Twitter; what’s the point?

I love Twitter. But lots of people I know, don’t. They don’t get it. They hold onto facebook as a space for sharing stuff with chosen, monitored and policed others. Facebook is more intimate, apparently, and isn’t about stalking Scoph, Stephen Fry or Justin Beiber. Facebook doesn’t restrict status updates to 140 characters. What can you say in 140 characters for fuck’s sake? Well, I’ll come back to that..

I went to a social media talk recently by an expert from York University. He strongly cautioned against our increasing over reliance on social media, saying it would lead to us all creating very narrow social lives, funnelling down, bookmarking our favourite websites and increasingly closing ourselves off to broader social experiences. Facebook can do that. We select certain people that we allow into our circle and can even restrict levels of access to our personal lives. It is static, dated and restrictive.

Twitter smashes things wide open. Even though we choose who we follow, once we follow people, we can’t choose what they retweet to us. So if I was to follow 100 people, and they each followed a hundred people, and so on and so on (I ain’t no mathematician so I’m not even going to attempt to develop this equation/sum), that means I am potentially open to shedloads of information, in bite size pieces.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear you twitter doubters say. What-effer. You can interact via email or facebook. Not as fast or as effectively. Increasingly, Twitter is part of media stories about particular events. Twitfeed is feeding into live tv and news coverage. It’s forcing governments, institutions, people to be more accountable. Through Twitter, a recent petition against proposed NHS reform has got over 170,000 signatures in a few days. Through Twitter a group of disabled people were able to raise funding, research, write up and disseminate their report into the proposed Welfare Reform Bill. Through Twitter (not through the BBC or other media channels) we know that Andrew Lansley’s recent trip to the Royal Free ended up with him being chased by a doc down the corridor to the words “Your bill is rubbish. And you know it!” Through Twitter, people are able to demonstrate and provide evidence of lies, deceit and cheating (largely by the current UK government at the mo’).

What can you tweet in 140 characters? Well, a lot. You’ve just got to be concise, pithy and cut out so much crap that we usually produce/circulate. It’s a liberating experience.

Twitter is what you make it. Depending on who you follow. It can be supportive, political, social, entertaining, funny, informative, creative and always fresh.

Finally, for mates that have shouted ‘help!, I don’t know how to use it’.. here are a few things that I’ve learnt in the last few months (or days;);

  • Use bit ly to shorten web links you want to tweet.
  • Don’t get overly hung up on what you tweet – just have fun
  • At first you are tweeting to yourself, but people will start to follow you
  • Don’t get hung up on numbers…
  • … but if your followers start to unfollow you en masse, you may want to revisit your tweet content 😉
  • #ff means follow Friday and is a way of sharing ‘good’ people to follow

Now, if someone wants to let me know the best way to manage lists, that would be great.

The bedroom tax

The proposed bedroom tax in the Welfare Reform Bill will see people in social housing docked £14.00 a week if they are thought to be under-occupying their property.

“Get a lodger”, suggested Lord Freud in the House of Lord’s yesterday. Well, the truly noble Lord’s and Baroness’s did a cracking job of pointing out why this was such an unsustainable and destructive idea, so I won’t rehash all their arguments here. (They are handily transcribed here…)

I’ll just leave you with one example* of what this new type of household might look like.

Happy families.

* Apologies for complete lack of diversity… Playmobile really ain’t caught up with contemporary UK life.

The Truly Disabled and the fakers

There’s been a right old push recently to present disabled people as a smallish group of The Truly Disabled (TTDs) and the rest, a bunch of scrounging bastards (BSBs).  The proposed Welfare Reform Bill is currently being deliberated in the Lords. In response to measured, well informed authoritative arguments by several Lords and Baronesses, the Welfare Minister, Lord Freud, mumbles and fumbles his way through a load of ill informed guff. This guff is underpinned by a version of the ‘biopsychosocial model of health and illness’. I can’t be bothered to unpack this pseudo scientific model  but basically, the government seem to be arguing that a lot of disabled people/people with long term conditions think (or pretend) they’re sick/disabled but they ain’t really. They just need a bit of a push to get ‘em off their backsides and back into the workplace. The ideal push is to overhaul the benefits system, remove the large numbers of people (BSBs) receiving lower rate of benefits and give TTDs a (slightly) bigger slice of the pie.

Sadly, it seems like a lot of the great British public are more than happy to swallow the ‘country is being dragged to its knees by this army of work-shy, thieving bastards’ line. Why that is, isn’t clear to me. But I bet anyone £1.20 that they’ve heard a version of the story “My next door neighbour is off sick… sick my arse” or “That toe rag from round the corner just got an enormous plasma tv and she ain’t worked for years” type stories on the bus, in the pub, at work, or pretty much anywhere. Any sign of flagging support for this thesis is quickly dealt with by sensational stories, such as Liddle’s ‘Pretend disabled really ARE sick’ (26/1/12, The Sun) or Dellingpole’s ‘The fake disabled are crippling our economy’ (Daily Telegraph blog, 26/1/12).

I’m sure some people do claim benefits/allowances when they shouldn’t. But I think it’s a very small number of people. We are social beings, after all. Work (whether paid or unpaid) is of central importance to our everyday lives. Not being able to work, through ill health or lack of jobs, is demoralising, depressing, frustrating, dissatisfying and can lead to feelings of meaningless.  Here’s an extract from an interview with a man diagnosed with Asperger syndrome*;

What do you with your days now then?

Waste time. I feel that I am wasting time. Make things to do really. I make things to do. There is no structure in my life. There is no structure. I don’t have to do anything, you know. It is not laziness I mean people could think it is laziness but it is to do with… I walk around in a sort of state of muddle, muddlement, you know, I am very often muddled… It sort of paralyses you. I don’t know if there is a better way to put it…. it is a lack of clarity, lack of clarity of thought. It is like a lack of perspicacity in my thought even…. You know I manage to fill my days. I fill my days in bloody Tesco’s and wandering around and reading bits and not reading anything properly in depth but just reading bits of this and bits of that you know. As I said, I have got the French and German newspapers and that. But it is all bits here and bits there. It is not, there is nothing constructive about it. Nothing structured about it. Nothing, you know, it is just filling in time.

I could go on and on, chucking out stats, referencing the Spartacus report (funded, researched and written by disabled people)  that lays bare the deceitful spin operated by the government in relation to the Welfare Reform Bill,  ask how the BSBs will be distinguished from TTDs in practice, demand to know how a cabinet made up of 23 millionaires (and probably 3 ‘pretty damn rich too’ ministers) can possibly have any understanding of the lives of  disabled/ill people, etc etc etc. But I won’t. I’ll just have a little thinky about how this will all pan out in the end.

According to Freud, getting back into the workplace (cough cough.. I know, I know… but let’s just pretend there are jobs for now, eh?) will ‘cure’ this group (AND help them bring up less feral children AND maintain their relationships). In practice of course, it will lead to (even more?) grinding, heartless, miserable, impoverished lives for a lot of people (and their families) and increasing health, social and economic inequalities between the rich and the poor.

And what about TTD? This gleamingly innocent, honest, worthy, hugely dependent group who will get a (well deserved) rise in their benefits? Well as far as I can see, they will be on a fast track to being patronised and pushed even further to the edges of society. After a few sensational, pathetic, heart wrenching stories are splashed across the media to make everyone feel better, of course.

*Interview extract from the Life on the Autism Spectrum section on Healthtalkonline.