On a recent visit to London, I had a drink in a pub called ‘The Speaker’ which is in the heart of Westminster.It is close to parliament, civil service headquarters and Channel 4’s offices and is frequented by, I would say, posh professionals. What really struck me about this pub, besides the number of tweed jackets, was the fact that people were sitting at tables chatting, and there was not a mobile phone or iPad in sight. It is so rare to hear the hum of conversation that it was really refreshing. On the same trip at a service station food court, there was little real conversation to be heard as mothers, fathers, teenagers stared at their phones or tablets, texting, talking, tweeting and gawping.
I began to wonder if there was a class issue here;do posh people steer clear of social media? (I must stress that I don’t say this because of my own antipathy towards mobile phones, Facebook and the like-the stretchiest mind could never describe me as posh.) But do old Etonians get home and update their Facebook status, do the Westminster boys Twitter their bons mots? Do they have text conversations with their mates? I somehow doubt it.Of course if the posh boys enter politics or business they will undoubtedly be forced to start using social networks. My hero Tom Hodgkinson has written lengthy diatribes on the perils of Facebook yet his very own Idler Academy has a Facebook page. It is probably only the mega rich or Luddites (like me) who can opt out completely. Kensington Palace for instance may put out tweets but I think it is unlikely that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are doing the tweeting or putting up photographs of Baby George on Facebook.I suppose Stephen Fry is one exception that springs to mind. He is a prolific Tweeter with over four million follower but even his relationship with Twitter is toxic and he has threatened to quit twice – citing “too much aggression and unkindness around” – but he always comes back, ‘mumbling apologetically, begging forgiveness from the Twitter disciples who slavishly follow his every syllable. Check out the messages people send him: it’s pretty cloying stuff.’
Even those that use online social media are apparently defined by the space they use in much the same way as the phone you choose allegedly says much about your class. Blackberry or iPhone? Myspace or Facebook? After the 2011 London riots, the Guardian reported that “social networks were fuelling the riots, politicians argued, and shutting down such services in the public interest should be seriously considered.In reality the reported argued,” the networks were used to mobilise clean-up operations and report on the trouble, with mainstream journalists frequently using Twitter to make up-to-the-minute reports which were on occasion themselves used by rioters.Social media’s role in the riots was largely confined to another network: BlackBerry Messenger. Rapidly portrayed as a faintly sinister untraceable, encrypted network, BBM is the social network of choice for many of Britain’s teens – and through its ties to urban music, it is particularly popular in inner cities. BBM is cheaper than other networks, too.”
It is said that the internet connects people like never before but our online worlds, unencumbered by what separates us in daily life, continue to reflect humans’ tendency to stick with what — and who — they know?