Hit the mute button: Why everyone is trying to silence the outside world

Twitter introduced a mute function in 2014 and it has proved to be the social network’s most popular feature, a sort of automatic talk-to-the-hand. Instead of “blocking” someone objectionable (which they will know about) you can now discreetly “mute” them (which they won’t know about). Part of the appeal is the thought of trolls screaming and @-ing and wondering why you’re not replying. Twitter followed it up with a subject-based mute feature in 2017: so, if you don’t want to hear about Love Island, or Terfs, or the Champions League final, or Dominic Raab, for ever if need be, you don’t have to. If you want a glimpse of happy Twitter, type “mute button” into the search box: “Just wanna thank my ‘mute’ button for never giving up on me <3”; “Mute button is top 10 most powerful things in the universe”; “I thank @instagram for creating their mute posts and story buttons” etc.

Instagram added its own mute function last year, inspired by what it called “complex social dynamics”. Now you can avoid your friend’s nauseating Ibiza selfies and tasting menu stories without fear of causing offence. “I’m happy for my friends who are achieving great things, but Instagram makes it too easy to start getting bitter about why that’s not me,” one muter explained. “I’m looking forward to living in a self-imposed creative bubble for a little while.”

The clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert, author of Living Like Crazy, sees such responses in Jungian terms. “We’re becoming more persona-dominated,” he says. “We all put on an act about how people want to see and hear us. We do it all the time on social media.” For him, the Uber shush feature is a welcome chance for us to rest those personas for a few minutes. “Human beings evolved in small hunter-gatherer groups where everyone knew one another,” he says. “We aren’t necessarily adapted to be interacting with strangers all the time. People find it incredibly tiring. At least in a taxi, you have an opportunity to sit and be quiet.”