It was when I saw the latest Andrex advert that I knew things had gone too far.
'Do you scrunch or fold?' the toilet paper advertisers bellow, as they drag you into the Cubicle of Horror like an unlucky first former, about to get your head plunged into the toilet bowl by the most notorious bullies in the fifth form.
On the television advert, in a series of vignettes, some people supposedly representative of the UK's population tell us about how they deploy their Andrex. There's the competitive squash player. The glammed-up, cocktail-drinking, twenty-something woman-on-the-pull. The ageing actress, the salt-of-the-earth farmer, and the cute blonde in the heinous onesie, painting her toenails delicately. The advert shouts at us to get involved in this tasteless survey of the nation's Andrex 'techniques'. What is wrong with these people? I can't stop asking myself incredulously, especially as I have heard of perfectly sensible 'real' people, who aren't being paid to advertise the product, running around asking their friends and colleagues whether they scrunch or fold. What on earth is happening to humankind? Has over-sharing made its masterpiece at last?
We've all been there, after all: in the company of the compulsive over-sharer who makes us feel uncomfortable. That person who sits down beside you heavily in the workplace lunch break, sighs, and then lugubriously tells you about their recent Norovirus hell, no detail spared, until you feel you know as much as if you'd had 48 hours of sickness yourself, and you feel so nauseated by what they've said that you've convinced yourself you've caught their germs. Or in the proximity of the group of teenage boys who delight in announcing to anyone in earshot when somebody has had a digestive infelicity. Or assaulted by the group of yummy mummies who presume you'd like to hear the ins-and-outs, quite literally, of their little darlings' latest toilet-training faux-pas. The list goes on, and it doesn't mean it's right. Our world of intrusive news even tells us when the Queen has gastroenteritis, nowadays, or just how bad Royal morning-sickness can be. It all makes me even more misanthropic than I usually am, repulsing me, making me wish for some kind of mental equivalent of anti-bacterial hand-gel, that might let me purge this tasteless conversation from my mind.
And on it goes in social networking, and maybe this is where this over-sharing stuff is most at home... on the germ-laden faces of the smartphone and the tablet, where euphemism and the hedge of niceties go to die. Someone told me they saw a bin and thought of me, last week. Although this turned out to be less insulting than it seemed, in that the bin was in a humorous internet-forwarded photo involving wordplay, nonetheless it was yet another example of the over-share: the 'dog foul bin' which bring what one might call 'the business end of the dog' to the fore.
In a café before writing this, I came across a 'nappy-change facility', whose name, the Sturdy Station, had helpfully been altered by someone keen to emphasise its function. I photographed it, yes, but only to illustrate my point: if we divest ourselves of the politeness of the euphemism, where is it going to end?
Already, on our TV screens, we've had the cute bears in the Charmin adverts, off to do what bears are famous for doing in the woods - rebranded as koalas who love to cuddle up to their soft, rebranded toilet paper, Cushelle. The truisms remain, just as one must presume that the newly-retired Pope is still emblematically a Catholic...
I'm all for honesty, hyperbole aside. I'm all for being aware of germs and proper sanitation, and being rid of the silly notion that Andrex is something that a fluffy puppy uses to festoon a house. I'm all for knowing what a product really is. But surely there are limits? Surely there's something wrong with a world where people believe it's fine to upload a photo of Baby's First Nappy, filtered and hispterified on Instagram, and tweet it to their hundreds of adoring followers? Surely there's something wrong with a world where adults treat each other to 'cute' versions of their bathroom privacies like small children who announce loudly, to anyone in earshot, that they 'need the loo'? Surely there's room for a little bit of ... reserve?
People need to stop using conversation, whether face-to-face or in the Twittersphere, as some kind of personal episode of Embarrassing Bodies. There is such a thing as Too Much Information, and the advertisers, who hold the mirror up to our nature, need to learn this too. To take these details that they over-share, scrunch them or fold them up, and get rid of them. Discreetly.
We must dispose of verbal incontinence. For good.Suggest a correction