This is written on a Mac, with a smartphone beside it. The Mac has three files open, five tabs on Safari, two on Firefox, while the iphone flashes Whatsapps from friends in Birmingham, Hong Kong and New York.
At a restaurant this week, four girls beside us spent a two hours taking, reviewing, editing and uploading selfies. Two hours. They had a pole to suspend the camera, which my partner said was a brilliant invention, and it was, which depressed me. This is not an attack on Selfies, which are here to stay, regardless of how upset I get. But the girls would each get home and probably spend another forty minutes each, sharing, tagging, untagging, commenting on their evening. More time cumulatively talking about it online, than being with each other at the table.
I, we, all of us, spend hours on social media every week. It’s who we are and we’ve all proselytized the crap out of it. That night we, the judging couple at the next table, who thought we were smarter, stayed up until 1.30am reading and sharing articles our friends had shared. Today I’m tired, in my head, and a little more in my heart. I, we, all of us, scan and scroll through articles, links, every day – 20 ways to lose weight at your desk, You will not believe what this cat does, Rihanna’s tits in this dress, The incredible truth about Blah… etc.
It’s not enough that electronic media, in all its forms, now clouds the way we live in the real world. The couple on the date, staring into their phones, Selfies as an accepted social disruption, like voluntary vanity hiccups in every conversation. It’s Orwellian. Huxley. Rand. Bradbury. They all warned us and it happened anyway.
We think in clicks, have tabs open, bookmark subjects and read the world in snippets; boxes, tabs, links and scroll-downs. And our memories take them in the same way. Even my dreams are shorter scenes, with more changeable characters.
Mine was one of the first year-groups to be allowed calculators in exams – to not even need to do the sums in our heads. Now every essay must be scanned for plagiarism, (and the skill it takes, to sit down and write an essay, with the entire internet behind your Word screen, is a lifeskill that really will pass the test of time – she says, clicking on the Buzzfeed’s ’33 Jokes only Game of Thrones fans will understand’).
My father used to charge on a series of crusades against the media, how it manipulated us, how we gave it our lives to it and how it was accountable to no-one but moguls with their own egos on the agenda. Piers Morgan and Max Clifford were his Nemeses, and Mark Zuckerburg would have made him spit fire.
If he was around today, I know this voluntary life-corrosion in the name of ‘Sharing’ would be his current crusade. He would have loved this video, and if it has 43 million hits… something is catching…
It’s so much harder now to sink into a bigger story, a warm one that, segmentized through your daily commute, can’t be diminished. And it’s even harder to write one. The way our brains work, the way we read and think, and how our social relationships have evolved, is fast. A thoughtful friend wishes Facebook was an actual place you could reach out and hold people in. Instant, but real and tangible. A universal craving that our own behavior pushes further away.
Facebook isn’t just a communication tool. With friends in Dubai, a transient place at best, it’s also how people get to know and understand you, when actual conversations are harder to make out in the beating nightclub. Your Facebook etiquette – bombarding people on Chat, too many Selfies, aggressive statuses or judgmental posts, become your Actual social behaviour, to live or die by – to raise or destroy a business, reputation or livelihood.
And in the more important friendships, we write long emails and Facebook and Whatsapp messages, often instead of a call. Skype breaks this down, but still puts real life through a screen that can’t give you a rib-squeazing sweaty bear-hug. From the Middle East, I see my baby nephew in Hitchin, through daily videos held in my hand, where he isn’t.
Next month, I’m travelling to Birmingham, Brussels, Croatia and London then back to the Desert. I’ll see 14 of my closest, longest friends, my mum, my sister, her husband Senior-Awesome and their baby Super-Awesome, my brother and his beautiful wife. I can’t wait to not take any pictures or post any statuses. I want to hug them silly and exhaust them with condensed Chat. Twenty days to go…