Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Creativity of Twitter

Decades ago, when my aunt bought a colour television, my cousins and my brother and I would cluster around the thing and watch documentaries about how paint was made. That uncritical mesmerisation didn't last long, but I do think the Beatles's Magical Mystery Tour could have been boring had we not watched it in colour, (all right, I admit, I found it really quite boring, if mysterious, even with the addition of colour [in fact, I wonder if the secret to quite a lot of modern art isn't simply that it is mysterious; Beckett, for example, is almost entirely dull, but almost hypnotically peculiar).

Oh dear, as so often, I am getting off the point.

Back to my aunt, who quite quickly became concerned that, sitting there in front of the box, staring at its multicoloured pictures, we were allowing our brains to rot. Afraid of the power of her new possession, she began sweeping in and turning off the set. "Let's revive the art of conversation", she would announce as she did so, triggering a mass stampede upstairs to our separate beds.

Lately I've noticed an alarm about "screens" being expressed that reminds me of my aunt's worried cries about her colour telly. One example that springs to mind is the article I read yesterday in which someone described going into a university common room he used to frequent some 20-odd years ago. Then, the place had been full of the noise of talk and laughter; now it was quiet - although he counted 34 students in there, all of them were "staring blankly into their screens".

The assumption being made is that all 34 were passively absorbing the dreaded "social media", comparing themselves with their 367 Facebook "friends"'s uploaded version of their lives, or plumbing the depths of troll world on Twitter. It didn't cross the writer's mind that any of the people in that room might be a) learning Hungarian on their telephone; b) reading the Irish Times, the UK Telegraph, the Spectator or any other publication; c) taking a MOOC on history, music, art or anatomy (or any of the other countless subjects available on-line).

I've spent quite a lot of time waiting for a friend who is having medical treatment lately - and, as invariably happens with medical treatment, the doctors are ALWAYS running late.*  What strikes me about this is how different being kept waiting is these days, now that I am in possession of a dreaded "screen".  In the old days, if you were organised, (not me, not always), and you remembered to bring something to read, it helped, but, if you found what you had brought was actually quite boring, you had no alternative.  You couldn't carry around the enormous variety of time passing activities that, thanks to the telephone in your pocket, you can today. On my telephone, I have language learning materials; countless books, magazines and newspapers; music; audiobooks; and even some downloaded video programmes. It is impossible to become bored, and surely that is nothing but absolutely great. Waiting time is no longer wasted - I cannot see a downside.

Oh, but what about that horrid thing called social media, I hear you counter. Well, I only know about Twitter, and as I've mentioned rather often before, for me it is usually a source of delight.

My latest story of the benign side of Twitter happened last week. I found this absolutely charming article in my favourite newspaper, viz The Irish Times. I tweeted it and, inspired by that article, a Twitter friend sent me their own response:

"It sits, sturdy and proud, on its own table. The imitation brown wood covering looks much as it always did, and the sheer size of the thing means it cannot fit into what should be its home. It’s my National microwave oven, and it’s just turned 31 years old.
We go back, my National and I. Purchased by my parents not long after I was born, it was a pleasingly modern convenience in our brand new house, presiding over a kitchen that also boasted a Vulcan dishwasher. Learning to tell the time by our analogue kitchen wall clock, I found the National exciting. Its changing green numerals were the promise of the future. When I became old enough to appreciate such things, its touch button control panel elicited questions my mother hadn’t herself considered. Was she not stunned at its ability to count in minutes, tens of seconds, to powers of variable intensity, to ‘sense’, all with no apparent mechanical connection between finger and result? Like the pink frilly dress lady with the nice smile inside the National Microwave Cookbook, I was captivated by its abilities.
Thanks to its tank-like construction, the National survived its journeys with the family, from city to country to city, between five houses. An introduction to computers and games consoles meant the National’s technical wonders diminished for me, and it regrettably became just part of the furniture. Quietly and dutifully, it cooked peas for all, reheated the leftovers, and made a wondrous chocolate self-saucing pudding. Thanks to its impressive height, it swallowed the largest of dishes and made a larger pudding than the recipe stated. There were always leftovers.
Its size was its eventual undoing. The house to which my family moved, and in which my parents still live, had a space designed for a lesser oven. Its successor from the same Matsushita parent, a Panasonic, had more features in a slightly smaller size. What the Panasonic lacked, however, was Japanese manufacture. Nothing could make up for that, and all grieved the National’s passing into the garage.
A few years later, after the Panasonic had burned through its third light bulb (which could only be replaced by the service centre, of course), I fell ill; deeply and catastrophically ill. With the Panasonic still at the service centre (they didn’t hurry about fitting a new bulb), the National made its triumphant return inside, to the only place it would fit: the laundry bench. Even after its successor came home, it stayed. The irrationality that drove me at the time would not permit using the same microwave oven as everyone else. Too many germs, you see. Living on microwaved custard and porridge, I asserted ownership over the National. My parents didn’t mention sending it back to the garage; they were simply too relieved to have an eating son once more.
Several years later, I took the National with me. We left home forever, together, and set up in a flat. The supplied combination microwave and conventional oven, its cheap and nasty origins plain from first sight, could not touch the now elderly giant. The National has now sat, imposing and grand, on its table for nearly five years. In that time, it has witnessed more suffering, despair, human change, and triumph than any kitchen appliance should see. Once hidden from others in the secrecy of my home, it is now admired by new friends, who mistake it for a conventional oven. Its black door, with the 'Genius' pressed in silver on the lower left corner, has an air of mystery. As much mystery as a microwave oven can possess, of course. Not all of it, though, has survived intact. Last year, the interior light expired. It had never been replaced, and the only available (Chinese) substitute globe will die before the rest of the National does. As with all good design, the fix was simple. A screw, a flap, a twist, and there was light to lighten the platter once more.
It is trite and lazy to remark that things aren’t made as they were. Obviousness doesn’t diminish truth, though. Its duties these days are light; reheating only. I tell myself it’s because I’m a good cook, and good cooks use cooktops and conventional ovens. If I’m honest, part of the reason is an attempt to prolong life. It might be slowly killing me with excess radiation, but there will not be another microwave oven like my National. I will miss it when it goes."

Thanks to Twitter this lovely piece of writing came into being. How can that be bad?

*Don't the medical profession understand that their casualness about our time is what makes some of us avoid them wherever possible, for fear of having our entire lives subsumed by their hopeless time keeping and demands for punctuality on our part?

PS I should add that I have my Twitter friend's permission to include this enviably beautiful piece of writing here.

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