Personally, I use Twitter as a business tool and only tweet stories I write associated with the web. It seems to make little difference commercially, but I continue regardless. So why does a highly intelligent and talented man like Stephen Fry, who recently and publicly declared he was quitting Twitter due to a lame remark that he was “boring”, leaving his near-million followers bewildered and angry, tweet as he does?
The phenomenon of this perpetual, asinine running commentary about mundane events in one’s daily life is baffling, to say the least; and it is not confined to the purview of everyday journeymen and women of the social media circuit, but extends to celebrities such as Stephen Fry which, in turn when controversial, makes social news in heavyweights such as the BBC and the New York Times.
Let me give you a real-life example of the social futility syndrome: the wife of a friend of mine actually wrote on Facebook today: “Why is it Benson the dog gets to have his nails done, but I am not allowed?” Isn’t it sort of curious why someone would put such a trifling domestic issue out there in social space rather than discuss it with her husband and the dog? Moreover, who really cares?
But let’s then move on to one of Stephen Fry’s entries on Twitter: “A spoonful of paté de campagne Ardéchois à l’ancienne is not really that far distant from a spoonful of catfood. Just notably more expensive.” Odd, isn’t it, when Stephen Fry, a highly respected British actor, writer, comedian, author, television presenter and film director, writes that? Why does he do it? I just don’t get it.
Last Saturday, a follower of Mr Fry from Birmingham, England, sent him a tweet that said although he “admires” Mr Fry, he finds his tweets rather “boring”. Emotionally flattened by this comment, Fry then threatened to quit Twitter. This provoked a vitriolic attack against The Man From Birmingham by Fry’s followers, who reacted in intense derisory unison like a cackle of hyenas. Stephen Fry then responded to the supposed furore with: “I am so sorry to hear ppl have been abusing you. You had every right to say what you did. Pls accept my apols. This is so awful.”
@brumplum, in retreat, then replied: “You bet. Thank you for being so understanding. I feel more sheepish than a sheep and more twattish than a twat.” Spat over? No, not at all. What resulted from it were news reports from the Guardian newspaper, the BBC and the New York Times. Doesn’t this simply confirm that not only has trivia become the main focus of interest among social media conscriptees, but personal snipes by the unknown against celebrities are now being carried into traditional media space.
The take on it by tech.blorge.com was that it should be buried and forgotten: “[Social media] seems to be being used by adults to play some spectacularly childish games, with memories of the school playground flooding back as I read the latest tweets. Stephen Fry ended up not quitting Twitter and is back to normal. But the controversy surrounding comments made by one of his followers and the backlash immediately afterwards is rumbling on.”
This story was so far removed from the delicate and benign tweets I’m accustomed to, I turned my attention to rant.com, as that surely would be a site where this type of spat should be centred. The comments on their Twitter account look sensationally libellous, so I daren’t repeat them. Just a thought.
Stephen Fry has lived a colourful life, as extracts from Wiki attest: his maternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Slovakia and his mother’s aunt and cousins died in Auschwitz; at seventeen, Fry absconded with a credit card stolen from a family friend, was arrested and spent three months in Pucklechurch Prison for fraud; later, he gained a degree in English literature at Queens’ College, Cambridge; he has written many books, appeared in numerous television parts and plays and lives in London with his partner, Daniel Cohen.
In 1995 Fry suffered a nervous breakdown while appearing in a West End play Cell Mates and walked out on the production. He went missing for several days and contemplated suicide. It is well documented that he suffers from depression and last year the BBC ran an interview with him titled, “Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive”, where he talked about his experience of having a “bipolar disorder” and recounted his suicide attempt after walking out of Cell Mates and the “continuing severe mood swings he has to endure”.
So I can understand his sudden disinterest and dejection when he was attacked on Twitter. But it’s the social fallout of all this that has gone so badly awry; to me, at least, his “followers”, in an almost Biblical sense, reacted in what can only described as psychotic hysteria, akin in essence to Brian’s disciples in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Also, for mainstream media to run stories about an insignificant remark in the rarefied ether of the world’s most glorified and celebrated online chatroom is a particularly disturbing trend.
Fry suggested he was feeling very low and depressed. Whether that is can be attributed to the rogue remark from The Man From Birmingham or not, we cannot possibly tell. But hasn’t Twitter taken on the mantle of a new social media contract; one where misplaced and often innocuous tweets from unknown individuals provoke personal depressions, resulting in rants from “disciples” that fuel a now-important source of information in mainstream media’s social news?
Twitter is not the problem; it’s a platform. But online human interaction these days is decidedly weird.