Normally I try to keep this blog a positive platform, because I have locked accounts on Facebook, Twitter, a number of other social media sites, and my paper diary for moaning, complaining, and bitching about life to an audience, not to mention the people I manage to corner in pubs, art galleries, and long walks for further dissection of Why Everything Is Shit. It takes a certain amount of effort, as I am not by nature an upbeat or optimistic person and typically my philosophical range lies between “nihilistic” and “whingy”.
So I hope I can be forgiven for temporarily slipping into hectoring complaints here: there’s this thing people do and it annoys me. That sentence is, by the way, the subtitle to my never-to-be-written autobiography. “Delilah Des Anges: There’s This Thing People Do And It Annoys Me“.
That Thing That All Of Us Do And If You Say You Don’t You’re Lying
It comes in many forms. In some areas of the internet it comes in the form of nostalgia drives: if you didn’t do this as a kid you weren’t really born in X decade, a statement which has led me to conclude that I actually grew up in a bizarre 1950s with computers that allowed me to peer into the window at the 80s and 90s through primary school classrooms but only fleetingly touch concepts like Super Mario Bros. In others it’s about the internet, in the complacent, gif-heavy articles on Buzzfeed and the paid-by-the-word-to-splurge-800-words-of-nothingness-and-pay-the-rent bylines in the online editions of otherwise journalism-minded newspapers. Sometimes it makes it into the mouths of talking heads on TV shows, talking about Twitter: other times it pops up on Twitter.
What it usually boils down to is, “Hey here’s that thing all of us do, because it’s assumed everyone uses the internet the same way, and if you don’t you’re a liar and/or a freak.”
Examples involve “people who tweet about their lunch” (everyone does it, come on, everyone Instagrams their lunch, there’s no person online who doesn’t have an Instagram account!), “the way you react to every current event by trying to find something witty to say about it first” (you mean there are people in the world who aren’t competitively “witty” with their friends? Gettaway), and the automatic assumption – weird in an age of international conversations, saved TV, and a bigger variety than ever of accessible entertainment in a million forms – that we’re all watching the same show, all playing the same games, all listening to the same songs.
The latter is in part I think the triumph of marketing campaigns, but also the assumption that in the face of the release of Titanfall, no one is going to be diligently sticking with Animal Crossing, because something New has happened and must hold our attention. Every time the tidal wave of I’m reading this everyone is reading this everyone in the world is reading this, it’s still the person who says am I the only person who isn’t reading _______ who is derided in public as an arsehole. Each product release is a Major Cultural Event, and the price of non-participation in cultural events, down to following the correct participation criteria is, as I have known since childhood, the enactment of social violence on the deviant.
This doesn’t sound to me like a utopian arrangement and certainly belies the fierce talk of individualism favoured by Western civilisations: at least places which are nakedly clear about the interests of the one being irrelevant before the interests of group unity don’t lie about individualist agendas while engaging in soft pillorying of people who don’t watch a specific sporting event.
This Is Relatable, Right? My Friends Do It And I’m Normal So All Your Friends Do It
The most recent example of egregious assumptions was on Susan Calman’s Convicted, a Radio Four comedy show I listen to at work because my job is mind-numbing and sometimes I have to listen to something which isn’t a documentary or I suffer from a sense of humour failure, which some people may believe has already happened given this touchy and bad-tempted blog post.
Normally I just absorb any given comedian’s divergences from the path of righteousness with either a shrug and the mantra it takes all sorts, or a hearty shriek of SHUT UP YOU RACIST MORON if I’m watching Mock the Week, but this particular moment, delivered as it was part of absolute reality, struck the same chord as hundreds of piss-awful Gawker “articles”.
The idea was that everyone – everyone – now has friends who disappear off to the toilet mid-argument in order to look up a fact on their phone and then pretend they knew it all along. Friends who use technology in order to avoid having to look like they might not know a thing. This was of course presented as a problem with technology, because admitting that it might be a problem with the kind of friends one chooses to keep is a bit tough to tackle after the age of about fifteen or so.
I’ve probably had friends who behaved like that, at some point in my life, but they aren’t friends of mine any more, because the kind of person who finds it fundamentally impossible to say “I don’t know” in a conversation and has to lie in order to maintain their competitive Rightness isn’t someone I’m tremendously keen on staying acquainted with. I don’t really want to waste my limited attention on Twitter following the kind of people whose use of the platform is photos of their lunch or competitive funniness, either, so I don’t.
I use most social media the same way I’ve used it since I first got online, when everyone and their dog wasn’t doing it, when it wasn’t freakish and socially damaging not to be on the internet, long before Facebook: I use it to talk to people. Most often directly, occasionally like this, on the assumption of an audience of maybe two people and a dog, which is slightly less embarrassing than rocking down to Speaker’s Corner to stand in the rain and slightly less sociable than going to the pub and doing it at people, although it has the edge over both in that I don’t have to change out of my pyjamas to be didactic here.
Both through social media and through real life interaction I’ve found it relatively easy to winnow out the people who are worth choosing to spend time with and the ones we can quietly ignore unless they turn up at a party or on someone else’s Facebook status being an obnoxious bucket.
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest this process is for everyone, of course, because I’m not obsessed with the idea that everyone has the same experiences and needs to deal with them in the same way. And I’m not going to pretend I do in order to foster some false sense of warm fuzzy unity and drive up my hits with how identifiable my vague, gif-strewn list supposedly is.