Tuesday, 29 June 2010

why twitter is the new fag break

When I gave up smoking, many years ago, it wasn't really the nicotine I missed. What I pined for was the smoking room at work, where all the renegades of the newsroom congregated to spread filthy rumours, slag off the management and bemoan the end of the golden age of news (translated: the age when you'd be doing this in the pub, not the smoking room). It took far longer to wean myself off that habit, not that I ever really did: bitching about the boss by email was fortunately invented shortly afterwards.
That same familiar feeling flooded back yesterday, going back to my old office for lunch with a friend who still works there. Bumping into a few nice ex-colleagues reminds me that the one thing I miss about office life is the people.
That's people both in the particular (the Guardian and Observer staff are an unusually nice bunch) but also the general. One of the great joys of freelance life is the absence of office politics, bruised egos and power games: but while I like not having to deal with it, I do miss gossiping about it. I miss the watercooler stuff: rumour, innuendo, the stuff of other people's lives.
These days, I rely heavily on Twitter for my virtual fag break/watercooler moment. Many of my old friends and colleagues now tweet, which helps, but as a bonus I also now get the rest of the world's office gossip too.
I waste a lot of time on social media, but perhaps it's not so much of a waste. We all need human interaction, but tend to assume that online socialising doesn't really count: that it's for cold-hearted geeks who can't deal with flesh and blood friendships.
Well maybe not, if this American study is right. It argues that using social media bumps up our levels of the hormone oxytocin (the 'bonding' hormone, which rises when you're with people you love and makes you feel happier) just as 'real' socialising does.
I'm dubious about the writer's claim to have got the same hormone spike from ten minutes on Twitter that a bridegroom got from his wedding: if true, I wouldn't bet on that marriage lasting. I'm not convinced we react the same way to words on a screen (or in a letter, or a phone call) even if we know the person they're from, as we do face to face.
But for the kind of casual office banter I miss, social media is not a bad substitute. Which means not actually having a boss is no longer a barrier to communal moaning about the boss: what a relief, eh?


  1. I haven't been able to work for the last 6 years and Facebook (I know, I'm way behind and should be tweeting) definitely fills a banter void for me. People are so quick to criticise social media but maybe they have different choices? I am sure 'real life' contact with 'real human beings' is important but if it's difficult to get as much of that as you would like what's wrong with a bit of FB or Twitter? It can keep me very amused and I'm thinking that must be a good thing, surely?!

  2. Facebook has definitely become my office watercooler since going freelance. I keep up with all my old friends from work there, and we can exchange the same old cynical hack banter. Twitter I find harder, because the conversations are so immediate and if you aren't on there all the time you miss out. But I definitely agree that social media is a godsend for all those who work from home.

  3. Twitter's such a shortcut too - someone's read something on a website that's interesting and there's the link. Not a half hour anecdote about it. Obviously I'm with you on the slowing down, of course, but this means you can speed up certain elements of conversations and then cut to the chase (the gossip) much quicker!

  4. Tweeting and facebook don't really do it for me. Feel like a bit of a wet blanket here. I work from home and I'm out and about. When at home I take my FB breaks and check twitter, read a few blogs, but I kind of get left with this empty feeling. It's the same feeling I have after flicking through magazines at the hairdressers. I think it might be because none of my real good life friends use social media - a couple do but the majority dont. I don't want to gossip in written form ... I'm scared of the electronic paper trail. Hmmm feeling like a bit of a social media loser this evening. I can see how there is potential for connection and how important this is from some people.