Twitter is very useful. I use it to follow Highways England for updates on the traffic on the major roads; Somerset Live, for all the local news; and Somerset County Cricket Club and Yeovil Town Football Club, for news of wins and defeats. I used to follow a handful of members of parliament, but became tired of the vitriol and foul language to which they were constantly subject. I used to follow a well-known theoretical physicist who has done much to popularise subjects like quantum theory, but was put off by the vicious reaction he attracted if he made any comment that was political. I used to follow a number of politics and current affairs accounts, but their feeds were filled with the outpourings of sub-literate trolls.
Social media have become so filled with unpleasantness that I now confine my activity chiefly to Instagram. I post pictures of flowers and old buildings and the odd quirky sight. I avoid following anyone whose images include anything political, anything extreme, or anything ugly.
When did the world become filled with so many angry people? Were they always there or is it just that the Internet just made apparent the angry voices?
There is no warrant for the amount of anger that exists. The late Hans Rosling disproved the frequently expressed perceptions that the world is getting worse. His best selling book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think sought to address the culture of complaint that besets international society, but even the facts seem insufficient to persuade many people.
The odd thing is that some of the most angry people seem to come from communities where there is no objective cause for anger. I worked in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, in communities who lived daily in the shadow of terrorism and death, and the majority of the people were extraordinarily upbeat, as though adversity had the capacity to bring out the best. The angriest voices now seem often from people who are far removed from situations about which they complain; the opportunity to sit at a keyboard and type anonymous comments on a forum has amplified the voices.
Among the angry voices, men seem the majority, sometimes the overwhelming majority. What has happened to prompt such responses? We are wealthier, we live longer, we enjoy opportunities that could not be imagined in the past, we have medical care that improves with each new advance; we live in the best of times, yet voices tell us these are the worst of times.
A little factfulness would go a long way.