Shouting at the telly

When I was little, I used to watch TV with my Nana. She liked shows about detectives and lawyers like Perry Mason and Homicide, and she and my Pop loved to watch the footy.

Every weekend they watched World of Sport, which went on for hours and hours, and included a panel of old players arguing about the week’s footy games, the famous handball competition, and ‘Uncle’ Doug Elliott expounding the virtues of different brands of ham or beer. Nana couldn’t stand Doug and she didn’t much like former Geelong great Bob Davis either. Whenever either of them went on too long she’d shout “Shut up, you piker!” at the top of her voice.

It was just like being at the footy, I used to think, with people shouting at the telly just like they’d shout if they were at the ground. They abuse the umpires, the opposition supporters, and their own players almost as much as the other side. They wouldn’t do it anywhere else, especially in those days: it wouldn’t be polite. But somehow being at the game provided a licence for shouting, as did the amazing innovation of being able to watch sport in your own home.

(Pop wasn’t much of a shouter, although in a close finish he’d often yell, “Just kick it down the middle, son!”)

But I’ve been thinking about my Nana lately, and the act of shouting at the telly in private. I don’t shout at the screen much, except in cases of extreme historical anachronism or Tony Abbott.

I use Twitter – a lot. I think it’s one of the very best available sources of information and contacts in many of the fields I follow: history, writing, books, education, research.

But there are many times I simply can’t look at it, because it’s becoming more and more like being stuck in a room with two hundred people all shouting at the telly.

Sometimes, this isn’t even a metaphor. I have to turn Twitter off when Q&A is on, for example, because so many people I follow turn into telly-shouting ever-so-clever would-be TV panel participants.

The upside of this is when there’s a piece of ground-breaking journalism, such as 4Corners’ story on animal cruelty in abattoirs. The outcry on Twitter was immediate and rolled over into action over the ensuing hours and days.

If you follow good people, you’ll see politicians statements contradicted and questioned, research reports disseminated instead of buried, great articles posted, and people cracking hilarious jokes about current affairs. At its best Twitter (and other popular media) calls people to account and provides information critical to any society.

Campaigns such as #YAsaves show the medium at its finest, spreading the love, acting up and offering immediate support to vulnerable people or groups.

But I worry Twitter is eating itself.

Some symptoms:

  • Some idiot somewhere says something insulting (about women, about the PM, whatever). Everyone insults them back. Fine, except some of those responding seem to have no self-awareness that they too are being insulting – sometimes really, horribly, personally, libellously, insulting. They are too busy being self-righteous. 
  • Certain people are becoming famous for shouting very obvious things.  They aren’t clever. They aren’t funny. They aren’t saying anything new, or even saying the same thing in new ways. (Misogyny exists! WHO KNEW?) They are, however, positioning themselves as “commentators”.  Just like my Nana was a commentator on World of Sport, but with more followers. And not nearly as entertaining.
  • Streams of posts from conferences focus on the morning tea and people behaving like it’s a school excursion. Are you getting paid to be there? Act like it. 
  • Many people automate not just their tweets but also their associated curation tools, like So you see this stream of soulless announcement that the Joe Blogs Daily is out.
  • “Curation” apparently also extends to taking people’s links and sticking them on your own blog, or using some kind of scooping service, so you get the  extra click through – even though you’ve done nothing really to earn it, besides annoying people.
  • People appear to have forgotten that Twitter has a direct message function and do self-satisfied group hug streams that can last for hours. A little friendly chatter is lovely – acting like Mean Girls is alienating and tedious.

I could go on. And on. Instead, I’ve been giving the Unfollow button a good workout.

But the point is really that Twitter can and should be a force for goodness and niceness – and anger and righteousness, like all media.

Just don’t be so boring. Or I may start shouting. (Blame Nan. It’s genetic.)

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