We live in a digital age – that doesn’t mean we stop being human

I am a feminist. I believe in equality for women and men and think that women should be able to go about their business how they choose without being bothered or shamed, cut, hit or raped, or snidely bitched about.

I am also extremely fond of Twitter. At such times when I get caught up in a row, or sufficiently pumped up about RTs and chat, I can go on and on to the extent that my mercifully forgiving friends will quietly roll their eyes and wait for it to pass.

What I am rapidly realising is that the two don’t go together. Writing in 140 characters requires you to be pithy, but it also allows you to be brusque, rude and aggressive. I wish I could say that half the tripe I read on Twitter is pithy that hasn’t got its wings yet, but it doesn’t appear to be. I am developing a real dislike for ‘Twitter feminism’.

Whether it’s Helen Lewis taking a break because of absurd over-reaction (again) to a well-balanced blog post, or Vagenda Magazine reacting to the closure of a magazine (staffed primarily by women) in the snidest of ways, there is so much negativity and mean-spiritedness around that I am not surprised when people like Beyoncé or Katy Perry and Carla Bruni won’t label themselves as feminists.

With company like this, why would anyone?

We live in a digital age, but that doesn’t mean we should converse with each other like robots. It’s one thing to disagree with someone who has a platform – but we have blogs now, we can all have platforms to a certain extent – but it’s quite another to speak to them as though they were a cross between Pinochet and a wind-up toy from a Christmas cracker.

I have always considered myself extremely fortunate to have ‘met’ so many interesting and engaging people on Twitter, even if I never actually do so in real life. And even if I don’t see them in the flesh, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real people, with real feelings – and in the case of More! magazine, that they are real people who are probably in the pub now crying over their jobs.

Feminism is not about going “My branch of feminism is more correct than yours.” Full stop.  But perhaps where Twitter is concerned, it’s time to take a step back and embrace something a little more gentle and a little less strident. And a little kinder.

Until then, I’m becoming a featherist and looking at pictures of swans and pigeons instead.

funny-birds

Mourning someone you never met

 

Two incredible women have died this year, both young, both of cancer. I never meet either of them, but through their blogs, Twitter and the sheer force of their personalities and achievements I felt like I knew a little of them.

There was Alice Pyne, the teenager whose worldwide smash bucket list I wrote about for The Times. She could just have spent her time enjoying all the generous offers to tick off that list, but she set up a charity, raised more than £100,000, met the Prime Minister, raised awareness of the bone marrow register and was awarded the BEM for her charity work and campaigning.

Then there was Lisa Lynch. Bloody hell, she’s an impressive woman. I read her book The C Word the year after my aunt and my friend Ben had died of cancer. At first I felt annoyed by how cheery and bullish she was about the whole thing. Jesus, it was cancer, not a day at the races. But that was the point, wasn’t it? I mean, how can you not be drawn in by a woman who calls cancer “The Bullshit”, who writes so brilliantly and is such a palpably loved and loveable person?

I saw on Facebook last night that she had died, and cried all the way home, just as I had when I found out that her reappeared cancer was terminal. And both times I asked if this was ok, to feel so incredibly sad about someone who you have never met.

I am sad that I never met her. Plans for an epic SingStar lunch were put on hold when her cancer reappeared. Instead, I sent her cheery rubbish through the post, and asked her for advice when I wrote up my experiences of volunteering on a palliative cancer ward at Guy’s.

People can care deeply for people they’ve never met. When my friend Blonde was hit by a cyclist last week, she had a flood of messages from Twitter people concerned for her. So in the real sense of the word, I am a stranger. I don’t know Lisa or her family in the way some of my friends who actually know her. But I will miss her, and quietly pay my respects because she is someone who deserves bells, whistles and fireworks.

40,000 tweets later…

In my head, this is what using Twitter is always like. (girlssentaway)

I passed 40,000 tweets today, which is frankly ridiculous. Forty is a dangerous lean towards mid-life crises, or landmark celebrations involving overpriced sponge. What have I been doing?

There’s no point fretting. I rarely do anything now unless I’m going to get maximum enjoyment out of it – rather worryingly, I just had a phone call which listed its contents “in order of interest-to-Kat-ness.”  I know exactly what I’ve been doing: bitching about reality television, making hashtag jokes, reading stories, getting massive life-crushes on people who do amazing things, and occasionally doing some actual work. A while ago, I got really irritated by someone I used to work with going on, and on about my enormous number of tweets. “How do you get anything done!” they asked, as though every time I looked at Twitter a golden apple fell out of my life tree. “You can’t do anything else! Do you have a life? Where do you find the time?”

Well, I find the time, just as smokers find the time to nip out for a fag. What keeps me on Twitter, both in terms of time and amount of tweets, is that it’s become a necessary part of my working and personal lives. As well as being an utterly absorbing source of interesting people, stories, anecdotes and jokes, Twitter is a conduit to opportunity: my first story in The Times came from an election night tip, and all my news stories since stemmed from Twitter-based news. I’ve learned about new software and tools that make life so much easier, and help me to do my jobs better.

When I wanted to do something, anything, to punch cancer in the face after my friend Ben and aunt Tina died, the @se1 feed helpfully pointed me in the direction of volunteering opportunities at Guy’s. I’ve found two flatmates, and a very nice illustration team who designed my mother’s Christmas present. Because of things I’ve said or posted on Twitter, I’ve been asked to write for people, to speak at conferences and on the BBC. I was invited to read at Literary Death Match, purely on the basis that I might write something funny. I’ve made new friends, and enjoyed seeing new sides to my existing ones. For all the boring bits about trolling, or when people turn purple with rage and start a Twitstorm, Twitter is simply brilliant.

Twitter gives people a voice, even if they don’t have a newspaper column, or a presenting job, or an influential blog – I love that. It works with my appalling inability to concentrate for long periods of time: it takes a matter of seconds to post or check. I read more stories, engage with the news more fully – you can’t just skip the boring pages if people you follow are bringing them to life – and am better informed about what’s happening in my local area.

It doesn’t change who you are, it just seems to amplify it, good and bad. I adore chatting to people – most of that enormous number of tweets are made up of conversations – but I’m not very good at Twitter in real life: I’ve never been at ease at networking events, so the big tweet-ups that I’ve been to, however lovely, have invariably resulted in my melting away after a glass of wine and a quick chat. I’d much rather meet up with one or two people at a time than a horde, and that’s fine.

Thank you to Tom Chivers for introducing me to Twitter three years ago when we were working at thelondonpaper (RIP). A world where you can bring entire businesses to a crashing halt for a whole Friday afternoon just by posting a link to a livefeed of kittens is one I really, really like being in.