal. What might I have said?
I did not read the Tweets that led to Catherine’s present trouble. Frankly, I was far too busy writing glib Logies nonsense of my own. But, I did read the Tweets she offered in response to her firing. These came hard, fast and in raw, crushing anger. They were, in fact, exactly the sort of thing I’d said to privately to Catherine at the time of my last “boning”. As such, I almost felt obliged to read her public outpouring.
And so, apparently, did thousands of people who signed up within hours to watch technology’s latest accident. I couldn’t rubber-neck any longer and so I deleted my account.
Catherine’s, of course, was a particularly Catherine kind of derailment. It is broadly known that she has had the filter between id and keyboard surgically removed to allow for a unique free-flow of rage. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help thinking as the meme-storm exploded: that could have been me at its centre.
Derailment becomes possible with the invention of the locomotive. The air disaster becomes possible with the birth of aviation. I don’t know what to call the spite, rage and fervour that unfolds every second on Twitter, but I no longer want any role within it.
You might think professional writers would exercise a little more caution with this push-button publishing. The fact is we don’t. We’re right down there in the mud of the populaire rolling around like malicious, attention-hungry hogs.
This is a medium that has seen journalists of national reputation call me, sans any personal provocation a “Druggie”, “Shameful” and “A crap writer”. The last of which was re-Tweeted by a former editor with whom I’d never differed.
This is a medium in which only yesterday a prominent Fairfax columnist levelled the quaint charge that a fellow user had been, “rogering gerbils”.
This, to be fair, is a medium in which I’ve also said some fairly dire stuff.
Once, I wrote, slickly and flatly, of the works of writer Alain de Botton. “Every bit as tasty and redolent of meat as vegan sausage,” I said. Upon receiving an impeccably written remedial email from de Botton’s account, I did think then about quitting Twitter.
I should have. Since then, I have written hundreds of other Tweets; few of them with any more merit than Shane Warne’s misfired texts.
The technological accident, of course, is not inevitable. Just as most people who board a train will get to where they’re going unharmed, relatively few who use Twitter will engage in snark, strip-tease or industrial action. They’ll use it stay in touch with people, celebrities and the news.
The medium may continue to be both “magical” and, as some evangelists would have it, “revolutionary”. I don’t know. I’ll never see the alchemy.
I think I’ll even shut down my Linux PC for a bit and live my life in a slow recovery from its endless, snarky narration.
And I’ll do this without an iPad and at an ordinary pace.