Even in the Quietest Moments

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I can now Tweet up to 280 characters. I don’t intend to do that with the majority of my output, and here’s why.

Watching the annoyance and frustration last night as the feature rolled out in parts of my social sphere and not others, it was almost funny to think that this change was, for so many, being considered as some badge of honour. The sole reason this change has been instigated is to help advertisers use space to sell more shit and make Twitter more money. This isn’t some great championing for more speech and understanding we’re talking about. For someone like me, it is a curse as well as a blessing. The biggest upshot is, undoubtedly, that people will just stop reading.

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The major winner for me will be poetry and short stories: I can now create longer works to post… but as some people mute the stuff I posted in 140 characters, to begin with, length will simply make those posts less appealing and not more. That means I’ll need to work harder on visuals and clever use of space in posts, that it isn’t about filling every character and ‘optimising’ the output. Undoubtedly the format can be finagled, but to do so requires a willing audience, and watching the annoyance last night as people simply posted 280 characters of ANYTHING to see if they had the new limit…

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Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should has become the phrase that really matters. 280 characters in a Twitter fight are just as useless as 140 if you’re unable to make the point without resorting to abuse and anger. Proving a point succinctly and well, without ambiguity is still something many people could do with learning. Word economy is useful: more significant still is an understanding of when a word dump is appropriate. That’s something I’m still learning after 51 years.

The moral of yesterday’s rollout is that sometimes, being first is all that matters to many. That stuff about the other person’s social media feed always being more interesting is all in the eye of the beholder, you know. I’m not special, you’re not lacking, it’s just tech, and what will matter more long-term are the people who use the system to their advantage by embracing the positives and eliminating the negatives. No, I’m not going to be clever with the format until I am TOTALLY confident it can be pulled off successfully.

Time to watch other people and learn.

Walkaway

It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.

Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.

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Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.

At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal. The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?

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The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.

That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.

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I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.

If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.

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Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one. As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.

It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.

The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.

Gett Off

This is not the post I was going to write today.

I made a conscious decision early in the week to reduce the number of people I’m following. It appears that between 800-900 follows is the limit of what I can cope with, if everybody is polite and I’m capable of assimilating what I’m reading with a dispassionate air. However, if people start getting bolshy, this is hard work. I’m well aware that my mindset isn’t the same as a number of other people right now, but assuming everyone is civil and pleasant, it doesn’t matter. When that changes, and I get grief for refusing to engage, not agreeing with an outlook or generally feel uncomfortable talking to someone? Stuff needs to be done. In the interests of transparency, I will share my deselection process, and then explain why.

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First, a follower gets muted on the screens I use for daily work, but not on phone or tablet, so I can still see interaction if/when it happens. If I’m having a particular issue with someone I will keep half an eye on their feed too, as a lot of stuff gets said ‘out of earshot’ that can often be an indicator to someone’s current mood. Yes, I check up on people when I care about them, so what? Then, if when I take that mute off and it appears nothing has changed, I’ll quietly unfollow. Once upon a time I’d tell people, but now with 3k of them in the mix it becomes largely unhelpful, especially for the drama that creates. Occasionally, as has been the case today, I’ll know full well there’s trouble coming, which is all the more reason for not making a big deal about what you’re about to do.

The problem, and it is always this, is that people form unreasonable attachments to other people online. Over time, if you’ve done this with someone, I can guarantee it will go one of two ways. You’re either adults about it, or you’re not. Sadly, it doesn’t work if one person tries to be a grown up and the other one has a massive meltdown. However, if that makes you feel better in your feed, go right ahead, but there’s a good chance if that’s directed at me that I will read it and one of two things will happen. It will either mean a) that my decision to stop following you was completely justified or b) I’m glad I got out when I did. Of course, that subtweet saltfest could have been at someone else and I’m just assuming its directed at me, but if you’re going to do this to anyone who leaves quietly without trying to highlight this whole sorry episode to begin with… I still made the right choice.

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However, and this is directed at anyone whom I’ve unfollowed, if you feel that there’s merit in talking to me directly and trying to sort the problem, I’m all ears. No, seriously, if you wanna talk, you know where I am. I’ve made some Class A howlers in my life over the years with good people I’d love to still be talking to, and I have been responsible for quite a few horrendous personal choices in my time. If it matters enough to you then maybe we can sit down and talk the whole thing out. I will admit I wish I could do this still with a few people that have long since departed my sphere, but life isn’t just what I want. It remains a complex set of interactive variables which you can choose to try and grasp or just use for your own ends. The choice is yours.

Everybody needs an occasional reality check from themselves. I absolutely count myself in this process, and that’s why I’ve written this post. I believe I know people well enough on Twitter now to grasp who is likely to respond well to being unfollowed, who I can expect to leave eventually of their own accord and who’s here for the long haul. Setting a 900 figure on interaction right now is doable and acceptable, but if that changes you can rest assured I will let everyone know ahead of time that stuff will alter. This is my writing tool, after all, and without a level of comfortable interaction it becomes really hard to do the tasks I have set myself up to attempt to execute. That means trust as a two way process. Needless to say, if you think I take any of these decisions lightly or without considerable thought, you really don’t know me at all, because I am well aware of the consequences of pissing people off on the Internet.

I’ve been abused, Twitter stalked, belittled and attacked before. This is no longer going to hold me back from what I want to do. If you want to discuss choices like an adult, I’m happy to do so, but for everything else my life is too short and there’s better people here who seem to be able to meet me halfway. In the end, I don’t make the decisions to leave, in many cases other people do that for me when it becomes clear that communication has stopped being what matters. 

It’s a tough job to do well, after all.

Fight the Power

When I grow up, I’d like to be a Professional Troll-Slayer.

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No, not THAT kind (though I do have the beard for this) but the type that has enough brains, clout and sheer bravado to take the Internet Troll to task: news feeds are now littered with examples of how J.K Rowling slays all who deserve it. Often Trolls don’t care about anything but the attention: their actions aren’t motivated in order to provoke a response, it’s being able to spew hate without caring over consequence. Except now, with increasing regularity, trolls are being held to task in spaces outside of social media.

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Jack Monroe’s a local lass, friends with at least one person my husband knows, and extremely capable of not taking shit from anybody. The fact she’s now suing one of the most notorious spewers of arrogant and selfish rhetoric on the Internet, Katie Hopkins, fills me with a great deal of both satisfaction and comfort. This is the same Ms Hopkins whose employers at the Daily Mail were forced to cough up a six figure sum over another libellous claim only a few months ago: sadly however, it looks unlikely that this woman will ever change or discover the importance of considering consequence before speaking. However, one assumes that if you get libel proceedings posted against you enough times then eventually people will stop employing you… but we all know that’s not true either.

However, what this case (and others like it) will hopefully highlight is that you can’t just say whatever the fuck you want on the Internet any more without there being some kind of consequence. On the other side Twitter themselves are finally beginning to respond to many complaints that there’s simply not enough ways to deal with the speech at source. There’s been a number of new features that were introduced by the Company at the beginning of February, and indicators that certain behaviour may be being blocked completely. However there’s no independently verified confirmation of this, just the muttering of various websites with quite obvious and extreme right wing political bias. So, perhaps it is best simply to concentrate on the stuff we know is truth, from the source:

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I’ve used the Abusive Tweet service on several occasions since November and it is certainly a better and more thoughtful means of targeting what should be genuine abuse or attempts to spread disinformation. However, what this doesn’t provide for is twofold: the previously normal person who ‘goes rogue’ or the professional person such as Ms Hopkins whose presence on Twitter is as important as advertising for the platform, right up until the point it becomes detrimental. As we discovered with a certain young British chap who made his name via social media, you can get away with pretty everything until sex comes up, and then it’s Game Over. Twitter may have banned him last year but by then the damage was done. If the wrong person gets upset or angry, and goes on a rampage, even deleting those Tweets won’t be enough: as we have discussed with George Takei in recent days, people have surprisingly good memories, and everything can be screen-shotted.

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However, by far and away the best tool to prevent people from taking you to court is a brain. You simply don’t post, or step away to begin with. If you do go in with your axe held high, be prepared to fight clean and clever. Rowling’s undoubted brilliance is, unsurprisingly, as a writer, and her barbs aren’t hurled at the person but at their comment. Libel, strictly defined, is a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; effectively a written defamation. None of those sick burns are ever about the person themselves, simply the words used, and as long as you understand how thin that line is? You can tread it safely, secure in the fact that this is the way to approach Trolling with Style. The moment you start threatening a person physically or calling their personality into question is when the alarm bells should ring for everybody.

In essence, social media demands people to consider their anger in a literary context when it comes to people or events they find discomforting. If you can take the time to use your words well, they are better weapons than any you might find lying about to poke others with. In fact the damage these words can and will do should never be underestimated: it isn’t the sensitive or exposed at threat here either. On any given day, the President of the United States can be made angry and annoyed by what he hears on a TV screen or on Social media. Journalists can be offended. Prime Ministers can agree or disagree. I’ve seen this all in the last week, and all of this has happened with the power of letters, connected into sentences. Your words can destroy, or liberate, and yet so many people never consider their significance until it is too late.

Time to think more, friends, and hate less.

Your Game

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If all you care about are numbers, success can be easily devolved down to a 1/0 equation. I mean LOOK AT MY INFOGRAPHIC PEOPLE I have a 30% increase in mentions from last month! But that is frankly nothing compared with the WHOPPING 50% rise in engagements! What is my secret? I’ll tell you, it’s the fact that I’ve only picked up 11 followers in the last month. I don’t give a flying fuck about who wants to follow me, but if they meet a certain criteria I will pretty much automatically turn them away at the door. If you’re here to play the ‘only way to win at Twitter is with a six figure audience’ card and you’re NOT Stephen Fry?

Don’t waste my time, amateurs.

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The thing is, however, that some of these people clearly aren’t fucking about on Twitter and have worked quite hard to get the numbers to work for them. Once upon a time, they were simply robot accounts with minimal if not no actual human content attached. However, once Twitter got wind of the fact their game could be botted and people could rack up enormous high scores and never actually engage their users? These accounts are no longer simply regurgitated monthly links to blog posts. There’s a complex game involving monetising and SEO via websites that some people play with as much commitment and dedication as you follow your favourite team. It’s not exactly going to make you a hit with the ladies, but becoming a smart marketeer clearly makes ends meet. Except if you looked closely at the 596k followers attached to my sample account above, there’s likely to be a fair proportion of not real people in that total.

I however, strive to seek out real people as a matter of priority.

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While some might obsess over popularity, I crave reality wherever possible. That means that yes, I go look at people’s feeds and read their biographies long before I press ‘Follow’. I keep a pretty close eye on what is being said or referenced too, and that means when someone leaves I’ll pretty much always go back and check why. You can consider it the equivalent of running a busy entertainment complex and constantly doing customer feedback to ensure the people who come to talk, eat and enjoy themselves are getting the maximum experience for their time spent. Yes, this does mean I listen to criticism too: I’ve cut back on stuff that won’t make sense to you if there’s not appropriate context. When I get cross at something, when before I would have done a bit of leery subtweeting, I now instead throw pot plants. This has helped me cut the drama in my feed down to an absolute minimum.

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When success is now defined as a man in the White House who has billions of dollars earned but not one ounce of decency or compassion to his name, that concept holds no thrill for me. If being bigger and better than anybody else is your definition of achievement, I’m not interested. This, for me, is a slow and brilliant story that doesn’t rely on my ability to fool a robot and everything on my skill as a writer. As I refine the process of replying to Tweets in both concise and increasingly creative ways, I want less and less to do with anyone who seems to think they know what I want without asking. If your version of ‘interacting’ is simply throwing anything you believe I want on my feed in the vain hope I’ll be grateful, without taking the time to both talk and interact? This is not respect, it is simply lip service, and in the end you will never truly succeed at anything without being able to care beyond a basic set of variables. You might be happy with the size of your referrals, but I honestly don’t care. That’s not what I’m here for.

That’s a journey that I’m only just beginning.

Slave to the Rhythm

This is me, thinking about why Twitter works as well as it does when nobody has an agenda. Today, it’s all about how you interact with the platform, and then how other people do the same with you.

It’s Day Two of India vs England and suddenly, there’s an England batting collapse. Joe Root’s just gone for 53, caught at deep mid-off, and Charles Dagnall, one of the ‘new breed’ of radio Test commentators, is retweeted by @bbctms (Test Match Special‘s dedicated Twitter feed) saying what most of us just thought:

My first thought? Oh look, England’s gonna fuck it up again.

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I was talking to my daughter this morning on our way to school, about how Emojis are showing an interesting way forward for language in the future. In years to come, images might well replace spoken language as they are a far easier form of instant communication for people to understand. So, when I saw Charles’ comment, this GIF was the perfect response. So, I sent it, and in a moment of cosmic beauty the man decided to reply with an Emoji to boot <3

Here’s Reason #1 why having princes and paupers together is a great thing, especially when it comes to communicating intent. This platform allows you to get people with influence to read stuff that matters. Normally it works best when you aren’t the seller, however: altruism is always the best way forward. Asking your hero to read your shit? No, that’s not the plan here. Asking your hero to read someone else’s shit you think is brilliant? Much better idea. 

My mate Julia links me a website made by @clarabellum which suggests that instead of getting upset over the US Election, you could do something positive, like give time or money to make things better. I think this is brilliant, and try and work out how I get this more exposure, and the person on my FL who I think might appreciate this? Duncan Jones. We’ve chatted a little too, I know he’s a voracious Twitter consumer, and he’s on EU time because he’s filming in Germany. In this case, I don’t expect a reply, just sending the Tweet is enough. The fact I get one? So much the betterer.

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I created a link to a hero, over a subject I know we’re both passionate about. No, I won’t start stalking him any time soon, and this isn’t about anything other than sharing a love of the things that make us mesh. As a grown up you can do this and just move on, and yeah, you’re totally cool about it. Nah, it’s not a big deal at all.

Yeah, I lied. However, there’s a bigger issue tied up in this and it is worth explaining. I have a particular person who likes to ‘like’ my posts on pretty much a daily basis. They don’t follow me, but are still reading my timeline, presumably via a Twitter ‘List’ that somebody else maintains. I’ve found this increasingly uncomfortable, and only this morning did I work out why.

This is a significant epiphany. Unless I lock my account, anybody can and will read me. Just because I don’t have them on my feed doesn’t mean they’re incapable of communication, either. Mr Jones’ ‘like’ shows me he read the message. Twatface Otherbloke’s cursory liking feels to me exactly like I’m at the pole and he’s got the dosh because if I mattered enough, presumably, he’d have gotten off his arse and spoken to me by now. Instead he’ll just continue to smile and shove those fivers into my underwear. Even a retweet to his followers list might show that what I’m doing matters enough for him to expand my audience, but it could almost be as if I’m being baited. I feel like I’ve become his personal show, and that’s a lot why both sides of this platform often come to blows. Because if you assume to much, or not enough, or often any point in between? It will only end in tears.

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The best way this whole thing works is when you stop making it personal. It’s like being in the Pub when the famous bloke comes in, and you get to shake their hand and say how cool you think they are. That’s all it is, a moment of passing, the nod of appreciation that yes, what’s happening here is cool and you have relevance. I’m not after a Senpai noticing me, I’m chancing my arm and LOOK I DID IT. Tomorrow it won’t happen, and the trick to life is not to live on the belief of expectation and simply to life as you live.

Today, I learn the lesson that if I don’t want cash in my cleavage, I should become an accountant.

Ful Stop

I see I’m going to have to explain this to a few people. That’s fine, it is no big deal. I’ve not really discussed the details of my illness with you so, tell you what, let’s do that now. 

Anxiety is a big deal around these parts.

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Being ‘not good enough’ is something I’ve carried about, in one form or another, since my teens. Taking the easy route, for a long time, was just how life happened. Only when I met my husband did life start being about better than that, but it is only in the last decade that I’ve really understood what the paralysis of fear and inability has wrought on my life. The whole exercise path has opened up an entirely new world for me to explore, but yesterday I was back in my teens. My PT suggested a series of repetitions using gym equipment, that she thought I was capable of doing, but my brain said no. In the end I was in tears, after 20 minutes of fighting both mind and body simultaneously. I couldn’t do what was asked, even though my body was more than capable of the task.

Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.

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When you live so much in your own head, reality gets skewed. Because it is safer not to open your heart in case you get hurt, or simply hide yourself away because you feel people will not understand, there is potential for trouble. Inside your mind there is no failure or fault, and nobody will laugh at you if it all goes wrong. The problem with all of this internalising however is that when reality does happen, it can be difficult to live in both places simultaneously. The last few weeks on social media, with the terror of US Elections looming plus UK issues over Brexit and an increase in fascism as a concern… well, there’s a lot of people both unintentionally internalising and and quite deliberately externalising, all over my social media. This is, for many people, what they perceive as a ‘safe space’ for such things, but more importantly an opportunity for opinions to be heard, often by individuals who might have an influence on change.

It only occurred to me recently that I might be one of those people to others.

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The problem I have is believing my own hype. I am well aware that as a result of things I have both written and said, things have changed in the World around me. However, this does not make me an Influencer in my own mind, that ‘label’ is somebody else’s to stick. I just sit here and write shit and occasionally, I hit a target. I don’t think there has been anything I really wanted to change that ever did, either, and that’s the point that gets lost in amongst all the hand wringing and navel gazing. I’ve never been able to make someone like my stuff, and it was never the intention for anyone to hate me. Those are the only two things that matter, in the end, and when it matters most you will not be capable of altering the world to the way you’d like it to be. I wanted a Remain vote but got Leave. Bond’s never going to be a woman. The stuff that matters to me is so intractable, it’s just easier to live in my head for those things and not stress at all.

However, when I’m trying to be happy both inside and out and people won’t let that happen?

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Yes, sometimes it’s an effort to be happy. Fucking hell, people, anything worthwhile takes at least SOME notion of application. I can’t just eat chocolate and become a size 10. You don’t get good at gaming overnight. Maybe, if you grasp this, then understanding why making an effort to be positive is so fucking important, but NOPE that’s no on some people’s agenda. You’re only happy when it rains, when things are complicated and you’re stuck somewhere back in the mid 1990’s in your teens where everything was just so much easier. Well, newsflash Bucko, I did that midlife crisis and it fucking STANK so if you could just shut up and go away… and here’s the thing. Social media is two ways. Otherwise they’d call it ‘listening in an echo chamber’ media and nobody would have the Internet to begin with. All those brilliantly helpful people with their open arms and open hearts who are willing me to greatness don’t need to be told this shit. YOU DO.

It isn’t about ignoring you either (though I’ll be honest, some of that has gone on when it becomes apparent that arguing is pointless.) You can only balance when there’s two sides to your scale, or if you have impeccable gravitational awareness, and lots of you can’t even turn on your brain before pressing Tweet, so no chance there. In these cases, I don’t say anything, yet compose Tweet after Tweet in that wee window before deleting every word, over and over again. Part of me wants to tell you how to be better, to put the record straight, to direct your misplaced perceptive reasoning to important shit like cats or memes. Then I stop, and breathe, and know that maybe the reason you did it is that you want just this, me to respond, in one of those ‘notice me Senpai’ moments. Then I remember that the good people don’t need any validation at all. They don’t check Twitter until they’re awake, if at all. Those are the people I need to emulate, and this month I am determined to do just that.

Moan all you like. I just made a choice to stop listening.