I haven’t wasted my time off Twitter. Oh no. Never. I’ve sent various emails and also updated my CV. I’m available for work if anyone fancies hiring me to do things. I’m a social media guru. I’m followed on Twitter by Charlie Brooker. That’s got to be worth 5o grand a year.

But I’ve mainly spent time being Greg as opposed to being themanwhofellasleep, which is time well spent. I also met Ricky Villa. I’ll write about that properly some other time.

I’ve done some stuff that involves words and pictures. It was, like most things, an accident. I will continue to add pictures when I feel like it:  http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/londontales.html

Oh, and for those who missed my last book quiz at the Big Green Bookshop and want to have a go at home, here are the questions: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/questions_nov.doc and here are the answers: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/answers_nov.doc

I may return to Twitter soon. I’ve quite enjoyed my break. It’s odd because yesterday I had a quick peek from behind the curtains and it looked ridiculous. Like a load of grown men dressed as worms having an argument about X Factor. I felt a twinge.


Some people think their heart has been broken. Maybe they are right. My heart has never been broken. Nothing so melodramatic.

The heart is a stone. And life is the ocean. And over the course of thousands of mornings and afternoons and nights, the tide of life, the ebb and flow of disappointment and expectation erodes the heart, until it hardly resembles a heart at all. It’s a smooth, flat stone; a lozenge of indifference. It remains whole, intact, a miniature version of its former self, a poetic afterthought.

It happens so softy, so slowly, that we hardly notice. There is no moment of truth; no epiphany. There is no fracture, just the inevitable dimming of hope. The featureless surrender to the everyday. It is a small thing; a bored afternoon, a misplaced laugh, an anonymous evening. It is a small thing lost in an ocean.

Stephen Fry’s opinions are not important

I’ve never been a particular fan of Stephen Fry. I think he’s a moderately talented man, but I can’t for the life of me work out why he’s considered a genius or a national treasure.

He’s clearly an intelligent, sensitive man. I admire his openness about mental illness. He champions many good causes. But he doesn’t seem like a genius to me. About ten years ago I read a couple of his novels. They were passable but nothing amazing. I could list many contemporary British novelists who write far better than he does but don’t get half as much exposure. He’s a good but not great comic actor. He’s a decent but undistinguished director. His documentaries tend to be crowd-pleasing middle-brow exercises (“I’ll drive around America. Me! Stephen Fry! With rednecks! And gangsta rappers!”). His journalism is solid but no more than that. He’s a good quiz show host. It’s not that he’s terrible at any of the things he does, it’s just that I don’t think he’s particularly great at them either – were he not already an established television star I can’t think that his novels would have garnered anything more than a small but loyal following.

Perhaps his real talent lies in the crafting of his own persona: that of an eccentric English boffin, reassuringly upper-class but never snootily posh, a loveable professor: the type who wanders Oxford in tweed and corderoy, undisturbed by the modern world. He’s a comforting image of an England many believe has passed away. We can listen to him on Radio 4, sipping our tea and murmuring, “Oh, Stephen is so terribly clever,” as we think of a more pleasant, civilized time, when David Niven and Roger Livesey strolled through Michael Powell fields.

I should state that there’s nothing wrong with this. As I’ve mentioned, I think he’s a bright, fairly talented man. The fact that many people seem to think he’s a genius is hardly his fault. If people were calling me a genius I wouldn’t be in a hurry to correct them.

Anyway, I’m not naturally predisposed towards Stephen Fry. We’ve established that. Which brings us up to the events of this week, when The Guardian published an article criticising him for an interview in Attitude magazine in which he waffled on for a couple of paragraphs about the fact that he didn’t think women enjoyed sex as much as men did.

I found myself sympathising with him, at least initially.

The whole furore has been ridiculous. Mostly because it doesn’t fucking matter. It’s just his opinion. He’s just some bloke. He’s not The Pope or an elected official. He’s one man and it’s his opinion on female and male sexuality. It’s not as though he’s demanding women be stoned to death or have their right to vote rescinded. From the outcry in some papers, you’d think he was a leading Feminist Gender Theorist who had suddenly gone mad and claimed women must be circumcised. This being Broadsheetland, rather than a muted shrug of indifference, there’s been countless articles about just how much women love sex and what a terrible man Stephen Fry is, as though the women of Britain were unable to have sexual fun without a waspish columnist in The Independent telling them that nasty Mr Fry was wrong, and that ladies really do love orgasms. I think Stephen Fry’s comments were a bit stupid, but I don’t think he’s suddenly some mysognistic monster, sneering down at women from a massive cock-shaped altar. To repeat: He’s a man voicing his opinion. You do not have to agree with him. You can ignore him.

The whole reaction depresses me because it seems emblematic of a climate in which the perameters for debate are so narrow that anything outside the stifling consensus is seen as a heretical attack that deserves at least one stern slapdown from Rosie Boycott. The tone of some of the newspaper pieces has made it sound like he’s commited a crime, rather than make an observation. It makes me want to write an article claiming that women do not enjoy fisting puppies, just so someone can sternly counter with “ALL women enjoy fisting puppies, you patriarchal monster!”

However, the newspapers’ reactions have not been as annoying as those of Fry himself. He claimed to be misquoted and then flounced off Twitter, saying that he’d been treated like the Antichrist. Generally speaking, when someone has been misquoted, they tell the public what they actually said. Stephen Fry hasn’t done this, which leads me to believe he wasn’t misquoted; he just wasn’t expecting The Spanish Inquisition. As for the reaction from the press, well of course it’s over-the-top, but he should expect that. He’s not some naive 17-year-old X Factor finalist – he’s a fiftysomething man who has worked as a journalist and has decades of experience in the public eye. He seems to think that giving an interview to Attitude – a gay magazine – doesn’t count as a public statement and that he doesn’t have to stand by his words. It’s almost as though he’s saying: “Oh, I was talking to the gays. I didn’t realise the straights were also going to read it.” If you do an interview with a magazine (in which you are the cover star) you can’t act surprised when the quotes are picked up in the mainstream press. And since he’s spent the last decade riding a wave of relentless self-promotion (I can’t help but think that a book of Oscar Wilde stories should have Oscar Wilde on the cover, rather than Stephen Fry) he can hardly be surprised when national newspapers follow stories about him. And since he himself hasn’t been averse to giving celebrities or journalists a metaphorical kicking when they have said things he’s disagreed with, he can’t grumble too much.

Quitting Twitter seemed like the action of a child taking home his bat and ball because not everyone loves him. No doubt he will return at some point. He did last time. If I were him, rather than saying I’d been misquoted or treated like the Antichrist, I would explain that it was just opinion. That actually, Stephen Fry’s opinion on female sexuality doesn’t matter; that actually, Stephen Fry’s opinions on most things don’t matter. That women will continue enjoying or hating sex whatever Stephen Fry or Rosie Boycott or anyone else says. That Stephen Fry is not God or Jesus, the Antichrist or a genius. He’s just a normal, flawed human being, the same as the rest of us.


A few days ago I was having an argument with Rhodri Marsden on Twitter about how the mainstream press rips content off the internet without crediting or paying the original creators. I was arguing that the mainstream press treats the Internet as a treasure trove of material it can “borrow” without payment. I was mostly refering to text. Anyway, I forgot about the argument until tonight…

Back in 2004 I was playing around with a technique in Photoshop that involved tracing people. I’d always enjoyed drawing/tracing and generally fucking around with photos. This time I decided to trace a person but leave the background intact. It looked good. The figures had an odd, slightly spectral quality. I assumed loads of other people would have already used the same technique, but I couldn’t actually find any examples. There were lots of traced or rotoscoped images, but none in which the background had been left untraced. Similarly, there were lots of instances where cartoon characters had been drawn on photographic backgrounds, but none where a real photographed figure had been “removed” through drawing. Hooray.

I did about 10 or 12 of these images, either using family snapshots or photos I’d found on the internet.

I gathered them together and made a gallery for them on my website. I called them: Invisibilia. Boosted by an unashamedly pretentious piece of introductory prose (I’ve since toned it down) the pictures turned out to be really successful, with loads of linkblogs (this was the days before Facebook and Twitter) pointing traffic towards my website.

People really liked the pictures. I did get quite a few comments saying that the pictures were reminiscent of the classic A-HA video for Take On Me. In fact, the Take On Me video is more like rotoscoping. There’s lots of tracing and there’s merging of live-action and animation but the visual style is very different – a loose, sketchy pencil style – and a lot of the video is just old-fashioned animation with no photography involved.

I kept getting emails asking me how to recreate the style, so In 2005 I created a simple photoshop tutorial explaining how I did it. Over time, the Invisibilia series has been linked to thousands of times, and thanks to the tutorial, lots of people have tried their own versions of Invisibilia pics, as this Flickr search demonstrates.

Since then I’ve continued to do the Invisibilia pictures – because I enjoy it. Even when I’m sick of writing, I rarely get sick of drawing.  I stopped using photos from the Internet and started using only my own source photos. And the pictures continue to be very successful, as these links suggest.

This afternoon I was at my mother’s house and happened to see the back cover of this week’s Time Out London magazine. The back cover was an advert for Madrid, courtesy of The Spanish Tourist Board. It looks like this:

In terms of style and overall effect, it is very, very similar to my Invisibilia pictures. And the odd thing is that the advert doesn’t really explain itself – it’s not really apparent what the point of the ad is. It’s almost as though a designer has just said: “Hey, this is a good visual gimmick, let’s use it on an advert” and the client has agreed.

Now, I am not saying that whoever designed the advert ripped me off. It’s entirely possible that they developed the style independently. More importantly, is it even possible to “rip off” someone’s style? All artists borrow techniques and styles from one another. One artist will paint lines inspired by Picasso, another will use brushstrokes taken from Cezanne. There’s always been a lot of debate in the world of comics as to when a tribute becomes a blatant steal. And it’s not like I was the first person to trace someone in Photoshop. Still, the overall effect of the advert is oddly similar to that of the Invisibilia pics. And the advertising industry has a very bad reputation when it comes to borrowing ideas from artists and writers. There are whole blogs dedicated to pointing out the similarities between original work and copycat adverts.

I don’t know if I have a leg to stand on or not. Maybe the designer just saw the Invisibilia pictures and decided to do some of their own. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Anyway, I am curious to investigate, so on Monday I’m going to try to find out which agency commissioned the ad. We shall see where it leads…

10 Twitter rules

I don’t want to turn this blog into endless reflections on Twitter, but it’s something I feel comfortable writing about, as opposed to the millions of things I currently feel uncomfortable writing about. I’ll save those for another time.

So I thought I’d write a few rules for Twitter. Of course, aside from the obvious legal terms and conditions, there are no rules for Twitter. Everyone uses Twitter in different ways, and what one person considers acceptable another person will consider taboo. But despite this, a set a accepted/acceptable behaviours has evolved, at least with the people I interact with on Twitter. Anyway, I wouldn’t really be so pompous as to say these are rules. They are just suggestions. Ok, in no particular order of importance…

Rule #1: Do not ask people to follow you

I get this quite a lot. I tweet something. Someone replies (let’s call them @MrZingPopper) and I reply. This happens a few times over a few days. Then one evening @MrZingPopper tweets: “Hey, dude! Will you follow me?” And it gets awkward. Either I ignore the tweet or I politely decline. Sometimes I explain the following: Be yourself. It helps if you are naturally clever, original or stunningly attractive. Be yourself and maybe I’ll follow you. Maybe I won’t. If someone is consistently clever, funny or interesting when they reply to me, then I’ll probably follow them, at least for a while. The vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are people who interacted with me: I liked what they said, so I followed them. You cannot force someone to follow you and emotional blackmail always fails.

Similarly, do not say: “We’ve met in real life. You have to follow me.” or “You follow all my friends. Why don’t you follow me?” Twitter is not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship of the individual.

Rule#2: Do not be offended if someone unfollows you

There are services that tell you who unfollows you. I don’t use these services. I never would. I don’t blame anyone for unfollowing me. I know I tweet a lot and I know it’s not always to everyone’s taste. No-one is obliged to follow me. I know friends who I get on with brilliantly in real life but they don’t follow me on Twitter because I fill up their timeline with junk.

If someone stops following you, it’s their choice. You can be offended if you want, but I’d recommend keeping it to yourself or looking like a tit.

Rule #3: If you are going to unfollow someone, just do it

Every so often I get a tweet along the lines of “So pleased I’ve unfollowed @themanwhofell” or “@themanwhofell – I was told you’re really funny. You aren’t! Bye”. It’s just rude. We all find people on Twitter who are disappointing or whose tweets we get sick of. So we unfollow them. But in the vast majority of cases, these people haven’t begged you to follow then. You have followed them freely and of your own will, so if you don’t enjoy their tweets it’s not their fault. Twitter isn’t a contract whereby someone is obliged to entertain you – if you don’t like their tweets, quietly disappear and follow someone else.

Rule #4: Be discreet

If you want to slag off a public figure on Twitter, there are two ways you can do it. You can say: “Stephen Fry is boring.” or you could say: “I think @stephenfry is boring.”  The first is addressed to your followers. The second is an insulted hurled directly at Stephen Fry. Which is rude, even if you do think Stephen Fry is boring (which I do). Some people would argue that the latter is better, because it’s more upfront. But Twitter isn’t about being upfront. It’s about millions of concurrent conversations. One of the unhappy byproducts of Big Brother and other forms of reality TV is that being honest and upfront is valued more than being discreet, which is seen as being sneaky or  “talking behind someone’s back”. All insults are permissable as long as they are hurled directly into someone’s face with a side bowl of spittle. But Twitter isn’t Big Brother and whereas on Big Brother if you discreetly tell someone you think Stephen Fry is boring it will be broadcast to millions and your attempt at discretion will backfire, on Twitter it will normally just disappear into the ether. So be discreet. Which brings us on to…

Rule #5: Beware who is watching

We often fall into the trap of thinking that Twitter is a private conversation. It’s not. Unless you protect your tweets, then anyone with an internet connection can read what you are writing. So be careful what you write, especially when it comes to public figures. Many celebrities have automated searches set up so that they can see every mention of their name. This is a particularly stupid thing to do, but it goes on. It’s stupid because if you are public figures people will tweet about you a great deal and often what is written isn’t very complimentary. My feeling is that negative tweets will either be insulting: “I think Duncan Bannatyne is a twat.” or slanderous: “Duncan Bannatyne steals from pensioners”. And whereas the first is fair comment, the second is potentially very problematic. We are free to form our own opinions on public figures, but we cannot spread lies about them.

The real problem is the question of context. Most things on Twitter are offensive when taken out of context. The vast amount of people on Twitter are young people (I use the word “young” loosely), bored at work, making jokes and passing the time. If a group of people were sitting in an office, or a pub, making bad puns or cracking jokes about Richard Madeley, the chances of Richard Madeley hiding in the corner of the pub and overhearing one of these jokes out of context would be very low. On Twitter this isn’t the case. There are ears everywhere.

We all view Twitter through our own prism. I may be tweeting with @iamjamesward, @wowser, @wh1sks and @debsa on a Friday night and we may be drunkenly conjuring up a fictional sitcom in which Richard Madeley and Duncan Bannatyne run an undertakers in Grimsby. Someone will tweet: “Richard likes to finger the recently deceased corpses.” and I might reply with: “After a few drinks Duncan Bannatyne angrily punches pensioners.” It’s just a ridiculous comedy conceit and that is clear to anyone who follows us. But what if Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t follow us? What if he just has an automated search set up for his name? All he will see is an isolated tweet in which I’ve said that he punches pensioners and may have a drink problem. And he’ll probably get irate. And then it gets nasty.

As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Twitter isn’t lots of little closed rooms. It’s one massive room with everyone gathered in tiny circles, thinking that they are chatting among themselves. And in one circle it’ll be a group of pissed-up students, and in another circle it’ll be a group of earnest political journalists, and in another group it’ll be a group of social media gurus wanking each other off. And everyone is having fun. But at any given point anything anyone tweets can be seen in isolation, separate from its context. And it can look very bad. So be careful what you say. If someone takes offence, try to explain the context in which it was tweeted. And remember that saying: “It’s just Twitter” isn’t a defence. You have made a statement about someone. Be prepared to back it up, explain it, or apologise.

Rule #6: Do not snitch

Let’s imagine that I am taking the piss out of Gregg Wallace from Masterchef. It’s unlikely, I know. Imagine that I have drawn a stupid picture of Gregg Wallace, which I then tweet. I do not tweet Gregg Wallace himself because a) I do not want to offend him and b) it’s none of his business. The picture is retweeted and eventually some bright spark (lets call him @BemGood) decides to retweet the picture, including Gregg Wallace’s username into the tweet so he can see it. If this were done because @BemGoo thought that the picture was a dreadful insult and Gregg Wallace should be able to defend himself, then fair enough. But normally that’s not the case. It turns out that @BemGood assumes that I didn’t know that Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and that I will be extraordinarily pleased that not only has he found Gregg Wallace, but he’s directed my tweet straight to him! Brilliant! Except I already knew Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and deliberately decided not to tweet him.  And @BemGood is a dick.

Rule #7: Do your own dirty work

If you are a celebrity, or even if you’re just a bloke who sits in a room all day and has 8000 followers, you have a certain degree of influence. And that means that a lot of your followers will be slavish, brain-dead idiots who are desperate to ingratiate themselves with you. And this means that if the celebrity gets into an argument with @TheGasManBimbo12 and tweets “@TheGasManBimbo12 is a troublemaker who called me an arse!” then a certain proportion of your followers, being slavish, brain-dead idiots, will then decide to make life a misery for @TheGasManBimbo12, tweeting them all sorts of insults and death-threats and the like. It happens. I once got into an argument on Twitter with a mentally unstable woman on Twitter who was spreading lies that I was a BNP supporter. I repeatedly had to explain to my followers that it was my battle to fight and I didn’t want them causing trouble on my behalf. Because I’m not a bully. But also because I wanted to win the argument by being right, as opposed to winning because I had more followers than her. Anyone can win an argument on Twitter by having more followers than someone else and hounding them into submission. What I dislike most about this tactic is that it is underhand. The celebrity can wash their hands of it and say “I never told my followers to do anything.” They never have to.

Rule #8: Ignore the obvious joke

Being occasionally funny on Twitter, I get a lot of people trying to impress me by being funny. It normally manifests itself by me asking a sensible questions and getting 200 wacky “comedy” answers. At a recent event, I wanted to show Twitter in action so I asked a banal question: “What is your favourite crisp?” Lots of people gave their answers and it was interesting (depending on your level of interest in crisps). But about 40 people all answered Quentin Crisp. And the irony is that the people who were serious all gave different answers, whereas the people who all wanted to be different ended up all giving the same answer. So please, avoid the obvious joke.

Rule #9: Avoid rubbish hashtag campaigns

This is a controversial one. Some people think Twitter is an amazing way of bringing injustice to light and creating new forms of social activism. Maybe. But a lot of the time it’s a cheap way to sling about slogans without any reasonable debate. Because Twitter is great for many things, but it’s not an amazing place for in-depth debate. More than that, these hashtags tend to be promoted by the same smug, self-righteous idiots and they simply preach to the converted. A year or so ago, there were people using #smashtheBNP on their tweets. A noble aim, but there’s very few things more pointless than a load of liberal, middle-class Guardian readers tweeting each other to say that the BNP are nasty. They hardly represent the core demographic of the BNP. Some would argue that if these hashtags don’t do any good, at least they don’t do any harm. I would disagree, in that they lull people into a false sense of security, first of all that their views are shared by a wider population, and second of all that they don’t have to actually get out on the streets and protest, because they have added a hashtag to their tweets. We all tweet within our own little bubble, and these bubbles often have little relationship with wider reality. If you were to judge politics by the people I follow on Twitter, you would have thought that Labour had won the last general election by 97%, with the Lib Dem and Conservatives sharing 3%. In real life it didn’t work out like that.

Rule #10: Avoid hashtag games

Ah, once again, the dreaded hashtag. When I first joined Twitter I followed someone (A British comedian. I can’t remember who it was.) and was horrified to find their entire timeline was a massive list of weak puns. And then I realised that after each pun was a hashtag (it could have been anything: UnderwaterBeatles, ITVporn, BaconLyrics, invent your own…) Lost of people see the hashtag as a license to remove all quality control filters. If the news that the BBC budget has been slashed, I can see the point of one quality pun about a budget TV show (No Cash In The Attic, etc) but people don’t do just one pun. They feel that because there’s hashtags attached to their tweet, they can churn out 40 weak puns. It’s like being next to an idiot at a party who makes no attempt at conversation and stands there listing every possible combination of budget BBC show. Eventually you just want to kill them.

(Rule #11: Make up your own rules

I can’t do all the work.)

Social Media and Digital Narcissism

This evening I gave a speech at Media and the Inner World about Social Media and Digital Narcissism –  a topic I may be overqualified to talk about. It was fun. Surreal and disarming, but enoyable.

There were three of us speaking: Me, my friend Galit, who invited me to speak in the first place  and then bravely stepped in when someone else cried off sick, and a psychotherapist called Dr Jay Watts. I was speaking neither as an academic nor a psychotherapist, but as a “social media user”. I went first and read my piece. It seemed to go down well, and after we’d all spoken, there were questions. I fielded quite a lot of them, in the same manner that Homer fielded questions at the press conference in the Simpsons episode in which he’s an astronaut. Amazingly, most of the time I knew what I was talking about. Some of the people in the audience were my age. Some of them were older and clearly had no idea how Twitter worked. (“is that your Twitter? It’s much bigger than I thought it would be. Can I touch it?”) I thought it would be funny to have Tweetdeck up in the background during my speech. I told Twitter this and they responded as I’d hoped by filling my Twitter with swear words and innuendo.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, here’s the text. If it seems familiar, it’s because lots of it is bastardised from a blog I wrote a few months back. Recycle, recycle:

I should state first of all that I’m not an expert on social media, other than the fact that I use it a lot. And I’m not an expert on the inner mind, despite my mother being a psychoanalyst. But I thought it would be interesting to share my experiences of Twitter and how I use it, first of all as a writer and second of all, as a human being. I suppose it is a basic introduction to social media, identity and how they relate to me. If this speech seems unfocused and lacking in structure – don’t worry, this is a particularly effective illustration of the effects of Twitter.

I always assumed I would become a writer of some kind, although the idea of writing a manuscript in a lonely bedroom and sending it off to some publisher or agent just for it to sit in a dusty drawer for months on end. So when the internet turned up, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to bypass the normal conventions and write directly to whatever audience was out there.

When I first got a PC, there was no broadband. There were no blogs. There was no facebook. There was no Twitter. I used a dial-up modem and my website was built entirely in HTML. It would take me hours to write  a page, and when I’d finished it, it just sat there on the net. This wasn’t web 2.0. There was nowhere for me to announce that a new page was up, aside from the website itself. There was no way for people to leave comments, aside from a rudimentary guest-book that rapidly filled up with spam. Once every few months I might get an email from someone who liked my website.

So, when I wrote a page I was dimly aware of an audience, but they weren’t in the forefront of my mind. And as such, I didn’t pander to them. When I wrote a page of fiction, I would allow the ideas to coalesce and gestate in my mind before I uploaded the finished article. If I disliked what I’d written, I would go back and amend it. In terms of the creative process, it wasn’t too different from the old-fashioned process of writing a book. 

Then I got a messageboard on my website, and I found that every time I’d written a new page or chapter, I would alert the messageboard members and they would swoon and flatter me and tell me how funny it was. In fact, it was more fun just writing to my messageboard friends than actually writing fiction. 

Time passed and web 2.0 crept up on us. I got a myspace page and a blog, and soon I found myself writing less and less fiction on my website, because it was easier to write about what I had for dinner or what I’d watched on TV and get feedback (comments! Praise!) straight away. I liked this. It fed my ego immediately. No wait. Instant delivery! Still, despite these distractions, in 2006 I managed to get my first novel published.

Then along came Twitter. And I’ve made good use of Twitter. I’ve befriended celebrities, I’ve done live coverage of Masterchef, I’ve done sex surveys, I’ve been stalked by the ex-wife of an England player. I’ve been blocked by Richard Madeley. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. But if facebook or myspace are cocaine, then Twitter is crack. It is the ultimate distillation of social media. Instant, open, with a global reach, yet also personal, intimate and tightly structured. It turned out I’d been waiting all my life for Twitter and that I was really, really good at it. Suddenly I didn’t have to write fiction. I didn’t even have to compose proper blog entries. I could just bang out reams and reams of tiny messages and before I’d even started writing a tweet I’d be getting a response about the previous one. A constant, unending stream of attention and feedback. Of course, the way I use Twitter, there’s no time or space for ideas to develop in my mind. Bang! One idea! Bang! Another idea. No editing, no thinking, just a constant stream. In some ways this is no bad thing. Twitter is particularly suited to my mind. (As my ex-girlfriend and I discussed, different people use their brains in different ways. Her brain fermented over time, like beer. Mine fizzed and popped like coca-cola). Twitter is a brilliant place for me to spit out a hundred different ideas a day. Of course, the problem is that it stops me doing other things: it prevents me playing the long game. Why bother crafting away in silence, waiting weeks or months for feedback and approval, when I can get hundreds of messages a day, all about ME, ME, ME. 

In the four years since I wrote my first novel, friends and peers have finished their second and third books. They have stepped away from the pits of instant self-gratification and immersed themselves in things that take time: plot, character, imagery, visions, revisions, editing, correcting, polishing. And it’s something I find almost impossible to do. Aside from work, this speech is probably the longest thing I’ve written in months. And even now, my brain hurts.

This is, I think, the real danger of social media and Twitter. Not that the internet is full of pedophiles or rapists, or that social media users become pallid ghouls unable to have a conversation in real life. Just that it changes the inner landscape. First of all, it changes the way I process information. Or to be more precise, I no longer process information – I merely consume it. I speed read hundreds of bits of articles a day, absorbing lots of information, but rarely actually thinking about it. Instead it is simply instantly transformed into a series of rapid-fire punchlines and pithy one-liners. I find myself refreshing pages over and over again, waiting for more news, desperate for change, for a status update. I find it harder to concentrate. When I’m watching football or a film, I find myself checking Twitter on my phone or looking at Facebook.

There was an experiment years ago – I can’t remember the details, but it involved a mouse. The mouse had a chip implanted into its brain, and when it pressed a certain button in its cage, the chip stimulated the mouse’s brain and gave it a hit of pleasure. And eventually, the mouse just pressed the button all day, without doing anything else. Inevitably, the mouse died of starvation. In slightly less melodramatic terms, that’s how I approach the internet and social media. The buzz of interaction and feedback – of approval – overrides all my other needs and everything else, friends, relationships, family is allowed to wither. And of course, the vagaries and ambivalence of human relationships are never as instantly gratifying as a random stranger on the internet bestowing unqualified approval. The wonderful and terrifying thing about social media is how ruthlessly quantifiable it is. Followers, fans and mentions can all be counted. It’s rarely about the quality of relationships, only the quantity. 

The other way in which my inner landscape has changed is that I no longer have any inner monologue. Instead, I have Twitter. If I have a thought, before I am even aware of it, I find myself editing it down to 140 characters and reshaping it, lopping off the messy parts that don’t fit neatly with my established online brand identity. Rather than having a thought and passively reflecting upon it, turning it over in my mind, examining it, I find myself packaging it as a product: a tiny parcel of characters to be consumed by my hungry followers. Which begs the question: what happens to the other thoughts of mine? The difficult thoughts, the ambivalent thoughts, the repulsive thoughts, the thoughts too complicated to be reduced to a tweet. They are labeled low priority and sent to the back office of my mind. And I’m not sure I like that. 

Of course, nowadays, Twitter like so many other things, is mobile. I don’t have to be at home, in front of my PC to tweet. No, I tweet from buses and trains, from restaurants and offices and beaches. I can take my brand with me. Which means that if I find myself on the top deck of the W7 bus and ask myself where I am, the answer, of course, is “on Twitter”. In other words, I can insulate myself from the real world. Wherever I am, I don’t really have to engage with my surroundings. I am not on the bus, I am on Twitter. I might  be tweeting about the man on the bus who is wearing a stupid hat, but more importantly I am creating a wall of narrative between myself and the external world. I am like an agoraphobic who has realised that one way of dealing with the outside world is to take my room with me. I never have to leave the comforting womb of Twitter. 

The other question of course, is “when” I am. Existentially speaking, I’ve never quite felt comfortable with the here and now. I anticipate or reminisce but I rarely live in the moment. And Twitter very conveniently allows me to deepen this mode of thought. Often, when I am doing something I should really be enjoying, whether it is getting drunk with friends or watching a film, I am already actually tweeting in my mind. Rehearsing, editing, preparing my tweets. Whatever I am doing, the event – the moment of truth, whatever it may be – is not when it is happening, but when I report it on Twitter. The event only becomes real when it has been shared online. If a tree falls in a forest and I’m not allowed to tweet it, can I really enjoy it? 

As I mentioned at the start, it turns out that I’m really good at Twitter. Within the limited structure of replies, mentions, tweets and retweets I can be witty, topical, offensive, poignant, cogent, lucid. I can polish my brand. I select only the photos of myself looking half-way handsome. I am never flustered or missing a one-liner. If someone annoys me I can block them. If I say something particularly good, it is retweeted by Charlie Brooker or Simon Pegg and hundreds of thousands of people get to read it. Because unless you protect your tweets, which very few people do, Twitter is open to everyone. Whatever you say, no matter how banal or innocuous, there is a potentially limitless audience. Which is quite exciting. I am in my element. Of course, that makes real life interaction seem pallid in comparison. Whenever I meet a load of people from Twitter in the pub or at an event, I can’t help but feel disappointed. These shiny, glittering pieces of the internet turn out to be human beings. Meat. Flesh. Bad hair and bad breath. With all the attendant awkward silences, drunken laughs and all the other horrendous byproducts of real life interactions. And I’m no better. Instead of a stately, iconic avatar, I am a short, balding man, getting drunker and drunker, and making weak jokes before making my excuses and leaving. And if I do happen to say something witty or profound, the only people who hear it are those in my immediate vicinity. It can’t be endlessly retweeted to an audience of thousands. It just evaporates into the ether. Increasingly I see Twitter itself as the ideal form of communication. I can envision a day when everyone turns up to the pub together, but instead of talking to each other, we all sit in separate booths, tweeting away in silence. 

So, as I’ve said, Twitter takes over. But there are still those moments when Twitter betrays me. When I find myself tired and bored on a Saturday night, at home in front of Twitter, bashing away at the keyboard. But everyone else is out. I tweet something. No replies. Only one retweet. I tweet something else. It dies. And I start thinking: I must try harder. I must be funnier. I shall draw a clever picture. I shall say something provocative – it might be my sex life. Or I may go for the sympathy vote and post a childhood photo. I panic. Because when you’ve migrated all your emotional touchstones over from the real life to Twitter, what happens when Twitter no longer cares. Fortunately, I still have some perspective – finally the small part of my brain that hasn’t been colonised by Twitter takes over and tells me to go to bed.

The great virginity poll

Every so often, when quite bored, I do a survey on Twitter.

This week, in a particularly deep depressive trough, I decided to ask people at what age they lost their virginity. It’s not a hugely interesting question, but there is always a curiousity about such things and I was bored.

I left it to the people of Twitter to defined “virginity”, given that some respondents are straight, some are gay and some are bisexual. I had a few responsese from people who gave me two ages, one for when they first slept with a man and one for when they first slept with a woman. Show offs. I asked them to provide a single date, which they then did. Because they aren’t really show offs.

I could and should have made the question much more interesting by asking people for their age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. That way I could have made some facile sweeping generalisations, like they do in the press. Oh well. A missed opportunity.

I’d like to hope that everyone responded honestly. With one or two of the people who claimed they had lost their virginity quite late (27) I wanted to ask “Really?” but it’s impossible to do so without causing offence, so I didn’t.

Overall, people lost their virginity slightly later than I’d expected. Maybe this is because we’re bombarded with hysterical tabloid headlines that give the impression that everyone is having drug-fuelled menage-a-troises aged 13. Or maybe it’s because my Twitter followers are mostly pallid, middle-glass geeks whose sexual development was lagging behind the national average.  I lost my virginity when I was 20, which seemed very late at the time. I was shy. I still am.

So, onto the results. 159 people responded, which is fairly good, although what the other 5500 followers of mine were doing that prevented them from taking part, I don’t know.  Probably having sex.

I can’t work out how to get it all in a graph because I’m crap at Microsoft Word. The first figure is the age at which people lost their virginity. The second figure is the number of people who lost their virginity at that age.

12: 1
13: 4
14: 12
15: 25
16: 24
17: 35
18: 22
19: 14
20: 10
21: 7
22: 0
23: 2
24: 1
25: 1
26: 0
27: 1

The lovely Scott has provided a bar graph:

Sophie Scott has also provided a graph:

And Mullies has added a pie chart:

Now I should do something more interesting with my time. I won’t.

Writing and not writing

At the moment I’m in something of a career vacuum. I’ve stopped doing my regular freelance work but I have no idea how to turn my skills, experience, and massive internet fame into a regular, well-paid job that gets me out of the house and fulfils me creatively. And a lot of people have told me: “Oh, don’t get a job! You’re a writer. You should write another novel.” 

Aside from the fact that sitting at home for six months writing a book would drive me insane (I am not good at managing my time) I don’t do a great deal of writing these days. I’d love to write constantly, to churn out novels and screenplays, but it’s not something I’m capable of doing. And one of my key frustrations is that the kind of thing I enjoy reading is not the kind of thing I enjoy (or am capable of) writing. 

When I’m reading a novel, I enjoy a large dose of escapism. I’m more than happy to read books set in ridiculous places, with hammy dialogue, unrealistic characters and unbelievable plots. I am not a book snob: as long as a book doesn’t bore me I can read it. 

Whereas when I am writing something, I need it to reflect life as I see it; I expect it to be realistic: and not in the sense of urban, kitchen-sink drama where the realism is a surface texture. I expect it to be realistic in that it follows the patterns, thoughts and mood of my internal life. So I can only write about a life in which there is very little plot, where the dialogue is mostly internal monologue, where the mood is one of entropy and anger, where there is no visible link between cause and effect and where there is only one important character: me. 

As you can imagine, this makes writing anything other than short navel-gazing pieces quite difficult. 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching Sherlock, the entertaining but slightly schlocky BBC TV drama that updates the Holmes and Watson characters for the present day. And my experience watching it gives me a good insight into what happens when I try to write something. 

I think: Hmmm, I enjoyed that show. A good, distracting romp. I’d like to write something similar. But of course, there aren’t really geniuses like Sherlock; most deduction is a painstaking slog through hours of evidence, with as many false leads as there are revelations. And the killings wouldn’t be done by serial killers, they would be senseless, stupid murders by kids in gangs who don’t know what they are doing and end up stabbing someone in a dispute over crisps. And it wouldn’t be set in central London because no-one can afford to live there, so it would be set in Edmonton or Neasden or somewhere. And most of the time the detective would just be filling out paperwork. And he wouldn’t be recognised as a genius; in fact he wouldn’t be in charge of the investigation at all – he’d be a desk clerk or something. And most of the investigations wouldn’t be resolved in any kind of way, they would remain unsolved. And a lot of the time the detectives would get it wrong. And if there were a genius, he wouldn’t be skinny, he’d be fat and bald and socially inept, and not in a cool way. Just in a smelly way. And the London it was set in would be an anxious, dysfunctional but middle-class London, rather than either posh London or council estate London, which is all you ever see on TV. And most of the time the central character wouldn’t do anything at all. In fact, he wouldn’t leave the house most days. He wouldn’t see the point in a job. He’d get bored and start asking why he was doing things. In fact, he’d be aware that he’s a fictional character and would constantly be questioning his role within the drama and railing against its restrictive conventions. He’d start deconstructing the narrative and trying to resolve it from within.

In other words, as soon as the plot enters my head it starts to deconstruct itself: first of all on a superficial level, but then very quickly on a deeper level. The basic template of my life is this: clever but not genius man, emotionally conflicted and unsure, self-obsessed, refusing to engage emotionally with real life, constantly picking away at the boundaries of his existence. And at the moment I project this template onto everything I write. I take a perfectly healthy specimen of a story and inject it with my own faulty DNA until it’s some horrible shambling Greg zombie, unable to walk any way other than in circles before collapsing on its knees and expiring.  

The way I’ve gotten around this in the past is to write very short pieces. I managed to get a decent novel (which just yesterday got a new ONE STAR review on Amazon.co.uk, with the subtitle “Worst book ever” on it) out of this. I know I’m a decent writer. I’m capable of a good turn of phrase and I’m very good at coming up with funny, original ideas, but I can only sustain them for a few hundred words before they start to eat themselves. This results in lots of tiny, implausible paragraphs with very little plot or character interaction, which I can get out of my system quickly before my big, nasty brain starts applyting its corrosive acid and everything starts to deconstruct

And that is fine, but I’ve already written one novel like that, and I don’t think anyone (myself included) wants to read another. So I either have to find a different way of writing or I have to resolve my worldview so that it’s not as plotless and self-obsessed. Either way, I can’t see myself writing that hit TV series in a hurry.

p.s if anyone in advertising, PR, film, newspapers, media or porn wants to offer me a job, get in contact.