Years ago, some students told me they’d much rather text than make a phone call. It gave them more time to compose themselves (literally), to get their responses just right. At the time, I found this alarming. It seemed to signal the death of society. Soon we would all be crouched alone in separate cells, conceiving by DHL package, and cringing with revulsion at the vulgar noises other people make.
Social media platforms have made it much worse. For many people, their online presence has become the most important aspect of their lives. They spend most of their leisure time on it, and probably more thinking about it. Theirs is a world made entirely of words, where the only referents are other words, so nothing can be proved false. Online identities are self-created – built up in type. They have loyalty only to their own narrative.
This has allowed an almost complete disconnection, rather than community. All you are left with is the flimsiest persona: you are nothing more than what you say you are. In the space behind the façade, the true you that yearns to be understood and accepted despite its flaws, withers into paranoid loneliness.
We nourish a suspicion that we are unworthy of our own curated image. We have been dishonest, and will be found out. Social media leads to existential crisis rather than the promised spiritually reinforcement.
If we are frauds, it seems likely that everybody else is, too. We police our online communities relentlessly. We are pitiless, searching for traitors who masquerade as loyalists. Without access to truth, no one can be trusted, even our own people.
It should be no surprise that trolling and calling out and cancelling are so universal and are such potent weapons. Nothing is truer than anything else. Words can be instantly contradicted; self-nurturing stories replaced by salacious lies. If these are the only substance of your being, and the admiration they attract, the only basis of your sense of value, then a vicious, invented rumour has as much body, as much truth, as any of your honest revelations. In fact, the most memorable narratives are likely to win out – the saltiest sea-stories; the juiciest gossip. Then you’re in trouble.
 Just before I gave up Facebook, I got a friend request from a 23 year old surfer babe called Kelly, who apparently knew me “from way back”. No doubt she was two sweaty middle-aged men in a bedsit somewhere, with an untraceable bank account and a deep cynicism about humankind.