Shared Moments: ‘Communication now’ by Oliver Cross

I wish I wasn’t frightened of my own voice because then I could spend all day on social media talking to people I don’t know.

Which, at a time when old-fashioned personal contact is mostly outlawed, would mean I could make a contribution to combating the loneliness and anxiety which is supposed to be the main curse of the lock-down age, even more so than thousands of people dying prematurely, which we don’t like to think about.

My problem is that I don’t distinguish, in terms of difficulty, between talking, texting or ‘proper’ writing; any use of words is a serious business to me, so that I can take 20 minutes to fill in a birthday card. An internet conversation involving me would be made up mainly of long pauses and the only message people could take from it would be that my broadband needs fixing,

I’ve not been able to join in the great socially-distanced virtual hug we’re all supposed to be giving ourselves because, as well as my own voice, I’m frightened of strangers (plus, although it’s not immediately relevant, coat hangers, ironing boards and brassicas).

This is why I find it difficult to get involved in conversation with parcel deliveries, bus drivers, barbers, general practitioners or lost people desperately seeking directions. I know this is wrong but shyness is a terrible thing, not because it makes you unhappy, but because it makes you, in many situations, near-useless.

But although shyness is generally a bad thing, unrestrained self-confidence, as demonstrated all over the net and on radio phone-ins, can be equally problematic, by which I mean absolutely dreadful and isn’t it a pity that all the recent huge advances in popular communication have cumulated in Donald Trump?

This shouldn’t have happened because most of us have access to countless sources of information and opinion and, to quote Areopagitica,  John Milton’s great tract on freedom of speech, ‘Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worst in a free and open encounter?’

Which might have been true when it was written in 1644 and when I studied it at A-level a few years later, but now Truth looks tattered and vulnerable; after taking a beating from 20th century totalitarians it’s had to deal with 21st century PR companies, sneaky politicians, conspiracy theorists and the incessant shouting of people who want to drown out every version of truth but their own.

Milton, thinking truth had a pure and unassailable quality, would have been quite floored by the discovery of Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, that there are such things as ‘alternative facts’, which mean the result of the US presidential election can be whatever you want it to be.

This makes things difficult because when Twitter bans Donald Trump from spreading lies and inciting violence, and  Donald Trump Jnr responds by tweeting that ‘free speech no longer exists in America’ I’m not sure where the very small Ariopagitica Support Group should stand.

But I’ve decided that Junior’s statement, published in every corner of America, should probably be dismissed as self-contradictory.

Thank you Oliver, until next time….