Hooked on hashtags

23rd March 2012 at 00:00

I wish I'd never gone on Twitter. Three weeks in and I'm already hooked. I've got an addictive personality, though. When I was a student I took a drag on a menthol cigarette, and within a month I was rolling six-skin spliffs and carrying emergency roaches and a family bag of crisps. And Twitter is even more addictive. At least when I smoked, I'd wait until the evening to roll my first joint, but now I reach for my BlackBerry at 6am when I'm half-asleep in bed. Before Twitter dominated my life, I used to be a reasonable parent - I'd put hot dinners on the table and a few clean socks in the drawer - but now I'm giving my son things-on-toast and a bad case of athlete's foot. And I'm not the only one who's addicted. If you look at how long celebrities spend on Twitter then they are either employing a ghost-tweeter or are actually taking us into the loo.

The attraction of Twitter is that its verbal exchanges are much livelier than you get at home. On Twitter, no one asks #couldyoucutmytoenails or #takealookatmyrash. Because the answer would be #fuckrightoffanddoityourself or #justslaponsomeE45.

Everything on Twitter is sharper, pacier. And if like me you're getting older, you may struggle to keep up. Sometimes, by the time I've thought of a witty response to someone's hashtag question, they've moved on to discuss world affairs with @somebodyelse. It's a bit like finally arriving in Reykjavik to discover that the in-crowd has flown to Nantucket. Twitter has a habit of making you feel like a pensioner; you hear a knock, but by the time you've shuffled to the door, the postie has taken your registered post straight back to the sorting office.

On Twitter, you not only have to be quick but also very smart because everyone is dressed in their intellectual Sunday best. Unlike real life, where people tell you about their dreams or what they're cooking for tea, on Twitter it's all about politics or the thoughts of the Dalai Lama.

People on Twitter also look massively appealing. Every bloke looks like Jack Kerouac or a foreign correspondent. There's not a man on Twitter who couldn't adorn the flyleaf of a Penguin Modern Classic. And the women are even more gorgeous. In real life, they probably wear pop socks and go to Gala Bingo, but on Twitter they all look like Charlize Theron.

I'd like to believe we're attracted to Twitter because it offers immense freedoms rather than the opportunity to cop off - intellectually - with a bunch of strangers. Twitter's strength is that its content is micro-blogged by the people, for the people. It's irreverent, punkish and gobs in the face of the Establishment. When Orwell's Winston Smith said, "The future lies with the proles", he was probably thinking of social blogging. But teachers are far too knackered to use it as a force for social change; we'll end up using it - like we use email - to flog second-hand car seats and post videos of dancing cats.

And anyway, Twitter has already fallen from grace. Last month, it sold two years' worth of tweets to DataSift, which is charging businesses an "entry-level" #163;635 a month to sniff through your archived gussets to improve their targeted marketing. At least there's some satisfaction in knowing that the tweets they will buy bear little correlation to the account holders' true personalities. They'll start targeting us with Tibetan tours and subscriptions to The Economist when we'd sooner have a copy of Bella magazine and a makeover voucher for MAC.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the north of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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