Thursday, 26 August 2010

140 characters instead of an author















(New Proverbs at the end of this post)

These days I spend roughly half my life coming up with reasons why I spend the other half of it on Twitter. One of my best excuses is when I say to someone: "Actually, for a writer, it's a very good discipline because the restrictions of the form require you to strive for the economy that is essential to good writing, and..." which is usually when their eyes glaze over, especially if they're a stranger I've accosted on a bus.


Hippocrates said "Art is long, life is short," and while he may have thought that was a good thing, he never sat through a James Cameron film. Given that everything I read, watch, hear and say is usually too long, anything that trains us to do a bit of editing is fine with me. Twitter is the Hemingway of social media, and it's doing a fine job of teaching us to keep it short and sweet, even if it simultaneously encourages us to do it all day.

The trouble is that it works too well. Economy is something I'd like to be in control of when I write, like punctuation or profanity. But I'm finding it increasingly difficult to write anything that' s longer than 140 characters. More worryingly, nothing I think is longer than that, either. My mind is becoming a bio-tweetback loop. Okay, we all know that our brains are being rewired by the way we use digital media. For more information about this, click on this link: http://www.google.co.uk/ That's right, it's just a link to Google. What am I, your mother? Just type in "neuroscience" and "social media" and you'll find lots of fascinating stuff. Jesus, no one wants to do any work for themselves any more.

And that's the problem: your mind is turning into a vast network of short, discrete bites of information, connected by random impulses driven by the last thing you saw or heard, like a pack of feral children playing with transistor radios in a junkyard. We are rapidly losing the capacity for sustained, meaningful ratiocination. Whoa, dude. What does that even mean? "Sustained, meaningful ratiocination?" It sounds totally boring, it's not funny, and it has nothing to do with Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga so who gives a shit?

That's the sad truth my friends, but don't worry. Every cloud has a silver lining. Aha, see what that was? That was a proverb. A proverb is like an olden-days soundbite. It's a short, pithy saying that appears to have some substance and to deliver useful information but most of the time it's just a clever way of reminding us of something we already know by using a resonant image, analogy or metaphor. Which makes it THE IDEAL TWEET.

Don't fight it. We're all going to neurological hell in a digital handcart anyway, so just sit back and enjoy the ride with a few well-chosen words that can easily be assimilated by your woefully amputated attention span. 

But most proverbs are old-fashioned. "A stitch in time saves nine" isn't bad, but who does any sewing any more? Except a bunch of third world kids in sweatshops, and if they miss a stitch they probably get electrocuted, although Nike wouldn't know anything about that, of course. So, what we need are some new proverbs. "A stitch in time saves a post-natal perineal fissure when you start having sex again." Doesn't that make more sense?

And now I've succeeded in getting to this point by pretending to sustain a coherent argument I can drop the act and do what I really wanted all along, which is lay some of my new proverbs on you. Your reward for reading this far is that there are no more paragraphs to read, no more lines of thought to follow. From now on it's basically one-liners.

Most of the NEW PROVERBS I'm coming up with fall into four categories:
1. Fish
2. Fools
3. Writers.
4. Fish, fools and writers.

I've always liked the saying: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach him how to fish and he'll eat for the rest of his life." I just like the idea of people giving fish to each other. But I wanted to update the political relevance and I was still thinking about those kids making T-shirts:

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but teach him to work in a sweatshop and he can pay you for the fish.

The political angle led naturally to gender politics:

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. But give the fish a bicycle and you'll make a feminist happy.

But pretty soon I began to expand my horizons:

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a monkey a firework and you create the precious gift of comedy.

After a while I began to see things from the point of view of the fish:

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. But are you prepared to go and break the news to Mrs Fish and the family?

And if you think about anything long enough it starts to get weird. So, finally, here's the surrealist version:

Give a man a fish - but don't tell him why.

A lot of proverbs are warnings against foolishness. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Here's my new version, and some others about fools:

Fools rush in where a big sign says "Fools, rush this way!"

A fool and his money are soon offered a mortgage they can't afford.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame I didn't have a gun with me the first time.

A lot of my tweets about writers aren't strictly speaking proverbs, but they serve the same function: they're all warnings.

Writing is a lonely, anguished craft - unless you're doing it wrong.

The writer's creed: "There are no strangers, only friends you haven't alienated yet."

Dead men tell no tales. But you can still make money on the royalties.

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. But give a writer a fish and he'll want your fish as well.

Finally, a few random new proverbs:

Better the devil you know than a proctologist with a hangover you've only just met.

Laughter is the best medicine, except after abdominal surgery.


If a job's worth doing it's worth paying someone who knows what they're doing to do it.


There is no honor among thieves, and no change among bus drivers.


When you're screwed, everything looks like a screwdriver.


It is a great undertaking to truly know another person. It's easier to steal their identity.


Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if they gave a shit.


Better to have loved and lost than to risk yet another restraining order.


There's a fine line between a fan and a stalker, according to the TV presenter tied up in my basement.


Never put off until tomorrow what you already put off yesterday. Today put off something new.


An iPad for an iPad, a Bluetooth for a Bluetooth.


Christmas comes but every fucking year.

I'll be adding to these periodically. All contributions welcome.


5 comments:

  1. In a great book called The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer suggests that all writers should look at proverbs or maxims etc, and try and rework them. So he would probably have liked this post. Some of these are very funny.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's plenty more fish in the sea. Except North Sea cod.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A rolling stone gathers no moss, unless you roll it over Kate.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think that last one should probably read: a Rolling Stone gathers no tax.

    Great post, Paul.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Put heroine on it and he'll be back for more.

    ReplyDelete