I know I always pick on Facebook, but I really don’t like the showing-offiness of that platform. I haven’t completely abandoned it, because it did help me to reconnect with some long-lost school friends, but I visit it as little as possible.
Afright from a nightmare where my mother once more
waxes satirical about my weight,
I shake off the sludge of family binds and turn
to my friends in the blue glow of pre-dawn screens.
That’s the way we do it now: no calling, no comfort
After a brief honeymoon on Facebook back in 2009/2010, when I reconnected with friends I hadn’t ‘seen’ in 10+ years, I became a very infrequent visitor. But over the past few weeks, while attempting to sell household items, old toys, sports equipment etc. prior to our move, I’ve been checking in several times a day. With some dismay.
Buying and Selling on Facebook in Privilege Land
The number of items for sale in June/July in the Geneva area is unbelievable. You can have your pick of furniture, clothes, toys, inflatable pools, cars, bicycles, barbecues and electronics if you are buying. But no one is buying, because everyone is either on holiday or else about to relocate. By September, when the changing of the guard is complete, people new to the area will be looking for second-hand items… and there will be NONE.
The dialogue is straight out of Eugene Ionesco:
‘What do you mean, I need a minivan for a corner sofa? But I don’t live in a minivan.’ ‘Where is the nearest bus stop? Why can’t I take that solid pine chest of drawers on a bus?’ All waiting for you to utter the magic words: ‘Fine, I’ll bring it to you.’
‘How much did you say this was again?’ ‘Oh, you meant euros, not francs?’ “What, you live in France? Oh, no, I never come over the border…’
‘Yeah, I know I asked about the measurements before I came to pick it up. But now that I look at it, I realise it will never fit in my living room.’
Plus, of course, every appointment will need to be rescheduled at least twice. Busy, busy, busy lives we all lead, even though we seem to be trawling through Facebook very frequently.
I can’t believe how many people are selling unused Celine bags, unworn Prada shoes and Gucci tops. Someone has clearly been having a shopping binge or is of a vacillating disposition. Or there are too many husbands/lovers out there who still don’t get their women’s taste!
The Joy of Updates
I’m really happy that people are happy – don’t get me wrong. I am not one fat killjoy waiting to pounce on you. But it’s become a blast of trumpets (or vuvuzelas) rather than a conversation. Look at me, look at me!
Far too easy to click ‘like’ and believe that we are actually interacting. Whilst all along we are thinking how to top that story with one of our own.
I’m also inherently suspicious of people who are projecting too much joy – are they trying a tad too hard? A day out is no longer fun if you do not instantly upload the pictures for all to see. You cannot kiss your partner on your wedding anniversary in the quiet of your bedroom or kitchen without inviting the world along to peek.
My modesty feels assaulted when I see people patting themselves on the back in humblebrag mode. I am delighted that their children have achievements to share, but would rather not rub it into the faces of those who don’t.
The friend who’s constantly ‘too busy’ to meet up with you or invite your son over to see her son, and then you see her posting pictures of her walks and bike rides and having other friends over at her house? A cold shower, that’s for sure.
As for those who whine about the awful day they’ve had and how they deserve that glass of wine, the recent documentary on immigrants on BBC 2 Exodus: Our Journey to Europe shows you what a really bad day, week, month or even year looks like.
I say all this and yet I’ve been guilty of every single one of the above myself on occasion. That’s why I don’t want to play ball anymore. I can commiserate or share my small triumphs directly with my friends, the friends who I can rely on to cheer me up and save me when I am down, who are not envious about any success. Without half the world witnessing our conversation.
The Powerlessness of Politics
Facebook is also a great place to discover that some of your friends of yore have very different political views to your own. Somehow, it never came up in face-to-face conversation… or have you been away for too long and political views can change so dramatically as they approach middle age?
It’s become an ideological battleground (although meaningful arguments cannot really be conducted via quick messages and article links). Above all, it’s become a judgemental moral high ground: ‘How DARE you not change your profile picture to a French/Belgian/Turkish or whatever flag? How dare you not express your sadness or outrage? That surely makes you against us.’
I’m reminded of the Communist dictate: ‘Those who aren’t for us are against us!’ I refuse to succumb once more to the tyranny of ‘what is prescribed behaviours’. I can mourn in my heart, alone, in a darkened room. There is no need to have a competition of who can mourn the loudest online!
But There Are Good Things Too…
Despite all that, I admit that I like pictures of my (real) friends’ children, to see how much they have grown. I have a soft spot for cat pictures and even dogs are adorable (especially in pictures rather than in real life). I like photographic challenges of landscapes or skyscapes, but am not so keen on selfies, food pictures and holiday snaps. It reeks too much of being invited for family dinner at our neighbours’ as a child, and being forced to sit through a hundred decks of holiday slides. I suppose the difference is that nowadays no one is forcing you to look for the price of a dinner.
Soooo that’s exactly what I’ll be doing very soon, once all the stuff is sold or given away. Not looking.
I’m linking this poem to the wonderful dVerse Poets Pub community. It’s Open Link Night, which means any kind of poetry form or topic goes!
Google in grey-green dawn
search the directory for images of the rival
knowing only her profession and nationality
you stumble on pictures of doting mammas enclutched by wild-eyed bambini,
sunglass posers posting nothing but world travels and bliss
and Facebook status confirms indeed their elevation,
one splendour in tattoos and bikini against an anonymous beach background…
Which to choose?
Which one to spit?
You don’t know why you need to stick the thorn in deeper
or dig at the wound oozing with rank pus.
You let their names perform saltos on your tongue,
savour their multiple vowels, feel the firmness of foreign consonants,
their flesh, their purpose, their youth… and cry foul.
You cannot fixate on any one
so they form a togetherness, a ripple army
of seduction and accusation:
‘you neglect so he’s mine’.
Meanwhile your own dereliction
your ruin, your addiction,
howls night after night
in has beens, what ifs and too lates.
As a poet wedded to social media (although my drugs of choice are blogging and Twitter rather than Facebook), I could not resist the premise of this crime novel Blinde Vögel (Blind Birds) by Ursula Poznanski, which I picked up at the airport in Hamburg.
[From the blurb (my translation)]
Status: Murdered. Two dead bodies at a camping site in Salzburg. She was strangled, he was shot. There was no obvious connection between the two while they were alive. Or are appearances deceptive? Salzburg detectives Beatrice Kaspary and Florin Wenninger find a surprising common bond: both were members of an internet-based poetry forum. As harmless as could be. Beatrice follows her gut feeling and infiltrates the group, pretending to be a lover of poetry. Shortly afterwards, there is a third death…
I have to admit that Salzburg is one of my favourite cities and I am always susceptible to Austrian authors. Poznanski is also a YA and children’s author, and she has a very easy, chatty writing style.
This is a solid and fun police procedural, with two sympathetic and mutually supportive detectives. Beatrice is divorced and struggling to juggle family responsibilities, her resentful ex-husband and work. Florin is more than a little attracted to her but unwilling to declare himself. But their personal stories do not intrude at all on the investigation, which keeps you guessing pretty much all the way through. The author plays fair and puts quite a few cards on the table. It’s not all quick action or graphic violence, but much more of a puzzle to solve, which I really appreciated. And a lot of Facebook chat and gossipy reactions to wade through, which some readers may find dull (I personally saw it as satirical, with the readiness to click on ‘Like’ at a drop of a hat).
You also get to familiarise yourself with some of the great poems of German literature (this is not a poetry writing but a poetry appreciation forum). The title comes from a poem by Rilke.
So yes, airport reading, but with plenty of panache, verve and charm. I want to read more by this author and wonder what people will make of her in English. Her first book featuring Beatrice and Florin has been translated as ‘Five’ (under the author name Ursula P. Archer) and is about murder in the geo-caching milieu. I haven’t read it yet, but that sounds like a rather unusual premise too.
I don’t want to give too much of the plot of Blind Birds away, but there is a link to the war in the former Yugoslavia and, coincidentally, I just read another book on this subject at the same time Girl at War, so it was an interesting opportunity to compare how the war is discussed in Austria (where everyone was very familiar with it and there were many refugees moving in) vs. the US, where it seemed relatively remote and an uncomfortable truth.