Twitter is a weird place.
Let me qualify that. The world is a weird place. But asking people to articulate themselves in 140 characters that can’t be edited and needs to be deleted within 3.2 seconds in order to avoid a screengrab and subsequent global humiliation, has birthed a new kind of weird. Hot take weird.
In the same way that Tinder has reduced the search for a viable life partner to an instant decision based on someone’s ability to select a representative photo, gut reactions have become the fuel that propels us forward in our lives.
It’s an understandable regression. Fight or flight is an evolutionary thing. Ennui is lovely, but the results of that experiment during which Stone Age man reacted to imminent bear attacks by debating the relative merits of running or fighting (every friendship group has someone who thinks they can fight a bear) showed it wasn’t conducive to humanity being a viable commodity, so they went binary on our asses.
Which, to be fair, does work when most of your life is spent competing with bears for food.
But we’re civilised now. We’ve got fire and refrigerators and trousers and coffee. We have time to contemplate things alien to us. Indeed, it could be argued that further consideration of ideas that we initially find uncomfortable is what distinguishes us from our hairy friends.
Which brings me to today’s point of discussion. When I wrote Friday’s article about Against Me! front woman Laura Jane Grace in the context of her transition, I was aware that the subject matter might jar once or two of my more sensitive Twitter followers, who, for the most part, follow me for pithy captions for photos of footballers making fools of themselves. An article discussing my emotional response to a punk singer’s personal journey might, in some parallel universe, be a comfortable bedfellow with Sergio Ramos’ latest photoshoot, but not this one.
But while on the whole, the response on Twitter was greater than I could have ever hoped, I was still surprised at the number of followers I lost.
In the interests of self-preservation, I should point out that my sense of self-worth as a writer or, for that matter, human being, isn’t particularly tied to the number of people who follow me on Twitter (not to the extent that I’m prepared to admit to here, anyway), but it’s a quantifiable reaction and I’m intrigued by what it represents.
In an age when we can communicate ideas (and spelling mistakes) across the world instantly, we should have all the tools we need to inform ourselves. It should be a joy to learn about different cultures, belief systems and ways of living that aren’t immediately relatable to our personal experience. Without meaning to overstate the point, our very future depends on our ability to incorporate new ideas.
I can understand why people are inclined to react reflexively to things unfamiliar or unsettling; I do it myself on a daily basis. It’s really easy now that technology has joined forces with our evolutionary preference of binary decision making. But while hitting unfollow or swiping left the moment we see something we don’t find appealing is the path of least resistance, I’m pretty sure a little brain cell dies somewhere every time it happens.
So should I moderate my tweets to maximise the number of people reading my work in the hope that a steady stream of information dripping on their skulls will eventually erode the bone to the point where the functioning brain tissue is enabled?
Nah, this is a democracy. You know where the unfollow button is.