It’s been well over a year since I’ve touched this blog, for shame. Am I just not interested in libraries anymore? Do I have nothing to say? Or am I allowing my thoughts to mundanely spill out of my head onto Twitter, laced with bile and sprinkled with a colourful eye rolls?
It’s probably the last one. I hope. Because in those 14 months, I’ve had two jobs. I’ve graduated and written about my dissertation in a special interest group newsletter. I’ve settled into a super fun (read: not without its annoyances) liminal space between sectors. I’ve had so many opinions about pop stars.
I actually started using Twitter long before my ‘library’ Twitter handle existed, and I continued to use a secret second persona to interact with a different (non-library) set of acquaintances for a while after Boolean Berry started yammering at librarians. My other handle was more in line with what a lot of casual users use Twitter for – more expletives, more whinging about a missed bus, more live-tweeting of senseless entertainment, more arguments. He stuck around for a while, but left the building around the same time my Facebook account did, and much for the same reasons: I was too angry, and I was too angry at the people on my timeline for no reason whatsoever. I had allowed social media to become an outlet for warped thoughts, and for tweets to be digital punching bags where I could rail against whoever or whatever was bugging me.
I was also super sick of baby pictures, body fascism, misogyny, and racism on my Facebook. But that’s a different matter, and one that thankfully doesn’t apply to the library world of Twitter.
There was a new problem now that the evil personal Twitter and the evil personal Facebook accounts were gone – where would I complain about things? Where would I go to make sure other people knew how angry and upset I was about literally everything ever? I mean, somebody had to know, right? I couldn’t just keep those thoughts to myself. I couldn’t seriously sit and untangle warped, negative thoughts when they could instead be healthily broadcast to unsuspecting strangers on the internet. What kind of idiot would process these things without some sort of braindead megaphone to blast them through? And so, personal interests and annoyances started to leak into my library Twitter account. And that enthusiasm and anger gave Boolean Berry a newfound vigour. Suddenly, he was kind of pissed.
Yesterday, Rosie made a long overdue and, to my mind, very prescient post about the unsocial aspects that she was beginning to see on social media and at library events. It’s something I’ve thought about for a while now, and it’s why I have little incentive to ever present at a conference or unconference: people can be biting in their critiques. A lot of us are quite, well, smug on Twitter. We stroke our egos by blithely namedropping theories and research without providing context, we express shock and awe at what we perceive as the poor practice of others, we roll our eyes at people doing things we don’t think they should be doing. I started to see instances where people – likely unintentionally – would use the perceived shortcomings and failings of others (named or unnamed) as a way to advertise their own competency and I began to wonder if I was guilty of the same. I used to pride myself on being part of a profession where people helped each other out, were nurturing, and could be diplomatic in their disagreements or concerns, but lately I’ve felt equally alienated from and a huge propagator of a culture of toxicity and discontent breeding discontent.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a lot of welcome and understandable discontent. I’m not saying we should all be fluffy bunnies and that, unlike me, others don’t have good reasons to be pissed. I think people are right to question neoliberalism (and I’m heartened to see this being done en masse), and I think paraprofessionals and new professionals are right to be angry at their dwindling opportunities for progression. I think game-changers are right to be angry at inertia and I think people who have learned what works through experience are right to be narked at people instigating change for the sake of appearing fresh. I think CILIP needed to change, and perhaps our anger during the ILPUK debacle was the necessary birth pain of something better. Perhaps some of us could have behaved less like children off their tits on Haribo and more like nurturing parents, in that case.
But I also think it’s possible to become so entrenched in discontent and anger that you offer little to anyone. Perhaps an angry tweet or a bit of sass is entertaining at times, especially if you fall on the right side of said sassy person’s wrath. But I noticed that I simply wasn’t tweeting about what I did at work anymore. I had fewer opinions about librarianship. I began to question if I even wanted to be a librarian, because I’d log in and think “I have nothing of worth to offer these people, and even worse, some of these people are really pissing me off with what they’re saying but I have no rebuttal.” I began to act like a bit of a problem rather than a solver.
There are a few things at work here, though none excuse ill manners and I hope won’t be seen as attempts to. I’ve had a rough year. My health is going through a rough patch. My living arrangements underwent a huge change. My mid-twenties confusion about what was right for my life reached its dull, protracted climax, horns blowing like an Inception trailer until everyone around me was deafened by my indecision and impostor syndrome. It’s a perfect storm to combine those things with professional storms and debates, as it is to combine a period of life change with a profession’s own period of change, and although we’re all sick of talking about the lines we draw between our professional selves and our personal selves (“Ugh, give it a rest” tweets a random stranger following this sentence), I began to wonder just how guilty I was of allowing the rage of my personal life to inform the rage of my professional persona. Had I begun to fight my professional battles drenched in the blood of my personal defeats and victories? Was I really running screaming into professional circles still angry about my neighbours singing Thrift Shop at 2am on a Wednesday? (I was, and they still do that, the bastards) Do I actually care so much about my job that I’m going to let it upset me on my own time? (I don’t, and I won’t)
I don’t think that Twitter causes this kind of behaviour, but I think Rosie might be onto something in that it lubricates these existing behaviours and gives people an outlet that can end up consuming not just discussions, but those people themselves. I’m not advocating mass Luddite conversion and Twittercide, or martyring yourself to the meanies of Twitter (because that meanie was me and you better recognise). But I personally am undertaking an experiment and welcoming a period of change and reflection in the face of people’s observations and my own. I’ll gladly be the first to say that sometimes I’m passive-aggressive, and sometimes you piss me off. Yeah, you. It was your preference for Pepsi over Coke that did it, what kind of monster drinks that stuff? Hang on, let me tweet this. “People who prefer Pepsi. #GoDrinkBleach #YourMum” Sometimes I’ve behaved poorly on Twitter, and it gets to the stage where you have to stop and think “yes, I have spent too long fighting monsters in 140 characters or less and now I too am a monster.”
So I have detoxed the Twitter side of Boolean Berry. It wasn’t enough for me to sign out; that asshole has been deactivated. (Though – and I recommend people use this feature – I did request an archive of my tweets for posterity and reference) Twitter makes me really nervous and jumpy and becomes a snazzy magnifier for anxiety. Is everyone talking about me? Why isn’t anyone talking about me? Why is everyone watching Strictly? Oh god, they’re all complaining about a type of person and that type of person is me! Ugh, do you know what I hate? Never mind, I’m telling Twitter. Oh god, I’ve inadvertently started an argument. Was I looking for this argument? God, I’m so angry I could cry. Wait, I’m arguing about what the coolest bird is. (It’s the blue-footed booby, guys) Eventually you have to recognise that a digital tool, despite its usefulness and popularity, and despite it being ‘where the action is’, isn’t healthy for you anymore. Sometimes the digital tool is you.
I’m also being clear with myself that closing a browser window doesn’t purge shitty behaviour. Hopefully I’ll still give certain hashtags a read, and I may create a sort of ghost account to haunt everyone quietly and read what they have to say (soft advertisement for the use of the ‘lists’ feature goes here) – I should be clear that I’m not trying to spit the dummy out and I’m not sick of hearing about what everyone is up to. Not at ALL. I’ve had some great discussions about glungecrust, I’ve learned awesome things about people working in different sectors, and I’ve followed conferences I wasn’t at. Twitter’s pretty cool, did you know that? Like, there’s all this stuff happening beyond the bitching and the pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston, who by the way, are both really annoying. Oh, you like them? Ya boo sucks to you. You’re probably a terrible person. Bet you hate freedom and kittens too.
But I’m trying out this new thing where I keep quiet, measuredly follow discussions, and take time to reflect before responding, perhaps in long form because I actually enjoy writing, and Twitter makes Ezra Pounds of us all, and some of us aren’t Ezra Pounds, you know? (I disagree with the idea that communicating in the written word is lesser than communicating in person, but that’s a personal preference – I think I have more to say and say it better when given time to write it at length) I’m also trying out this new thing where I just completely ignore things that I find distasteful or offensive, especially on Twitter, because life’s too short to whinge. Do I trust myself to do this? Well, usually I would, but not at the moment and I’d rather take measures to stop myself from giving in to the temptation of easy anger. Plus, it’s a ‘fun’ ‘experiment’ and gives me a chance to metaphorically start again and reinvent myself like the pop diva that I am. #Bangerz
I’m really sorry if I was an asshole to you, and I’m even sorrier if I was a total asshole to you and you were too stupid to even realise I was being an asshole, you big stupidface. Hopefully, with some space and some time (OBLIGATORY DOCTOR WHO REFERENCE), I’ll waste less of my day wringing my hands and will instead blog more about the things I love, both professional and non-professional (don’t worry, I’ll plonk my albums of the year and my opinions about Camus elsewhere). Even better, perhaps I’ll learn to be more reflective than reactionary – something that I think will help me professionally and personally.
I certainly hope that in the wake of the issue that Rosie and others have raised, we all start being nicer, start listening, and start giving ourselves space to breathe. As Rosie sagely and flawlessly quoted, “I ain’t gonna diss you on the internet, ‘cause my momma taught me better than that.” And at the end of the day, aren’t we all better than that? Beyonce can’t even seem to get this album out. We’re definitely better than that.
Stay sassy. You arseholes.