John Pugh MP writes … Twitter ye Not – why Frankie Howerd was right

I’m deeply wounded to hear that a website referred to me as an analogue MP after I attacked the over-use of BlackBerries and iPhones during the House of Commons proceedings.

Wounded – because I could be thought a techno-geek. I build my own PCs, maintain and set up my office networks, buy books on Linux, and hold endless, sad conversations about interoperability. I am not a technophobe.

I just notice that (1) sometimes people pay more attention to the virtual world in their hand than the real world around them; (2) sometimes it’s rude to do so (say, when talking to real people); and (3) sometimes its obsessive and pointless behaviour.

The Tweetminster site promises to link Westminster to the real world, and I do want MPs to have real friends, real debates and real conversations. But that is not the same thing as sending random messages to strangers in the virtual world. I question the value and indeed the intrinsic interest of a public running commentary on one’s life – partly because I want people and politicians to have more time for an inner (ie, non-public) life: reflection, thought, listening, reading, etc .

You don’t always get more interesting by talking all the time and there is no reason why tweeting constantly should be any different. I worry about people who can’t anymore just go to the gym, cafe or event without having to tell thousands they’re doing it . Just do it, I say !

For a politician to oppose tweeting, I am told by Labour’s Twitter czar, is like not looking ‘the public’ in the eye – but it is the addicted tweeter eyes, glued to their devices, who are (I observe) least likely to look the people around them in the face.

Tweeting may have a genuine place in show-business, where adoring fans hang on one’s every word – and maybe politics really is after all showbiz for ugly people – but does it get taken more seriously if encoded in instanteous messages. Had Churchill tweeted at Yalta “Just popping into see Joe Stalin – my what a huge sofa!” – would the event have become more relevant.

Ultimately I suspect that lightning-fast, perpetual communication does not much advance or deepen thought; rather, it encourages ill-thought out re-circulation of stock opinion and borrowed expressions.

Soren Kierkegaard, as garrulous and self-absorbed philosopher as you could find, said of the mass media – “the vast mass of the people have no opinions on many topics but, thanks to the press, here they come!” Tweeting – fun though it may be – is instant, undeveloped observation which makes the circulation of opinion easy without noticeably enhancing its critique.

* John Pugh is Liberal Democrat MP for Southport.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/16753 for Twitter and emails.
Advert

15 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Nov '09 - 11:48am

    You’re roughly correct. What you’re talking about is called “Continuous partial attention”, it’s a well-known phenomenon (look it up). To some extent it is useful in small doses, but you cannot accomplish anything complex and well-reasoned in that manner. You need to allocate time without all the distractions, so that you can get things done.

  • Martin Land 6th Nov '09 - 11:53am

    Personally I find the people who spend all their time on the iphones and Blackberries best left alone doing that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Nov '09 - 5:31pm

    I was called a “technophobe” for arguing against electronic voting and machine counting of votes.

    I have never met any of my fellow professional computer scientists who disagree with me on that issue. People who really know their technology know when not to use it.

  • Well said John!

    Twitter is great for spreading uninformed opinionated nonsense further than it deserves, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for advancing the cause of politics or representation.

  • Tweetminster, if you think people might be interested in your thoughts on John’s piece, you didn’t understand John’s piece!

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Nov '09 - 10:12am

    Who’s blaming the tool? All he’s saying is: don’t sit around chatting when you’re supposed to be working. We don’t tolerate it when people do it by talking; why should we tolerate it when they’re doing it with the latest web toy?

  • Can we have a ‘like’ button on LDV – I dont have the attention span to write a full answer saying how much I agree with John on this…

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarRoland 28th Nov - 2:22pm
    Jonathan - I'm not sure if I am misinterpreting the result, merely trying to shed some light on the thinking behind a particular group of...
  • User AvatarWilliam Summers 28th Nov - 2:20pm
    A blog post on whether or not you should have done a blog post on another blog post. Political blogging has finally eaten itself!
  • User AvatarPeter Watson 28th Nov - 2:20pm
    @Paul Walter "Nick Clegg is a great leader and it would be most unwise to ditch him this side of May next year." And the...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 28th Nov - 2:19pm
    As Jo Grimond said ...
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 28th Nov - 2:19pm
    @Denis Loretto - As Jo Grimond, liberals should be on the side of the governed, not the governing. Nick's unwillingness to do this when in...
  • User AvatarManfarang 28th Nov - 2:16pm
    Tez “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” As I said get to the library.