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Friday, 19 September 2014

I’ll forgo a twitter for a natter over a cuppa any day

My friend Jane has newly become a Twitterer. That is to say, she has started tweeting.

Her announcement of this recently undertaken activity more than surprised me, it rendered me momentarily speechless. Quite a departure for her – I didn’t even know she owned binoculars.

“Not a twitcher, you fool. A Twitterer! It’s a social networking thing.”

“Like having an allotment? Growing sprouts together is very social, I gather. All walks of life in close little communities, digging, sharing expertise, swapping parsnips for potatoes and peas. If only I could be bothered...”

“Twitter! You know – internet and mobiles and followers.”

“Right. I get it. Virtual bird-watching then.”

Jane is known for her rapid rise to exasperation. From a standing start, she can show signs of fury faster than a Ferrari’s nought to 60 speed. Her friends tend to forgive this idiosyncrasy – but we insist on taking only small doses.

Now, as she was announcing a new, thoroughly modern and youthful diversion in her life, she was becoming rather quickly too cross. Not pleasantly tweeting at all.

“Go on then, how does it work?”

“Well actually, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve done nothing beyond tweeting my name. But already I have 75 followers.”

“Like stalkers.”

“Not stalkers, no! My God, you’re impossible.”

Not really. Just cautious. I once had a stalker. My ex-husband also undertook a new activity some many moons ago. It involved rummaging through my dustbins, peeping through windows and crawling around my garden. My opinion is now as it was then. Bird-watching remains by far the more preferable pastime to following.

“Like friends then?”

“No. Friends come with Facebook. I do that as well.”

I don’t know why Jane would want socially to network any more than she already does. She has family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, all of whom she can see face-to-face when she pleases. And as for twittering... well, she’d been on the phone for two hours and was showing no sign of wearying. I’m sure you catch my drift.

Neither do I understand the attraction of pretend friendships and anonymous followings, conducted via laptops and mobile phone text messages. I’m a touchy-feely kind of gal – always have been. I prefer to take my friendships with a gin and tonic, a smile I can see and the occasional hug.

But there’s no doubting now that tweeters, Facebookers, texters and emailers are changing the nature of friendship by spreading it thinly, widely and anonymously in fleeting, distant exchanges that may well be amusing but serve only to counter moments of boredom and make conversation obsolete.

Frankly, I think I’d rather share an allotment with a belted earl, a binman and a flask of soup.

Jane’s inability to fully explain the functions of her Twittering thing brought me back to the reality of inescapable internet stuff.

“I’ll Google it,” I assured her, marvelling not for the first time at how good it must feel to have invented something that started life as a noun and grew into a verb. Googling is now a fact and function of life – like breathing, eating, drinking, bird-watching.

“And will you try it?”

“No.” Subject closed. “How’s your sister?”

She went quiet – no mean feat for Jane – then sighed heavily.

“I’m really worried about her.”

“Crikey! Is she ill?”

“She may be. She’s joined this weird church thing and spends most of her time with all kinds of odd people there.”

Now, it should be stressed here that my friend’s engagement with faith matters, along with her patronage of spiritual organisations of any description, is somewhat limited. A weird church thing could just as easily be the Wesleyan Methodists as the Branch Davidian sect or the Moonies – and there’s been no mention of a mass suicide or wedding yet.

“A church? A Christian church group, for instance?”

“Afraid so – haven’t seen her for weeks.”

“Has she been abducted?”

“Busy, she says. Good works probably. What they call... fellowship.”

To a Twitterer, the face-to-face aspect of what churches call fellowship must seem exceptionally scary. Conversation with no delete key, life-theatening. Opinion expressed off-screen akin to skiing on one leg...off-piste.

“Dangerous,” I sympathised. “Sort of Face without the Book bit. She’s clearly networking socially in that risky old fashioned way – sharing tea, biscuits and smiles with women in felt hats carrying stiff handbags.”

“It’s weird,” she insisted.

“Someone must have tweeted her before you could,” I offered. “You can see what’s happened, can’t you?”

“No, I can’t.”

“She’s become a follower – without the mobile alert. Found friendship without the email. Be happy for her.”

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