Listen up, ladies and gents. We need to swallow an unpalatable fact. The recession is not down to the previous Government’s incontinent overspend, neither is it down to Donkey Osborne’s dunderheaded insistence that we continue to pay as the ship goes down … then up … then down … then up … then down …
No, blame for the recession must lie with us, the workers. More specifically, our love affair with Lolcats and videos of boys getting hit in the balls by their skateboards.
Hours of productivity are lost every working day. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, LinkedIn, Soundcloud, Myspace, Mumsnet — for every taste and proclivity there’s a social network to suit; there’s even Instagram for those seeking to elevate narcissism to art by means of a sepia tint. Suddenly a job is something to do when the internet goes down.
A couple of weeks ago I realised I was getting absolutely nothing done. I had started to define a successful day as one in which I hadn’t retweeted something from @thedailymash. A productive day simply meant that I’d mustered enough self-control not to rattle off a foaming response to a comment on The Guardian online, or when I’d restrained my natural instinct to tackle the general f***wittery that abounds whenever a Boden* of mothers comes together in a chat room.
I found myself spending more and more of my day following Bitly breadcrumbs and falling down hyperlink wormholes to Wonderland. I needed to get a grip. I needed to choose.
Naturally the one that had to go was Facebook — the Cadpig of the social networking litter, the sacrificial Eva Zawistowski. And I felt good deactivating, Dear Reader, as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders. I could hang up the ball gown and big pants of my Facebook presence and get comfy as I slipped back to work in those tired old joggers otherwise known as real life.
Because the thing with social media — and I speak as one who handles it as part of my job — is that it’s a suspension in which hangs varying concentrations of truth. It dilutes and distorts, giving weight to the light and flimsy while making light of anything of weight. It’s a land covered in Bong-trees, feeding us from a runcible spoon.
And I bloody love it.
In the linguistic playground of social media, words get tripped over, turned upside down, spun around and bullied until they cry. Spelling is reduced to sandpit phonics, sentences are replaced with acronyms, capitalisation is considered a spoilsport, and punctuation? AWOL — running off with tone, pace and sense to end up lying face down somewhere in a stream of consciousness. Within this sphere, we experiment on language like a happy five-year-old on a worm.
But. Informal ways of expression like to play truant. Our dear old ‘Tiser —The Berwick Advertiser — prints more spelling mistakes, typos, reporting errors and grammatical pratfalls than a blind dyslexic with bananas for fingers typing up a dictionary using a back-to-front keyboard. (Don’t write in, it’ll only end in sarcasm and a long lecture on the subjectivity of humour and your inability to grasp it.)
Their journalists should console themselves with the thought that it’s not entirely their fault, because a) like us, they’re travellers in The Time that Attention to Detail Forgot, and b) Johnston Press, owners of Tweeddale Press, have made scything cuts to sub-editing services across their titles in a bid to centralise operations. Considering ‘Tiser editor Phil Johnson has a sub-editing background, this must feel like a stake through his Hart’s Rules.
How do I know this? Because social networking, while setting me up on a date with Osteoporotic Destiny in later life, has also put me in touch with some amazing people — people who are generous with their time and knowledge, people who care about the small stuff, people who go through life attacking limp grammar with the spray starch of exactitude and who will bring syntax casseroles to me when I break that hip.
Matthew Kilburn — Oxford academic and contributor to Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, the kind of title passing for porn in academic circles — is one such chap, and what he doesn’t know about Johnston Press ain’t worth knowing. He’s the guy who I’ll ring up when the time finally comes to watch The ‘Tiser swirl down the pan. We’ll hold hands as it disappears and then settle down to watch Children of the Stones on DVD.
Marcus Trower — author/copy editor — is a delight on the subject of participial clauses and compound predicates. Sadly though, he has recently come a cropper for daring to point out a dangling modifier which had crept into an online interview (read about it here). Not only was this in The Observer/Guardian, but worse — the subject of it was a poet. Yes, in the eyes of your average hippy M&S customer these were the conditions for a perfect storm, and Marcus found himself the focus of a public flogging.
This brings us neatly to why it’s important that we don’t let the glorious mutations of speech, text or tweet jump species to mingle with the DNA of the professional written word, because as Marcus rightly points out:
“The problem with bad grammar is that it makes you focus on the grammar and not the content. Some people won’t be able to read past that second sentence. I couldn’t, so I’m never going to know whether it was an interesting piece or not.”
I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve landed on a company website prepared to make my bank card bleed, only to have been brought up short by a typo. If they don’t care about getting something as simple as that right, what else can’t they be bothered with? Invariably I hang on to my cash.
In the business world, correct grammar conveys credibility. There has been some great reporting by The ‘Tiser in recent months, yet it still needs to tackle this recurring problem of inaccuracy before it can lose the rather unkind nickname of The Badvertiser. Times are proving brutal for regional newspapers, and it will be the ones able to demonstrate integrity to their readers that will have any chance of surviving.
So remember, the next time you hear about a triple-dip recession, it
- has nothing to do with the present Government pretending not to notice the bloody great fiscal iceberg powering towards us shouting, “So you think you’re cold and hard?”
- and it has nothing to do with the last Government’s profligacy as it attempted to buy friends and make people like them on Facebook.
A triple-dip recession will be down to us
- withdrawing the means of production as we wait for the next baby-puking video to go viral,
- and scaring away investment as we inadvertently make our corporate webpages an extension of our Twitter timeline.
(*A Boden — the collective noun for a gathering of professional women who have given up their identities and all sense of fun to have children.They’re often found on Mumsnet or wherever there is a high density of fair trade coffee shops.)
How much of your working day do you spend online and what effect, if any, has it had on your work? Do typos bother you? Is it inevitable that social media terminology and conventions will make their way into professional copy? I’d love to hear your views.