This modern compulsion to let it all hang out makes my flesh crawl
01:50 GMT, 9 June 2012
Information overload: Ben Goldsmith and Kate Rothschild have tweeted the breakdown of their marriage
When it came to my parents, I had no idea what they thought about each other; personal matters, or anything remotely to do with touchy-feely emotions, were never discussed in our house. I couldn’t imagine them having sex, let alone sending a ‘tweet’ about it afterwards.
After Dad died, I discovered (from my sister) that my parents weren’t able to marry until I was about seven. Years later, I asked my mother why she had never told us, and she retorted it was none of our business — it was ‘private’.
It turned out she had been married to someone else first — my sister found out through public records. Mum didn’t want her children to know anything about her secret life.
This traditional notion of privacy — keeping stuff you don’t want anyone to know to yourself — appears to be vanishing fast.
We seem to know far, far too much about each other these days. In a very short space of time, a generation has grown up who think nothing of posting raunchy pictures of themselves with their pants down on social media, who update their status from ‘single’ to ‘dating’ hourly, and who spend every hour texting and tweeting about everything from their bowel movements to when they last had a period.
This past week has seen two extraordinary examples of how my mum’s notion of privacy has been superseded.
The first is Ben Goldsmith, the hugely wealthy son of the late billionaire James Goldsmith, who has been commenting to his followers on Twitter about the breakdown of his marriage to Kate Rothschild, a member of the banking dynasty.
Following a confrontation between the couple over her close relationship with rap artist Jay Electronica, the police were called to the couple’s mansion in West London and divorce proceedings are said to be imminent.
You might expect lawyers to have advised their clients to refrain from public comment in case it prejudiced proceedings, but Mr Goldsmith and his wife have taken to the very public arena of Twitter to post their versions of events and solicit sympathy.
She has hired a public relations company to issue statements and posted a picture of her kids on her Twitter account.
She wrote: ‘None of you have any idea what I went through with my husband’, and ‘As for Jay Electronica . . . he saved my life in many ways’.
Twitter wars: Kate Rothschild used the site to post a picture of her children emerging from a private jet – the means by which they travel between parents
Meanwhile, Mr Goldsmith has been responding to messages of support from his followers. Is this marriage counselling via Twitter
If that doesn’t make your flesh crawl, consider this second example of letting it all hang out on the social networking feed.
Television presenter Melanie Sykes met her latest ‘conquest’, the unfortunately-named Jack Cockings, via the service, when he posted a picture of himself naked, apart from a strategically-positioned piece of foliage.
Since then, they have exchanged sexually explicit tweets and even implied they are sending messages while having sex. YUCK!
Suddenly, even normally-groovy JSP is feeling about 108.
My generation weren’t as buttoned-up as my parents. We explored sex and relationships in the Sixties, but though I kept diaries, I didn’t share them with anyone.
I was routinely unfaithful, but no one knew except me. I rarely discussed my complicated sex life with my friends. In fact, I wanted as few people as possible to know what I was up to. Secrecy was all.
What privacy TV presenter Melanie Sykes has posted snaps of herself in lingerie on Twitter
Indeed, I never wanted my first three husbands to meet in case they started swapping times and dates and I might get found out.
Even now, I don’t discuss intimate personal details with anyone.
On television, I reveal what is harmless fun, nothing that is going to cause hurt or upset.
But this kind of self-censorship is vanishing fast and will soon be viewed as utterly quaint. Most of my fellow Loose Women are on Twitter all the time, chatting away to their legions of followers.
The very idea of talking about life’s little inanities and the state of my relationship to total strangers makes me feel slightly nauseous. I can barely do small talk to someone at a drinks party, let alone a dimwit on Twitter who has access to my account.
Sadly, I realise I am a dying breed.
In the modern world, social media allow each of us (no matter how dim and ordinary) to create a personal profile of ourselves, which can be rich in fantasy. We can edit out the ugly, warty bits, and airbrush our failures in work, at school, and in relationships. We can create gorgeous, loveable versions of ourselves for others to follow and sign up to.
We judge ourselves successes by our number of ‘friends’— forgetting that they are just cyber pals, not real mates who will come round when the dog dies and we need to have someone to snivel with.
Facebook is a monster that inflates everyone’s sense of self-importance. Reality television fosters this notion that we’re all interesting stars of some kind or another.
Along came Twitter, and suddenly the me-generation was given the ideal tool to spout their thoughts in 141 characters 24/7.
Now there are ten million active users in the UK alone and 140 million worldwide. The top ten tweeters (the people with the most followers) in the UK include Stephen Fry; singer and The Voice judge Jessie J; Lily Rose Cooper (formerly Lily Allen) and Harry Potter star Emma Watson.
They have millions and millions of global followers avidly waiting for every gobbet of trivia that emanates from these giants of contemporary culture.
Funnily enough, in conversation, Lily Allen and Stephen Fry are brilliant and sparky, but Twitter reduces everything to the knee-jerk.
Twitter is no good for considered critique, subtle irony. It’s designed to work as a live feed on every intimate aspect of our life . . . spawning a mind-numbing sub-culture where followers re-tweet stuff that’s taken their fancy in a long rinse cycle of verbiage.
It’s like being trapped in a launderette of low-rent wordsmiths, where no one ever uses more than two syllables, and there’s endless smiley faces, hashtags, LOL and !!!
Put it this way: Shakespeare wouldn’t be on anything John Prescott claims to love.
Twitter is also a hothouse where racist remarks, nasty innuendo and fake disputes grow like weeds. Emotions are displayed in capital letters — it’s not a place for the subtle approach to romance.
I can’t get worked up about feuds between footballer Joey Barton and Gary Lineker and Alan Sugar, or between Piers Morgan and anyone.
Twitter is the home of the socially needy — Sally Bercow seems to spend every waking minute on it, maybe in the hope of kick-starting a telly career or another newspaper column.
Sarah Ferguson describes herself as an ‘advocate for women and children everywhere’ and tweets ‘sooo proud of my girls smiling broadly, celebrating Granny with the Nation and Eugie with her flag and both happy smiles’.
Self-promoter: Sally Bercow seems to spend every waking moment on Twitter
All this reveals is that Sarah F is a lonely woman, and actually I feel a bit sorry that no one at the Palace could find a spare ticket for her to go to anything last weekend. In short, her Twitter is a bit of a cry for help, and it’s another sign of these let-it-all-hang-out times that a former member of the Royal Family feels no embarrassment wittering about ‘her girls’ and ‘Granny’. I can’t imagine anyone at Downton Abbey would have been so indiscreet.
Twitter fans imagine that everything they do is of interest to the larger world, whether it’s Sally Bercow talking about mice in her kitchen in Westminster or Lady Gaga revealing she’s ‘in a pub in England’. It’s their individual chance to create their own self-centred broadcasting network. Nothing is off limits.
In 2009, entrepreneur and mother-of-two Penelope Trunk tweeted that she was ‘in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness’. The remarks caused outrage.
But plenty of mums have tweeted throughout labour, including Rachael Ince from Leicestershire, who managed to send 104 messages.
Charlie Sheen had a public meltdown on drink and drugs, sending constant tweets to his fans. The number of followers grew to millions within a matter of days. Talk about ghoulish.
Now, stars are regularly embarrassed by stuff ex-partners post on Twitter. Recently a video of Tulisa performing a sex act with a former boyfriend was released, but when it started trending worldwide she denied it was her. After her band mates and the man in question weighed in, she apologised and said she’d learned ‘from her mistakes’. Got caught out, more like.
If your partner records you in the most intimate act of sex, what is left to keep private What size knickers you wear
And yet some stars have a strange double standard — releasing one version of their lives to anyone who’ll listen, and keeping a whole lot of stuff very secret.
Stars like Jeremy Clarkson have used super-injunctions and expensive lawyers to reinforce the notion that although they are in the public eye 24/7 they are entitled to a private life.
Recently he fought (and lost) a legal action on the Isle of Man, where he has a holiday house, over the route of a public footpath, claiming that walkers could see into his kitchen.
Injunctions: Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has sought court orders in a bid to protect his privacy
I find it bizarre that people who tweet and opine about everything under the sun, who routinely make racist remarks in the name of ‘fun’ on their telly programmes, can get so steamed up about who can see them boiling a kettle.
The fact is, most big names on Twitter employ people to write their tweets for them, plugging their latest work and listing their upcoming appearances, carefully manicuring and constructing a hip image.
It’s just an advertising medium posing as fair comment. Listening to Radio 4’s Film programme last Thursday, I heard actor Simon Pegg admit Twitter is a ‘promotional tool’.
Exactly, he uses it to promote whatever film he or his mates have coming out, under the guise of friendly chat.
Simon Pegg is famously private, and has a clear idea of where to draw the line. He doesn’t chat about his family online or on Twitter.
But most of us (like the Goldsmiths) seem have no such qualms. Where will it all end Can the genie be put back in the bottle
Will the next decade see a backlash where today’s toddlers grow up and are models of decorum, who wear modest clothing, conduct themselves with dignity and don’t flaunt their naughty bits on phones and screensavers Where relationships are conducted face-to-face, or via soppy love letters.
It would be fantastic if the pendulum were to swing in the other direction, and the Twitter generation were seen as an embarrassing blip, a brief period of louche madness.
But don’t hold your breath.