Lockdown is making it even harder to escape from our online echo chambers
First it was toilet rolls. Then eggs and paracetamol. And now, the gravest shortage of all: podcast microphone kits. Except for those at the stratospherically expensive top-of-the-range, you cannot get one for love nor Andrex.
This is disturbing news. The outbreak of shonky podcasts by fellas sat at their kitchen table is set to soar, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. We will have to wait until they bore themselves out of the habit, long after they’ve bored everyone else. It could take a while. I suspect that the tedium curve won’t get flattened for months, probably not before Christmas, when they’ll get some shiny new bit of kit to play with instead, and the podcast mike will be banished to the back of the cupboard, between the iPod, the camcorder and the dead Nokias. It’s going to be a long, dark haul.
It was John Sergeant who coined the deadly assessment of Gordon Brown that he was “all transmit and no receive”. The audience – it was on Have I Got News For You – laughed heartily in recognition, for it chimed perfectly with what niggled us most about the then Chancellor. But that was fifteen years ago, and since then, we’ve all gone the same way.
I realise the risk – yet again – of sounding like a curmudgeonly old git, and also the blazing hypocrisy of using my ninth ‘lockdown diary’ soliloquy to say so, but I’m increasingly of the certainty that the virus likely to kill us all is not Covid-19, but solipsism. We are so busy tweeting, posting, blogging, podcasting and filming our every brain fart, we’ve forgotten how to stand back, to be still, to absorb.
Most of all, we’re forgetting how to listen and by extension, how to converse. We don’t (perhaps we can’t?) do dialogue any more; just one uninterrupted, often indignant, monologue after another. On phone apps, the trend is for far fewer two-way conversations. Instead, people swap voicemails, back and forward, to and fro, like a crescendo of grunts in a long rally at Wimbledon.
There have been growing warnings over recent years that we are all retreating deeper into our own echo chambers, surrounding ourselves – online especially – only with the views we already agree with. This is solipsism’s big brother, extreme tribalism where facts are entirely subordinate to feelings. Has this awful crisis made you change your mind about anything or anyone, or has it only confirmed everything you already thought? If it’s the latter, then you might just be the problem. “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”, wrote Jonathan Swift, and that was three hundred years before Twitter.
Lockdown has made the concept of the echo chamber eerily manifest. Rattling around our houses, increasingly scared of the world outside and each other, we might call them echo chambers, or gilded cages, or even padded cells, but the effect is the same: all transmit, no receive. In just six short weeks, we’ve all slightly become that figure of derision, the pasty geek sat in his pants in a musty bedsit and tapping furious bile into his laptop.
I feel it every time I check Twitter, a habit that I’ve managed to get down to only every fourteen seconds. Once I open the bloody thing, I just cannot let go of its twisted grip. It’s been obvious for ages that for all the fine things on there, the driving force of the site is as a gargantuan sewer, raging and rushing us all in a torrent of slurry towards the bubbling fiery pit. And it’s equally clear that that is no unfortunate side effect, but its entire business model.
At first, I pictured Twitter as a huge and rowdy party, The Great Gatsby for the twenty-first century. Most of the people there were just great, and had such a lot of interesting things to share. The lights dazzled, the music pulsed. Laughter tinkled into the night.
Unfortunately, there were one or two drunken idiots shouting abuse from behind the bins. If we’d ignored them, they’d have fallen asleep by now, but the hosts decided to give them the karaoke microphone instead, for a laugh they said, and now we can’t get it off them, and we can’t shut them up. Worse: so many of the good people have joined in too, and have gathered in gangs under the cloak of darkness to holler along with the drunkards, or to scream abuse at them. Trouble is, at that volume, it’s impossible to tell the difference.
Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below: