The Remains of the Day

November 2017: Twitter controversy & reading recommendation

I’ve written five articles over the past month on Stuff, New Zealand’s largest news website. By far the most contentious was my column on Twitter, about how the tone of conversation on Twitter has gone from banal to brutal over the past decade. The point I was trying to make was that it is almost impossible to have a constructive dialogue on Twitter in 2017, because of the amount of outrage and invective on the site – a lot of it coming from anonymous users. I also noted that mainstream media contributes to this dire situation, in its use of provocation to garner attention (pun intended, for kiwi readers).

The feedback I got on Twitter to my column proved my point, in that the general tone was objectionable. That said, some of the feedback changed my mind about Twitter’s value. In a follow-up column, I quoted a number of Twitter’s current wave of heavy users. They told me why outrage was necessary and why Twitter was the right place for it. In short, I discovered that Twitter has become the public platform of choice for people who aren’t as privileged as me. I concluded from all this that Twitter is a necessary, albeit sometimes not very pleasant, barometer of our current era.

I’ll add that I’ve never been a heavy Twitter user myself, despite having had an account since April 2007 (first using @RWW as my handle, and later @ricmac). I’m not one of those ‘think out loud’ type people, so Twitter has never suited my more contemplative style. But in 2017, my usage of Twitter has declined even further – mainly due to the problems I identified in the first column. Although I now recognize the value of Twitter as a social barometer, I still think the company must address the civility issues it has. IMHO, of course.

My other articles last month were about Bitcoin, blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. All highly relevant tech trends in 2017, and topics I regularly explore in my Stuff column.

Reading Recommendation: Kazuo Ishiguro

Last month one of my favourite writers, the British author Kazuo Ishiguro, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of the things I like best about Ishiguro is how he crosses genre boundaries. His 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, veered into science fiction territory. His next book, 2015’s The Buried Giant, featured a dragon and was thus categorized as fantasy. But as he put it in a fabulous conversation with fellow author Neil Gaiman, “I’m against any kind of imagination police, whether they’re coming from marketing reasons or from class snobbery.”

Speaking of class systems, recently I read Ishiguro’s 1989 novel The Remains of the Day for the first time. The novel is narrated by an english butler, Stevens. Firstly, Ishiguro nails the first person point of view far, far better than I did in Presence! He also ingeniously wraps a deeply personal story (Stevens’ missed opportunities for love) within a story about class and political machinations. I watched the movie version a few days after I’d finished the book, but this is yet another case where the book is much better than the movie. Despite Anthony Hopkin’s sympathetic portrayal of Stevens, the novel gets right inside Stevens’ head and into his consciousness. I found the book very moving.

That’s it for another month. I’m happy to converse with you on Twitter, as long as you don’t yell at me.

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