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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



online voices, twitter and register

I’ve been commenting a lot online recently. I’m enjoying getting a voice back on the Net, especially to talk about politics and other contentious topics.

Weirdly, I haven’t talked much on the Net in my own voice for years. My main voice on the Net for long long time was the NTK one, which is actually rather disengaged and aloof. Dave and I inherited a disdain for political drama by the time were doing NTK: on my side that came from the psychic damage of having to write Weekending and Spitting Image; on Dave’s I think it came from him from having to listen to people talking about writing for Weekending and fucking Spitting Image all day. Also I believe Dave thinks politics is an obscure branch of Earth Primatology. (I remember him noting the day after the landslide election that brought Labour and Tony Blair to power that maybe we should have mentioned it  once in that day’s NTK).

Anyway, because I was such a firebrand, he’d allow me to write one or two “worthy” news items a week, and I’d grudgingly allow him to write 3,000 words on chocolate anytime he wanted. In the NTK divorce, I got to bother people about the Open Rights Group (join now! Fight Peter Mandelson and meet Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre!), and he got to run SnackSpot (Confirmed sighting: Brannigans Roast Beef and Mustard/ Blue Diamond Jalapeno Smokehouse Almonds). So I got a little more worthy after NTK.

When I joined EFF, and put childish things behind me, I ended up dropping that voice too, and becoming even more worthy if that were possible. Weirdly, that meant becoming far less personally outspoken. I was EFF’s main domestic activist for a while, and in that position, you quickly realise that anything you say, even informally, stops being “Danny said blah” and becomes “The EFF’s Danny O’Brien stated”. It’s like walking around online with a loudhailer stuck to your mouth; you end up just not saying anything for fear of suddenly having headlines explaining how you’re worse than Karl Rove and Hitler combined.

I do, incidentally, think that matters have got better on that front in the years since then. When I wrote about public and private registers in conversations a million years ago, I predicted that eventually we’d get used to a more informal tone from public figures:

We’ll learn a kind of tolerance for the private conversation that is not aimed at us, and that overreacting to that tone will be a sign of social naivete.

I think that’s what Twitter is all about, and permits: it’s sort of magically translated the informal register of text messages into the public space, and for public figures, allowed them to get away with throwaway comments far more than before. (My current favourite: the star of Pimp Your Ride complaining about, joking about, and finally replicating, the “yo dawg, I herd you like X, so I put an Y in your Z so you can VERB while you VERB” meme he inspired.)

That said, my political speech right now are crazily messed up. Obviously there’s the whole libertarian embarrassment. Apart from anything else, libertarians online are like Jehovah’s Witnesses, and appear to be obliged to go knocking on every comment thread they see, selling copies of the Laissez-Faire Watchtower or whatever. I know that even flirting with that title has somehow required me to endlessly clarify apparently batshit notions to my more … orthodox friends. I know for instance that I spent several hours last night actively researching the economy of Somalia before concluding that, yes, it is actually fucked. But you know, I had to check, because WHO CAN TRUST THAT STATIST LACKEY THE BBC.

At the same time, however, I’ve also becoming intensely interested in privilege, feminism, racism and power inequities amongst groups. Yes, yes, very contradictory of me, I contain multitudes cool aren’t I cheers thanks. But that means I get to be in on those endless arguments too! Usually (but not always) on the other side!

We shall talk more on this topic tomorrow, because you are already bored. But I just wanted to let you know, buried down here, that I let the NTK voice on an outing this week on my twitterfeed.

So now you can quote me horribly out of context and get me into trouble. I am Hitler!

2 Responses to “online voices, twitter and register”

  1. Andrew Brown Says:

    Welcome back, Adolf. The vibe’s just not been the same without you.

  2. nick s Says:

    Yeah, about effing time.


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.