Sunday, July 24, 2011
Tweet your children well...
Sometimes Twitter resembles nothing more than a schoolyard: bullies, cool kids, class monitors, et al
Growing up we were told that school was the perfect training ground for life. This is where we would begin to socialise with other kids; learn to rub along even though we often couldn’t bear to be in the same room. This is where we would learn to share our stuff so that we became a tad less selfish. This is where we would form friendships to sustain us in the future. And this is where we would learn the life skills that would help us survive once we left the safety of the classroom: the ability to stand up for ourselves; the sense to distinguish between right and wrong; and the desire to fight the good fight.
Well, at least, that was the way it was supposed to work in an ideal world. But now that my school-days are but a distant memory – but still have the power to traumatise me deeply when I’m least expecting it – I have realised that while all that time in school helps you cope with Real Life, it is also great training for when you finally bite the bullet and get on Twitter.
Because when you think about it, there’s nothing that Twitter resembles more than a disorderly school-yard (and that’s on a good day) with everyone jostling for space and attention and not worrying too much about whom they hurt in the process. And if you care to look closely, you will see the same dramatis personae on Twitter as you would see in your average school – except they are now all grown up and with the potential to wreck much greater damage.
In fact, the social pecking order here is also frighteningly similar. At the top of the heap are the Cool Kids (celebrities, mostly) whom everyone wants to be friends with. These people know their worth, though, and don’t bother to engage with the unwashed masses, unless they are responding to fulsome compliments and may deign to throw back a ‘Tks’ (apparently when you are famous it’s too much of a drag to type out a whole word). They prefer to engage with the other Cool Kids, being all witty and charming with one another, in the certain knowledge that their every tweet is being lapped up by their massive fan base.
Where there are Cool Kids, there are bound to be Suck-Ups (or Teacher’s Pets as we called them back in school). These people spend all their time tweeting to their idols, praising them for their recent exploits, telling them how wonderful they are, and asking for validation in the form of a tweet back. And you’d be surprised how often this strategy works. While flattery may not get you everywhere, it often does get you a follow-back.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Cyber Bullies, who hide behind the safety of anonymous twitter ids to shower abuse on whoever takes their fancy. These function like those feral gangs in school who would form a posse to bully those who were most vulnerable. They would trip them up on the driveway, punch them in the nose, shove them in the back when they are standing at the top of the stairs, spread vile rumours about them (or their mothers).
Just as it was in the schoolyard, so it is on Twitter (even if the wounds are only psychic). And when things get particularly contentious on Twitter, these Cyber Bullies tend to transform into Lynch Mobs, where anyone who doesn’t agree with them is fair target for vile abuse. Those of us who have experienced being heckled at the school play or at the sports day know exactly how this works (and feels).
But while you can cope with these types by blanking – not to mention, blocking – them out, the ones that really irritate me are the Gosh-Aren’t-I-Wonderful types. These are the kids who always had their hands up with the right answer in class, who always topped every exam – and then said how they simply couldn’t understand it, given that they hadn’t even studied for the damn thing. (Grrrrr...) On Twitter these people content themselves with RTing every bit of praise ever flung in their direction, by telling us how wonderfully their movie/play/music album/book is doing, and giving us little glimpses of their wonderful life.
Fortunately, these Over-Achievers just restrict themselves to sharing their highs, higher and highest. The Over-Sharers, on the other hand, want you to know every detail of their life: when they woke up; what they ate for breakfast; how they made their way to work; what they are wearing; what they are thinking of eating for lunch...You can imagine the interminable essays they wrote after the summer vacations: “What I did in my school holidays”. I feel for their teachers, I truly do.
And then, bringing up the rear – and trying to bring about some sort of order – you have the Class Monitors. In school these kids were assigned the thankless task of keeping a few hundred kids quiet while the principal addressed the school assembly. And even now, they can’t bear it if someone speaks out of turn. That old childhood conditioning kicks in and they butt in with well-meaning attempts to restore order. Don’t use bad words. Treat a lady with respect. Don’t intrude in conversations that have nothing to do with you. Don’t be racist. Don’t be communal.
Of course, just as it was in school, nobody pays a blind bit of attention to anything they have to say. But I still love them for making the effort.