In a hotel room, waiting for my wife to finish a course downstairs, I watched an episode of Tony Robinson’s insane Gods and Monsters show. It was arresting TV, mainly because it felt like I was watching the great man have a sudden pyschic meltdown.

Like a schoolboy he ran up stairs and pretended to be thrown to his death, or flung himself to the ground or knelt and encouraged his academic guest to mime thrusting a long stake through his shoulder and into his chest before being buried as a zombie.

I was flabberghasted. I wanted to tell someone, to share this bizarre display with someone else, to talk about how mental it was. But with no one else in the room and no WiFi connection to Twitter, I had to swallow my reaction and just keep watching.

It felt so wrong. I was trapped in a vacuum – no one to echo my feeling, my response back to me and intensify the experience by sharing it with me. I couldn’t wait for my wife to get back, though when she did we didn’t share the same amazement.

I’d had to experience it alone. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And not about what other people thought, but about how my own reaction would have felt more realised if I’d been able to shout about it to other people.

There’s no definitive ‘user’ or personal motivation for Twitter or Facebook – just like real life, it’s full of different people doing different things for different reasons. But at the heart of these online communities, to me, is our need to tell people stuff.

Crucially, not to communicate. I know that both can be brilliant tools for conversation, but in my experience social media is overwhelmingly a place we tell people things – how we feel, what we think, what we’ve read. Our reactions to everything and anything.

A while ago I wrote that I believe we’re all philosophers online. This is because we’re all writing, all sat in front of PCs filling blank spaces and those blank spaces can’t always be filled with what we have for lunch, whatever some people might say.

We’re all necessarily removed from others, online. Our words pass through parts of our brain we might sometimes forget to engage during proper conversation, into our fingers, through the keyboard, etc and so on. We can still converse. But it’s far more one-way.

Often on Twitter I just want to tell people stuff. A lot of the time just putting something out there is enough even if nobody reacts to it, responds to it. It’s the fact that it’s out, it’s there, it’s published. Which is exactly what I’m doing with this blog.

There’s plenty more besides just telling people stuff, but this sensation of needing to do so, of needing to blurt out how I thought that Tony Robinson might be having a breakdown on BBC TV and could someone check if he’s okay, of knowing that was said, was so keen.

I sense I’m grasping for something here, but I’m hungry now and I’ve told you all what I was thinking and that’s a good enough start to limbering up my writing again for what promises to be a breakthrough 2012.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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