x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

'I'm trying to wean myself off Twitter'

Saloon Simon Smedley, the Dubai radio DJ better known as Catboy, confronts his compulsive Twitter habit.

Dubai 92's Simon Smedley has threatened to commit Twittercide.
Dubai 92's Simon Smedley has threatened to commit Twittercide.

On a Wednesday evening last week, a haze of scent and cigarette smoke descended on The Address Montgomerie in Dubai. The occasion was the Ahlan! Hot 100 party, and the normally placid club heaved with the UAE's foremost "trendsetters" - as anointed by the celebrity glossy - along with a few hundred of their relatively tepid peers. In the midst of it all stood Simon Smedley, the co-host of Dubai 92's Catboy and Geordiebird show. Wearing a rumpled suit he'd bought for the occasion, Smedley didn't seem entirely at ease. He also didn't seem that interested in talking about his status as an Ahlan! Hottie. "Twitter," he said above the hum of the beautiful people. "Twitter, Twitter, Twitter."

Some mornings I wish I had laser beam eyes. Twitter has been something of a preoccupation for Smedley lately. A week before the Ahlan! do, he'd posted an impassioned, 1,500-word screed on his blog, World of Smedley, announcing his determination to commit "Twittercide" - an act which, as its name suggests, entails a kind of death. "I don't think I can do it any more," he wrote, referring to his role as one of the UAE's most prolific tweeters. "I'm stepping away from the keyboard."

On the veggie sausage hunt. None in Spinneys. Next stop Hyperpanda. While microblogging hasn't quite gripped the UAE as it has other parts of the world - Smedley estimates that the "core Twitterati" here is made up of about 50 people - those who do it tend to do it a lot. Sitting in a Burger King the day after the Hot 100 party, Smedley admitted that few local tweeters will have matched his output over the last year or so. "I've started to ask myself," he said, "is this really how I want to be spending my days, all this mindless toing and froing?"

Apparently the balls are wet and fluffy at the tennis, so they're drying them off. For most people in Dubai, Smedley is best known as Catboy - the breakfast slot he hosts with his wife Stef (or Geordiebird) is among the most listened-to radio shows in the UAE. But he also has a significant following online, a coterie of fans who did not take his decision to commit Twittercide lightly. "You have to remember that you are a leader in so many ways," responded one. "People look up to you and your opinion matters. If you write about a bug on a leaf, we'll read about it."

I'm not saying the mother-in-law is fat, but when she fell down the stairs I thought EastEnders was ending. The DJ's bosses would have been pleased to read the you-are-a-leader line. Smedley was one of the first people in the UAE to grasp the marketing potential of social networking (the Middle East Public Relations Association, he said, has used him as a case study in Twitter seminars), and much of his online chatter is aimed at promoting his show. Over time, though, his tweets have become less tactical and more personal. They have also suffered from the relevancy issues that afflict most frequent tweeters. "If you analysed my last 50 tweets," he said, "you'd have to ask yourself what the hell I'm doing here."

Today the cat is accusing me of something. I know not what. Given Smedley's flair for self-promotion, there would seem to be a distinct possibility that his "Twittercide" post was little more than a well-aimed publicity stunt. His announcement, anyway, bore echoes of Stephen Fry, the British comedian and habitual tweeter who pledged to quit the service last year - an idle threat that led to a hail of media coverage. Smedley insists, though, that his cry came from the heart. "Twitter is an addiction," he said, "and I'm trying to wean myself off it."

Have you seen Chat Roulette yet? It could be the new BIGGIE in social networking. If Smedley's story doesn't suggest dependency, then it at least puts him at the extreme end of Twitter enthusiasts. Until recently, he said, he was spending upwards of 18 hours a day online. He'd tweet maybe 30 or 40 times a day. When he wasn't tweeting, he was updating one of his three Facebook pages (one personal, two related to the show), which he'd do as often as 15 times a day. When he wasn't on Facebook, he was blogging. "I'd lie down at night with my laptop on my chest," he said. "I'd close it and put it down and before I knew it it'd be open in my hands again. I'd catch myself doing this and get really angry."

There are idiots on Twitter today that make me want to quit it. Smedley realised it was time to call it a day, he said, when he started to direct this ire at his fellow tweeters. "It's like being at the same dinner party with the same people week after week," he said. "I started to detest them." At around noon on the day after the Ahlan! party, a week after he'd announced his decision to quit, Smedley was still posting Twitter updates on his blog. His most recent - I lucked-out with the chatty taxi driver. Ideal for the hangover - had been written 29 minutes earlier.

* Chris Wright