Saturday, February 15, 2014

Life through the lens of Facebook

So I recently turned 39 and as a birthday present to myself I decided to quit Facebook. Only I didn't actually quit as in delete my account nor have I given up my page School Run Mum. Nope, that would have been too final for an addict like me. I rationalise that on my personal FB account I have so many photographs from over the years, the originals scattered between various SD cards, laptops, iPads, and a series of iPhones, that I am too scared to lose them and haven't yet found the time to save them onto yet another device. I'm far too busy using FB you see. Likewise the funny stuff my kids have said over the years (both born during the Facebook years), which I've recorded in various status updates and which I keep meaning to write down in a book for them to look at one day when they are older or have kids of their own. Then I thought about deactivating my personal FB account which means your stuff stays there but it's like you switch the light off and shut the door for a while. But what if people need me in case of an emergency or worse, an invite to a party? My husband advised against it and suggested instead I download FB Messenger onto my iPhone. He assured me it was a win win situation: I didn't have to delete or deactivate my account and risk losing stuff, I just didn't have to use FB if I didn't want to, but if people needed to contact me they could. *An audible sigh of relief*

I agreed but immediately realised this was a form of denial; My relationship with Facebook is the way some people are with chocolate or beer in the house; they cannot just have a couple, they have to have the whole lot in one sitting. I've used and loved FB for so long - been there since its conception - and I became convinced I'd crack under pressure and start using it again because I know it's there, silently waiting for me to upload a photo or a post, or like a friend's picture, and then someone would comment, I would respond, and I'd be sucked right back in again - more hours whiled away. And what if I missed something really really important? Like the death of an actor or an earthquake? Which leads me to an important note to self: Facebook is NOT a reliable source of world news.

OK, so why exactly am I trying to quit given I use and love it so much? Notice how I said trying because while I think I'm done with my personal page and all the social stuff of FB I am quite keen on getting my page School Run Mum off the ground – I think it might be interesting (see final paragraph). But in terms of using FB in the traditional timeline sense or rather not using it, the most obvious reason is a simple one; it takes up too much of my time. I'm so busy Facebooking about my life and experiences that I'm somehow absent when it comes to being a present and in the moment participant of it. It reminds me of a few years back going and watching Woody Allen and his band perform at the Cafe Carlyle.  Everyone was filming the performance on their phones or cameras or taking pictures (Allen didn't seem to mind, not the way Bobby Short used to apparently) and very few people were just sitting and experiencing the moment without a device in front of their face. It occurred to me that somehow we don't actually just live anymore unless we are doing so through some form of social media or medium.

Before Facebook I was actually a fairly prolific blogger, which you may argue is another form of social media and you may be right. But it is also where I write and this is an important part of who I am and how I process the world I live in. Now I haven't blogged in ages, firstly because I had two small children who were not in school and then because I post FB updates when I have an idea, and subsequently don't sit and spend the time developing it into a piece of writing. Likewise I have a painting I am struggling with and I'm avoiding it and using FB as a way of doing so. My Flicker account (and love of taking pictures) lies dormant, I have piles of unread books, not to mention a myriad of admin and unpacked boxes from when we moved back in September 2013. I recently had to take my child to get vaccinated and couldn't find his red book and realised I haven't seen it since the move. I kept nagging myself with the accusation: 'If you'd sorted through all those boxes instead of mucking about on FB you would have found it by now'. This interior accusatory voice sounded strangely like my mother.

And I'd be lying if I said I didn't sneak a peak on FB when I am hanging out with my kids, even if it is when they are engaged with a game or toy or TV programme and aren't requiring my immediate attention. I read stuff people post, check out the links, look at the youtube clips, respond to stuff, get into the occasional argument in the comments on Slate, the usual stuff. Quite simply I am wasting valuable time on Facebook and I need that time to lead what I think will be a more productive and creative existence. If this still doesn't happen in the absence of FB usage, I may have to accept that perhaps I (and not FB) am to blame for not leading a more productive and creative existence. Always risky not having something or someone to blame for ones shortcomings.

There is also another more ominous aspect of Facebook which bothers me. Perhaps I cannot blame the medium itself, but I think I can blame how we have come to use it, or perhaps how it allows or encourages us to use it, and how it can be an incredibly destructive social force. Last year I read how a man and a woman had gunned down a second woman who was still holding her baby because of a Facebook dispute between the two woman. She died but the baby was found still alive beneath her. It haunts me this story. In a less homicidal and dramatic form I have seen from my own personal experience and those of my friends how Facebook or the use thereof has destroyed a lot of relationships.

You have have a party or have a handful of people over, and someone doesn't get invited and someone else you have invited takes a photo or updates that they are at your house. And the uninvited person/s get seriously pissed and thinks you hate them. This happened to me last year and I was genuinely upset about it for a while imagining all sorts of reasons why I hadn't been invited and inventing scenarios as to what the person who had thrown the gathering had against me. The real reason of course, was that she had nothing against me. The fact is this was not about me – she had some people over and didn't invite me, which is not the same as not inviting me. And the funny thing about all of this is that I am the first person to tell people to get a grip, and that not everything is about them and not everyone is obliged to invite them to every bloody thing. Can you imagine if they did? Your life would be like featuring in a Groundhog Day episode of Cheers.

And then there are the people that never actually invite you to anything, quite possibly because they never actually host anything, but get offended because you don't invite them to something. It's like my son who thinks every Buzz Lightyear (in the store, at the bottom of a stranger's buggy) belongs to him. Likewise biscuits. I don't actually have anything more to say on this subject. It speaks for itself. Or someone posts a photo of you with someones ex husband or ex friend that they've come to hate in an old testament kind of way (but you still rather like this person), and the eejit taking the photo tags you and that leads to another shit storm.

Or you post something and someone disagrees with it in principle and suddenly you are having a terrible personal argument when it all started about your love of the film 'The English Patient' (Homage to Seinfeld here). Staying up until all hours waiting to see what they respond with, and then responding back and then being unable to sleep because of what they may respond with. And sitting at dinner with your husband feeling compelled to check your phone every few minutes to see if there has been yet another response to your response. And if he even thinks of raising an eyebrow you feel justified in almost shouting out: "But honey this important!" And god knows it feels important. This happened to me, although not about 'The English Patient', and a very good and long term friendship very nearly ended for good over what amount to nothing important at all. Not to mention all those hours of lost sleep. 

I honestly think we've created a culture of potential social bedlam of Jerry Springer proportions. Things in the past, that we may have done and lied about like normal people, are now out and in the open on Facebook causing all kinds of offence (imagined and real), hurt, and fallings out. It's quite crazy when you step back and look at it for what it is – highschool. Since when did we have to record our every living breathing moment or opinion and have to be accountable for everything we do and who we hang out with, and since when did people feel entitled to have an opinion on this either way? And why do we care?

I've posted a holiday snap, had a comment to the effect of: 'Well it's alright for some' and then fallen into the trap of apologising with stuff like: 'Well, you know, it's pretty full on with the kids, and my husband has quite an intense job and he travels a lot and it's nice to have some time together as a family.' When instead I should say: 'Yes, I'm on holiday, I'm having a nice fucking time and I don't need to apologise for it'. It serves as an important reminder: Even if you are not someone that likes to crow and make people feel bad about the fact that you have something that they don't - if you look as though you are having a good time and there is Facebook evidence of it, you appear to be rubbing other people's noses in it. There is no escaping it.

Facebook also serves as a shitty substitute for having a meaningful relationship with someone. A really good friend of mine who lived in Germany got very ill and died last year. We were both lazy correspondents to begin with and in recent years had got accustomed to checking in on each other via Facebook as opposed to Skyping or emailing as we used to do. He got ill and was in hospital for a few months before passing away and I had no idea, none, until I got the call that he had died. During the period of his illness his Facebook activity was obviously zero, which meant he didn't feature in my feed, and I just assumed he was taking time out, working on something, and it never ever occurred to me that something might be wrong. I genuinely struggle to deal with this on a day to day basis – the fact that I didn't call him or email him and be there for him in his illness and see him before he died. And I cannot blame Facebook – it's my fault entirely for relying on it alone to facilitate my relationship with him.

Then there are the people who see the handful of things you choose to update about and assume that it represents your life in total. So a holiday snap plus you in Starbucks drinking a coffee plus a new pair of shoes equals a blessed existence of holidays, lazy workless lunches and shopping without any of the stresses and strains of their life. It discounts the fact that like everyone else you may have health concerns, worry about money, have to work at your marriage, have issues with your children's school, or anxiety, trouble sleeping, family problems, all of this stuff that you DON'T POST ABOUT. People who assume Facebook is a reflection of real life need a reality check or therapy. But perhaps what is worse are people that are guilty of consciously promoting this bullshit fantasy about their own lives and maybe Facebook as a medium encourages it?

So I'm taking time off from my personal FB page /timeline maybe indefinitely. I want to write, which I am kind of trying to do here, maybe develop the idea of School Run Mum into something more than a FB page, and I want to finish that bloody painting. And I am determined to sort through all of my unpacked boxes and have a clear out. And I want to really engage with my children rather than say: “Just a second I'm just updating my status.” And I want to call and talk to my friends (or better still see them) and find out how they are rather than relying on their status updates to check in on them. And I don't want to talk about what I am doing all of the time because I don't want people to resent me for it. If I want someone to resent me, I'd much rather we go out, have a drink, and I put my foot in it as I always do. Then they can resent me for a good old fashioned real reason, not because of a picture of me drinking wine where I manage a smile for one tenth of a second which makes it look like I am having the most fabulous time and have no troubles in my life, ever. I also don't want to know which of my friends might be partying without me. I'd much rather they lie to me through omission – the way we've always done it. That way we can all just get on with our lives and everyone will be much happier. I genuinely believe this. Sometimes ignorance is most certainly bliss.

And of course I am going to click the 'Share on Facebook' button right now because I want you to read this, but I'm not going to check it. No I'm not. So don't comment on Facebook if you have something smart to say like: 'Well it's OK for some to fanny about writing blogs.' Not if you want me to read it that is. Drop me a call and let's go out and then you can tell me.

About School Run Mum: A week or so ago I started this FB page after I watched Bill Cunningham New York. Bill takes pictures of real people on the streets of New York wearing interesting and beautiful clothes. It sparked an idea because something that has interested and intrigued me since I started taking my children to school was seeing how some people dress given they have about the same time I do in the mornings, yet manage to come up with something a bit more creative than my own sweater, jeans and deck shoes uniform. It's not about designer stuff or how much you spend on your clothes, but rather seeing the creative way people manage to express their individual style through clothes and accessories, in and amongst the chaos and time limitations of getting children to and from school.

When I initially had the idea and asked some people what they thought, they were unanimously positive and asked 'But where will we see the pictures?' and I honestly couldn't come up with a better idea than FB because it's just so accessible and pretty much most people I know are on it. I also don't have to yell out some long winded or complicated URL after taking a picture of someone but instead just tell them to see it on FB as it's a public page. If you're wondering if this completely and utterly contradicts what I have written in this blog I had the same concern, but this page is not about me personally, it is a creative enterprise and I think it can be very interesting and it's something I am happy to spend some time on. I also worried that maybe people might start making bitchy comments about photos but as I facilitate and regulate the page I am not going to allow that. This project is about finding a beautiful individual moment of creative expression in and amongst the chaos of getting kids ready for school, not a place to bitch and encourage all of the negative stuff I've written about in this blog.

So please send me your photos via the message facility on School Run Mum and simply state which city or town the picture was taken in – no need to tag: Ideally I'd like pictures from around the world: Not just of women or men in big cities, but everywhere. It may be a something as simple yet as beautiful as a pink scarf over a winter coat on a rainy day, or a pair of colourful sandals peaking out at the bottom of a burqa, or an African print top paired with a pair of jeans. If you take a picture of someone else on your school run please do not have their face in it, and no pictures of children ever. Thank you.


Mac said...

Good for you and good luck! For me, it's a welcome distraction that I don't take too seriously. I don't apologise for my holiday pics, or my opinions and I'm not afraid to poke the bear on other people's timelines - it's all about having fun and chit chat when none of us have time to get together face to face - I'm also very easy about unfollowing (I hardly ever unfriend) people that I feel I don't have the interest in reading about.

Most importantly, I find it an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with old friends and family that live in other countries.

I regularly take a break from reading/posting, but it's self imposed due to my personal time needs, not a fear of being addicted.


Mac said...

Good for you and good luck! For me, it's a welcome distraction that I don't take too seriously. I don't apologise for my holiday pics, or my opinions and I'm not afraid to poke the bear on other people's timelines - it's all about having fun and chit chat when none of us have time to get together face to face - I'm also very easy about unfollowing (I hardly ever unfriend) people that I feel I don't have the interest in reading about.

Most importantly, I find it an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with old friends and family that live in other countries.

I regularly take a break from reading/posting, but it's self imposed due to my personal time needs, not a fear of being addicted.

letters from london said...

Mac it sounds like you have the right balance - enviable. I agree I love how FB reconnected me with people from my past whom I may never have heard from again and it was an invaluable means of staying connected with the world during those sometimes lonely days of early parenting.

Mac said...

ahem, I should probably clarify, this so-called balance is sometimes an illusion! LOL... it can indeed be a time-sucker some days