Life Online: Unsolicited Advice
I should start by saying that I bloody love Twitter. I love it like a drunk woman on a Friday night loves her mates. It’s the sort of sloppy, leering love that makes me want to give it big, wet kisses that are actually licks.
Facebook: well, hmm. I don’t hold quite such a passion for it, but it’s part of my life. Like a relentlessly upbeat colleague, it’s about fifty per cent interesting, but quickly tips over into irritating jokes and sentimentality.
And don’t get me started on Instagram or Pinterest. They are my compulsive, dirty little secrets, like a lover who I can’t help glancing at, just catching a sneaky look, over and over again.
I am saying all of this because I don’t want you to think that I’m some sort of tech curmudgeon who hates all social media on some unfathomable principle. No: if, ever, I express irritation at life online, it’s because my expectations are so high. I get hurt and let down when it doesn’t behave as I want it to. Sometimes I have to take a time out so that I don’t say something we’d both regret.
Take, for example, the enthusiasm for advice-giving seems to run rampant online. Granted, people often ask for it, but that’s not the kind that I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the sort of transaction that runs like this:
Me: I just had fish and chips.
Other tweeter: I hope it wasn’t cod, because it’s badly over-fished. You should have had mackerel.
Me: God, I’ve got an itchy leg today. (Yes, I know. I am far from the Oscar Wilde of Twitter).
Other tweeter: It’s probably diabetes. You should go to a brilliant homeopath I know, she can definitely cure it.
Frankly, being on Twitter is sometimes like being in a room full of opinionated aunties, each of them vying to impose their iffy philosophies on you. When I first announced I was pregnant, I was told, with various levels of force, to make sure I breast-fed, stayed at home, carried him around in a sling, learned baby massage and used cloth nappies. I do none of these things, probably on principle. Nor do I stalk the ether, looking for pregnant women to whom I can say, ‘I hope you’ll be bottle-feeding, because I do. Which makes it right.’
Advice when it is not requested is irritating; but what concerns me even more is the army of amateur doctors out there, lying in wait to offer spurious diagnoses and treatment advice. The cod-psychologists are the worst, and the most prolific. If I had a penny for every time I’ve seen someone Twiagnosed as ‘probably bi-polar’, I’d be sitting round a pool with Robbie Williams right now, talking about Roswell. Seriously, guys, psychiatrists spend their best years in university for a reason. Just being a little quirky does not merit a hefty dose of lithium.
One final thought: there’s an advice-giver in all of us, and I wonder if Google are missing a trick here. Instead of faffing around, developing new social networks that no-one wants, they should be working on logical next step in the evolution of social media. AdviceWeb, the networking site for those who want to seek and give uninformed advice, is a billion dollar flotation waiting to happen. Just imagine the Terms and Conditions on that baby.