Facebook and me, it’s an uneasy relationship. Well, it’s uneasy for me. How can one tell what Facebook feels about anything? I think ‘social media’ is a meaningless phrase: my children and grandchildren tell me otherwise, but being social with a keyboard and screen has limitations. I write ‘stuff’ and my late husband, Alan, he also wrote ‘stuff’. How clumsy is that sentence! Communication has changed so much. ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ is no way to start a modern letter. I’m old-fashioned; I respect apostrophes. As a ‘ten-pound Pom’ I have affection for W. S. Gilbert (please note that I’ve included the full stops). His ‘little list’ of pet aversions in ‘The Mikado’ is a favourite and can always be adapted by those of us having a hangover or a bad hair day.
Let me dispense with Instagram and Twitter first. If I want to send pictures to my nearest and dearest I’ll attach them to an email; I really don’t need yet another ‘account’ on account of my absolute aversion to signing up for any kind of account. As for Twitter – let’s just leave that for the birds, they do it so much better.
I’m not a complete Luddite. Email entrances me because if offers the opportunity of a ‘long form’ letter with news, pictures, meditation, reflection, argument – and kindness. It’s sad to receive a one-word response from a child or grandchild to some well-crafted email that I’ve sweated over for hours: ‘right’, ‘ok’, ‘good, Mum’, ‘will do’ etc. are simply signs of our times – but depressing.
Now to Facebook. So many academics are examining this juggernaut and its effects on our minds, souls, brains, emotional states – there’s no need in the world for me to add to it. Better we smile.
Gilbert writes scathingly of the ‘lady novelist’ and of course he’s being a man of his times and very sexist. But oh how I cringe at our current writers who gush so fulsomely about their gratitude to editors, booksellers, publishers, et al. True enough, I’ve thanked a few people for being kind about my memoir Solly’s Girl but how many backs can be mutually scratched? Where’s the dignity?
The passionate political posts for the most part leave me unmoved. The ones I seem to see are either about corruption, the most recent terrorist attacks and which country’s turn it is to have a coup. Why unmoved? Well, there’s not much I can do. The time when I was young enough to carry a banner for my union or march in protest against an unjust war are long gone. For most of the writers (not all) the matters they raise seem to them like new injustices to be righted, new problems to be solved, new disasters to be prevented. But I am older and in one guise or another these issues have all arisen before and before and before. Once in a while a charismatic figure emerges in our society, someone to galvanize a government to act but for the most part I am deaf to these passionate posters. Of course I do preserve the other posters – Che Guervara (‘Revolucion’) and Lord Kitchener (‘Your country needs YOU’) – some political history will always stir my emotions.
The causes, the cries for justice, justice, justice. It’s rather like the welter of requests for donations that come by old-fashioned mail. The pitiful stories, the desperate need, the terrible government inaction over this or that injustice. Giving is good, I know, but I can’t see the value in promoting guilt. I have a (sometimes leaky) roof over my head and so far I can pay my way at the grocer. In order that others may have help without humiliation I’d willingly pay the tax to support a more equal society. I always thought that my greatest contribution is my vote. Is Facebook any kind of help?
The substitute postcards! Who can blame the ‘friends’ that post all those pictures ‘by the beach’, ‘having breakfast’, or ‘on top of the mountain’. Postage rates world-wide are horrendous and the savings are considerable. But they are indeed impersonal; no-one really sat down at some rickety table in a square in Uzbekistan to write to me – yes, me – to tell me that the coffee is terrible but the sights are wonderful. The real postcard arrives weeks after my real friends have returned home, but I keep it; the Facebook pictures are long gone.
The grandchildren! Ah, here I am certainly on very shaky ground. I look at very old photograph albums, pictures taken on film, processed in some laboratory, stuck onto the cardboard page and kept in place with those little corner triangles and with a caption in ink underneath, ‘Merimbula, 1960’ or, in the case of our family archives, ‘Regent’s Park, 1924’. I could have all thirty-three albums digitised, even on a DVD that we might play through the television; how would it compare? My father, Solly (of Solly’s Girl) actually posed Sadie (my mother) and me for the Box Brownie, handled those old prints, wrote the captions. It’s a hard call, history versus hard disc.
Business is business. Selling one’s product on Facebook is probably a great idea. As an old advertising hand, married to Alan who also made a living in this dubious area, I can see how potent a medium this can be. It’s a challenge though to grab my interest. In a perverse sort of way Facebook has promoted discrimination. The ads are simply everywhere so I’ve learned to ignore the lot.
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I’m glad that’s off my chest! Now I must really come to grips with this mystery of modern times, the fantasy-land of Facebook. What do I want from this – if anything?
I like to write. Solly’s Girl: a memoir was an important event for me and I am happy that readers are responsive. There have been some particularly pleasing occasions and comments. My favourite has to be the woman who came to my door bearing a thank you card, a jar of home-made liqueured cumquats and another of plum sauce: I’d never met her but she wanted me to know how much she liked my book. Of course, I could have made a great Facebook post out of that but the idea appalled me.
Facebook can be a pointer for me – a yellow brick road to something much more important than pictures of my garden (which is pretty) or my grandchildren (who are adorable as are all grandchildren) or my breakfast (which is nothing startling). This blog is where my reflections will appear and Facebook can provide a guide. Follow the arrow and enjoy!