Everyone has an opinion on everything these days, and social media is making it all to easy to sound off.
I would like to begin this month’s Soapbox by praising two unsung heroes – Jill in Adelaide and, until quite recently, Warner in Sydney – who handle all the phone queries and complaints that come into ABC Classic FM. Most listeners are wonderful decent and sensitive human beings, but there are a small minority who are incredibly demanding.
One day filling in for Christopher Lawrence on Mornings, I had to change the order of the music because I had forgotten a disc in a CD player in another studio, and the absence of this disc threw the whole balance of the program. I came out of the studio to find Warner with his phone held as far from his ear as his arms would allow, as a terrible ranting issued from the receiver. This listener was so incensed that the order had changed from the published list on the website, he sounded close to self-immolation. His whole day had obviously been ruined beyond repair. Warner calmly talked him down from his ledge of anger. And this was only 9.10am.
The problem now is that everyone has an opinion about everything (which sounds a bit rich coming from someone writing a column called Soapbox). The ABC invites its audience to comment on everything. But why? To prove there is an audience? To provide program material? What’s more, by giving weight to “platforms” (how I hate that word) like Facebook and Twitter, we encourage everyone to broadcast their opinions and be connected with all the other people voicing their opinions, until the world is one giant symphony of opinion.
Every day I get online requests to be connected with people I’ve never met. It seems impolite to say no, so I have many friends whom I’ve never even met – and don’t even know what they look like. As a result, I got caught out last year when I travelled to Hong Kong to conduct a concert and Facebook twigged that someone was logging in from a different country. It asked me to prove my identity by putting names to pictures of my “friends”. I couldn’t identify any of them. After a long police line-up of mug shots of all my so-called bosom buddies, I finally managed to identify Sharolyn Kimmorley, former head of music at Opera Australia. I’ve never been so pleased to see her.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know all my Facebook friends, because I never post anything of a private nature there, because it is not a private space. I am amazed at what people put up there – family pictures of babies and young children, sprays at ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, professional complaints and general gibberish. All of which will hang there like space junk, circling the earth for eternity.
How does anyone have time to do anything these days? By the time you’ve checked out the status of all your 1,500 friends, composed a few pithy posts, written your Twitter feed and checked in with all your connections on Branched In, Linked Out, Plaxo and Ziggs – who has time to go to work, make dinner or actually talk to their real friends, and perhaps even their family?
As for Twitter, there is something almost religious about the use of the word “followers”. Had Jesus been alive now He would have been happily tweeting from @SonofGod, posting pithy 140-character Psalms. (On Facebook He began with 12 followers before Judas had a falling out and unfriended Him.) On a brighter note, Twitter, Facebook and the rest probably mean the end of global war. If Hitler (@DerFuhrer) had tweeted his intentions for Lebensraum, maybe Chamberlain (@NevilleC) would have been a bit more serious about containing him.
In the meantime, if you do feel like ringing up a radio station like ABC Classic FM, say, be nice to the staff and remember that unlike all those dead egomaniac composers, Warner and Jill are alive, have feelings and are not in any way responsible for the stuff-ups the rest of us make!