The Joy of Essex: The social network’s one club I’m happy not to join

LAST week, Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell struck out publicly at an online impersonation of him on a spoof Twitter account. He was, understandably, furious about the matter, claiming that the people responsible all belonged to the same political party and had been conducting their campaign for three years.

Now, I regard myself – for someone of my generation at least – as being fairly familiar by now with the online world. But I’ve never understood the purpose of Twitter. I dislike the very name Twitter, which suggests meaningless gossip. It’s a free country, though, Twitter is not compulsory, and unlike Sir Bob I haven’t yet been inconvenienced by it.

Certain social networking sites I have stronger opinions about. Most people who know me know better than to tell me they “Tried to make me a Facebook friend.” Father Jack Hackett, from the Father Ted TV series, would probably be a safer bet to approach on the subject.

One night, in my local, I heard someone say to her friend, whom she sees daily, “I’ve just made you a friend on Facebook.” Weeks later, a metropolitan media type asked me if I was on Facebook yet. I told him that I had a perfectly good website, with a contact button for anyone who needed to get in touch with me for work reasons. He told me that websites were “a bit old hat” now and that Facebook was quite the thing.

The siege continued. My career might suffer, he said, if I didn’t join. I considered this, since I’ve never had a “career” as such, only a series of different jobs which have almost added up to a living in recent decades. He wouldn’t let it go, however, and asked again: Why wouldn’t I do online social networking?

With one last arrogant thrust, I spat: “Because it’s for gullible civilians – like you.” That sorted things out. Shortly afterwards, another person advised me that I really ought to join, in order to be more “in the loop”. My light-hearted and witty response cannot be repeated in a respectable newspaper.

A few years ago, a man called Tom Hodgkinson, editor of a magazine called The Idler, wrote an extremely cogent piece in a national broadsheet explaining why he wouldn’t be joining the social networking site.

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Among his chief reasons, which very much concurred with my own, were that he didn’t wish to share his preferences, tastes and views with a mega-rich young American businessman whom he’d never met and who would, in turn, if only by default, probably share the information with the CIA, MI6 and every advertising researcher in the world.

If people want to know what I’m like, which I rather doubt, then they can read me in the East Anglian every Saturday, thereby keeping their money in the local economy.

Am I really getting to be such an intolerant old sod, though – or are people genuinely becoming more stupid?

As I meander around this region nowadays, all I can see, as the stately cavalcade of seasons sashays by unobserved, are bewitched people, heads down, dibbling away at their “smart” phones – which I gather may cost anything up to �350. Well, they can’t be that smart, can they?

For nine years I’ve owned a really smart phone. Thirty quid it was. I put a fiver’s worth of credit on it every two months or so and it’s absolutely fine. Gets calls/makes calls. That’s all it does. I’m going to have a tenth birthday party for it next year. I might even take it to the pub and stick it in a pint of lager for a treat.

One good thing about e-mails, texts and social networking sites, it’s said, is that they’ve got everybody writing again. This is true. Most of them are writing twaddle.

We’re not just talking about “greengrocer apostrophes” here, although last week I did see a really good one at Diss Station. It was a painted sign directing passengers to Taxi’s.

The written English which I observe lately now verges upon the shameful: “So I honed in on him and pacifically told him that he shouldn’t of said anything.” That’s the sort of thing, anyway.

Am I being a snob? I don’t care. I can no longer live with the cringeing shame of seeing my fellow countrymen languishing in self-perpetuating ignorance. They deserve ridicule and contempt.

So do the cyber-bullies. Like shining a spotlight on a heckler in the audience, Sir Bob Russell MP has done exactly the right thing in going public with his harassment problems.

I once went one step further with a persistent stalker: I cut and pasted the text of one of their strange letters onto a page of my website, entitling it Letter From A Stalker.

It contained a brief introduction, publicly informing the person concerned that from now on they would be sharing their obsession with the world. I didn’t reveal their name but threatened to do so if communication continued. It stopped.

Back to social networking: A few months ago I witnessed the until-recently-resident teenager sitting and methodically dismantling her Facebook account. This took me aback. Was she being bullied or stalked? I asked. No, it seems that she was just bored.

Mere weeks later, there was another shock. I discovered her reading a book. It’s a slippery old slope.