We’re all narcissists now

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Okay, apologies in advance, this will probably be a bit of a rant. And it probably won’t be all that original either. But I need to let off steam before I carry on with my editing or I won’t be able to concentrate.

If you were out, in town say, and there was someone you knew stood shouting in the town square “Look at me. Look at me,” you’d probably go and have a serious word with them. But this is perfectly acceptable on social media. In fact the louder you shout, the better. Or at least that is what it feels like. It must be the same impulse that allows people to bully people online that allows them to be so nakedly needy. I’m sure it is all to do with not actually being able to see the people we are talking to that allows both of these dubious behaviours.

My irritation is a permanent side effect of looking at Facebook. And while I know I could just not look, I find it is almost compulsive. Perhaps it allows me to feel superior. After all, here I am blogging about my annoyance – no different really. I wouldn’t do it if I thought no one was going to read it. It is ironic to complain about narcissism by being narcissistic but I feel the need to rid myself of some irritation so I guess I’ll just have to cope with it.

What annoyed me today and prompted this blog is the phenomenon of threatening to leave Facebook or unfriend dozens of people if they don’t interact with you in what you deem to be the proper manner. There will be a big proclamation of how terrible social media is, how they can no longer cope with it or with the people who don’t interact with them (or God forbid, disagree with their opinions). There is then a big outpouring from said friends about how they cannot possibly live without that person’s contributions to social media and the original person then decides to stay. I find it hard to believe that people I know are really that needy. Imagine if you did that in real life. You’d probably end up with no friends whatsoever. I personally do not particularly care if someone decides to cull their friends and decides I am on of the ones that needs to go. So be it. You can’t force some one to be friends with you. Would you really keep pushing on real life if you knew that you didn’t have that much in common with people.

I keep saying in real life and maybe that is why I can’t get to grips with this behaviour. I do not live my life through my keyboard and monitor. There is a gap between Facebook and the real world for me but I guess that isn’t true for everyone. And maybe it’s because I’m not that good at sharing in real life so even the mask of anonymity that a screen gives you is not enough for me to lay everything out for inspection. I don’t really understand but I do know it makes me mad.

Everyone likes to be liked and I suppose that Facebook can give you that in spades. I like it as much as anyone when someone likes my status or this blog post. No one is immune. I would just hope that I could hold on to my sense of decorum and not nakedly plead for someone’s pity or love. I do not want to be that person, standing yelling in the middle of town. That is the image I will keep in my head in case I am tempted to do it.

 

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A nostalgic longing for the past.

Earlier in the week, I watched a preview screening of Josh Radnor’s new film Liberal Arts. It a film about growing up and is filled with a nostalgic longing for the past, for all those things that everybody claims are lost or dying – reading, letter writing, burning a CD and it left me with a longing for my university days when there was such pleasure in receiving a long letter, hand written and heartfelt, from a friend in a different part of the country. None of us – that is me and my school friends  – communicates like that any more even though we are still scattered all over the place. We don’t even e-mail any more, just message on Facebook or texts. Of course, it is a sign of how busy we all are. There are easier options now then having to find the time to write a letter but part of me still wishes that we had to do it, that there was no other option but to sit down and ponder what news we had to tell. Of course, I could still do it but it would be a bit pointless. Everyone knows my news anyway – facebook has seen to that – and I know their response to it as well. All in far less time then it would take for a letter to arrive and be read. This is progress, apparently.

Early in the film, Radnor’s character, Jesse, is walking along the street reading a book and I was struck   immediately by how this scene would never work with someone walking along with a Kindle.For a start, you would not be able to see what was being read. At least part of the point of reading in public has to do with showing off what you are reading. Not only could you not bear to put this book down but you are showcasing your taste and, possibly, your intellectualism. I know that it irks me that when I read my kindle on the train, no one can tell what I am reading. I always try to see what other people are reading as well. But also, it wouldn’t suggest the same sort of romantic idealism if Jesse was carrying a grey plastic oblong rather than a book with a beautiful cover.

There is a sense of nostalgia at the moment for the loss of something that hasn’t disappeared yet but it seems inevitable that it will. I have seen several articles in the last few weeks about the death of books once everyone has a kindle or the equivalent. And it does seem inevitable. I was never going to have an I-Pod, a kindle or join Facebook and Twitter. Now I have both those things, have joined both those things. I always succumb. Eventually, I guess, books will be like the rows and rows of LP records in my spare bedroom – only present in the houses of people over a certain age.

In some ways, it is strange that so much fuss is being made about the way in which something is read or listened to. Does it matter whether you’re reading from a electronic screen or from a paper page as long as you are reading? Obviously not. I know that some of the sixth formers I taught found it much easier to read from a kindle than from a book. And obviously that pleased me. But this is not a cold logical argument. It is emotional, nostalgic and romantic. It is obviously romantic to take the time to talk about books, to search in second hand book stores for hard to come by editions. It is more romantic to write long handwritten letters rather than a one sentence update on Facebook which someone will then like. And it is far more romantic to hand over a CD you have burned with a handwritten card than to send someone a playlist on Spotify. (Although arguably not as romantic as making a mix tape.) Similarly, when it is my birthday I will still be asking for physical books and CDs. The thought of some sort of electrical exchange seems cold and somehow not real.

Liberal Arts is like a love letter to all these things. All the things that are more time consuming, more difficult but ultimately more meaningful. Reading brings people together in this film and it teaches them how to live their lives. You have to hope that this will still be the case when everyone is reading books from a oblong of grey plastic