As some of you loyal readers may have spotted, I recently joined Twitter - something I had hoped I would never do. I was about to say I 'succumbed', but this was by no means a situation of peer pressure. My reasoning was carefully considered and strictly professional.
For many months I have observed the ascension of the hashtag, seen friends checking their Twitter accounts loyally, sharing photos and videos and the like, getting all excited when retweeted by someone they admire... but to me, it just looked to be another social feed to be distracted by. (I even avoided Facebook for several years).
The professionally driven side of me, however, was swayed by advice from magazines and online writers which suggested Twitter could be a huge vehicle to enhance your career. You can network with likeminded dance writers, bloggers, choreographers, theatre management - and we all know the dance world is not the largest. Shout loud enough in the company of such people and you are bound to be heard. Having recently finished my degree, this seemed like an opportunity I simply could not miss.
Why then, had I avoided Twitter for so long? Well, I admit, I have not yet had the opportunity to browse through the tweets of hundreds of familiar faces, but what I have seen has already unsettled me and confirmed my biggest fears. Twitter is a huge vehicle for hate. There, I said it.
I know that others can argue all social media sites offer the same freedom to be hateful if one wishes, but the immediate connection Twitter provides from famous person to hater seems to me to make celebrities ridiculously vulnerable. It is a place for thick skins.
Indeed I am a critic of sorts, writing for a few dance websites, and I know that on this blog I could be angry if I wanted to be, but I would like to think I express my thoughts with curiosity and consideration. To summarise my feelings in less than 140 characters would be to reduce my allowance for empathy, for politeness; to be direct. And yes, that is great. Freedom is great. But nastiness is not.
This led me to thinking about a niggling concern in my mind pursuing a career in dance criticism: what if my critique hurts someone? Is it possible to be a dance critic and not upset a choreographer? I realise this is an unrealistic ambition, and I realise, too, that my 'niceness' cannot affect my ambitions; my desire to write about something which I have so much passion for.
But I look at my tweets so far, and those of some others - mostly large scale organisations, dance companies, dance schools. There is an air of professionalism and warmth maintained. There is a buzz about events upcoming and a celebration of those which have ended.
Last week, for example, I tweeted a dance artist whose work I admire very much, praising one of his articles (here on Article19, actually. You should read it: (Not Going To Russia). It would have been very easy for me to add 'P.S. LOVE YOUR WORK BEN WRIGHT YOU'RE THE BEST PLEASE PLEASE RETWEET ME!', because that is what I was thinking. But I am an aspiring dance writer of sorts, aware that my work is in the public domain, that anything I write may affect my career indefinitely, and that I therefore have to maintain a level of dignity and maturity with these matters.
I understand that Twitter does not exist for that purpose; it is not LinkedIn. It is social media. Teenagers - or anyone, for that matter - can tweet their favourite singers, can rant at their most hated reality TV contestants: anything goes. However, it is that juxtaposition between the (optional) public nature of such writing and the intimacy with which a non-celebrity can suddenly communicate with a celebrity, which concerns me.
Twitter enables the world to be a critic. It's just that those receiving a negative review cannot hide from it.