Today, a man named David called my radio show. David asked me when my contract ended and told me how much he was looking forward to that day. He wasn't impressed with the job I'd done over the last month, launching the new breakfast show on Rock FM. David missed the old presenters. They had done the show for four years and he wanted them back. David isn't the only one and he isn't unexpected. Taking over a new show on the radio or being up on stage or on TV comes with exposure and, in turn, criticism. You will always get it and it's nothing new. What does feel new, though, is how frequent a problem this is and how intensely abusive we have become with each other.
"You're the worst breakfast radio presenter ever! Waste of air."
"Never mind a face for radio, you have a voice for Morse code!"
"How do I get in touch with your bosses? Got to get this d*ck off!"
During the summer, I went to watch X Factor film their auditions process. I sat in an auditorium as the weird, wonderful, average and sublimely talented shuffled onto the stage to do their thing. It was a wholly uncomfortable experience as an arena full of people turned on a woman simply trying her best. A gladiatorial spirit, an angry mob, booing and chanting for her demise - angry at the fact that she was up there in the first place, simply trying, giving it a go. The most troubling part of what it seems will become the X Factor's cultural legacy, is how unaware people are of the consequences of their actions. How this is deemed not only acceptable, but also entertaining, a kind of sport - as it was when crowds cheered a gladiatorial fight to the death. It is a mentality that has extended into how we deal with people in other areas of our lives. The way we interact with call center staff, bus drivers, sportsmen and women.
The consensus among the sensible is to ignore it, to let it wash over you and accept that it will always happen. Well, I'm done with that theory. I don't think it's OK and I don't think we should be willing to accept it anymore. We need a new consensus, a new brand of sensible that will call this out before it goes too far.
It's also considerably closer to home than you may think. Be it sending online abuse to a girl whose picture has gone viral on the internet, or mindlessly attacking a presenter or a singer or an actor - there is no hidden, underground, sub-society filled with online trolls hammering away at their keyboards all day - this is us, and it could so easily be you. I've often been disgruntled by something I've seen on television or in the news and had to fight off my desire to tweet them about it. The trouble, in many cases, is the lack of consequences. The safe hiding place from which the vile abuse can be hurled.
Worse still, we are breeding a new generation of people who don't know the boundaries. Have you taken a look at a One Direction trend on Twitter lately? It is laced with hate and abuse, young girls turning on each other like pack animals. After a friend of mine had a private relationship with somebody who happened to be famous with a large following, they had to remove themselves from social media to avoid the barrage of death threats and venomous cruelty - and the onus fell on them to walk away.
This is a warning to all of us - to think twice. To harness that basic decency we are taught as children but seem to forget so quickly. To be nice to each other and to think again about criticising somebody you don't know. The right to an opinion only extends so far. You don't know what's happening in a person's life. You have no idea what makes a person be a certain way. A critique on my performance on the radio is a critique on me, on my personality and on who I am. We have been made to believe our opinion on somebody we do not know, doing something we know nothing about, is valid... and it isn't. You have every right to switch off the radio, to not buy that person's music, to put the phone down or get off the bus - but that's it. That's as far as it goes. You have every right to an opinion but the lines have been blurred. We have lost sight of what is right and wrong, between making a judgment and simply abusing each other.
I am sorry you don't like my show, David. Truly I am. I do four hours of live radio every day and not every bit of it can be brilliant. I work hard and, like you no doubt, I'm simply trying to make my way in the world. I am also sorry that we have created a climate in which it feels acceptable to call somebody at 7.30am and tell them directly that you do not like them and that you wish bad upon them. I understand I may not be to your taste but I do not accept that calling me up to ask when my contract runs out is OK - and that I should sit back and let it happen. Your right extends to turning off the radio. I do not believe that joining an angry mob and shouting somebody down from the stage is a decent way for us to behave, to show how we feel, to express ourselves. The growing acceptance of this sort of behaviour only serves to perpetuate the problem. We need to take control of the situation now, before we arrive at a point of no return.