Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Let the Right One In.

Did you know that there are around 2.4 billion internet users world wide. That Facebook has around 1.2 billion members? That there are approximately 31 million bloggers in the United States alone?

Chen Hongzhu

What do you use the internet and social media for?

Why is it that a very private insular person wishes to document their life and interests in public? (that is me by the way, no sub-text here)  I would consider myself a people person albeit one with issues of trust. What a public place to be, the vast, mostly unregulated internet, celebrated and demonised in equal measure. A virtual tsunami of information, photographs, voices and opinions, generated without stymie day after day after day. There are apparently a billion new pages placed up on the web every day. That is a hell of a lot of communication.

My blog is a relatively new one, it feels so to me anyway. I really enjoy looking at the audience stats, especially the singular ones that pop up every now and again from places like India, Panama, Chile, Finland and Brunei. It was disconcerting however to discover that for a time, unknown URL's where appearing in the traffic sources as when clicked would access a pornographic site. A quick google search put my mind at rest though identifying them as referrer spam, not pleasant but easy to ignore, do not click on the sources.

The blogs I like to read are lovely thoughtful little insights into the personality and life of the blogger, mostly craft blogs, they are sweet and generous with their experiences and expertise. Occasionally, however someone will throw in a nasty or barbed comment into the usually cordial and sociable comments thread. This is one of the downsides of blogging, of social media and of real life, the quick snap judgment of another, ready to shoot down any perceived failing or vulnerability. So, the sharing of oneself is by definition the sharing of ones vulnerability, it is the seeking of trust and of validation but is it also an exercise in ego and narcissism?

The invitation to converse is one of the most enjoyable and necessary gestures of the human condition but it is difficult especially if like me you are a people person but one with issues around trust and openness. Satisfaction in the power of self-expression, the ability to construct and articulate one's own narrative, to shape, to frame, to include and indeed exclude. To build a creative space, wherein it is possible to crave out the interior voice, is possible and satisfactory but is it worth it? Are those bitter barbed little comments just the whine of a disgruntled unhappy individual or are they something more insidious, the rumble warning of the possibility of great harm?

New research published this week by Dublin City University has reiterated the worrying rise in so-called cyber-bullying, apparently 39% of girls and 30% of boys surveyed have witnessed someone being bullied in this manner and interestingly it is mostly girls who are victims/perpetrators of this abuse which often begins between friends. I remember how bitchy and horrible some of my class mates were at secondary school and I am really grateful that these powerful tools of communication were not available to some of those children at the time.

When my children were babies I often used a well-known parenting website and I was continually incredulous at the amount of women who would queue up to viciously lambast some unfortunate who would post a thread looking for opinions about their own personal life-choices, say some relationship advice or indulge in a whine about either leaving their kids to go out to work/being stuck with the kids all day. What is it about sitting anonymously behind a monitor that gives someone who is probably completely polite and measured in reality the power to write with such crass stark carelessness to a stranger? Yes, of-course there were plenty of lovely contributors who would offer to share their time and expertise with grace and generosity but it was those unsavoury encounters that lingered like a bad taste.

Facebook is a another interesting phenomenon, isn't it? Is it so ubiquitous that it is impossible to leave? Are you a person who has hundreds of friends on the site? I do like using Facebook, sometimes I probably hang around there too much. I do have connections there that are not real friends as such but those with whom it would be impolite not to be Facebook friends, thankfully these guys are grand and it is no great hassle seeing their occasional moans, whines and self-aggrandisement and they are a distinct minority in my community there. I hope I conduct myself there with the same care as I would do in reality.

However, I am beginning to wonder if the whole Facebook/social media experience which includes blogging is really some great inflated destination for the impulses of the Freudian ego, where it is socially acceptable to 'share' so much more of oneself, unguarded and undiluted. All those narcissistic selfies, improbably cute animal shares and instagram boyfriend/girlfriend shots, are they feeble attempts to reconcile the desire impulse of the id with a self- (re) constructed reality?  Buddha said that 'we are  all that our minds create' and sometimes I wish had the self-control to turn off, to detach from this constant hum of information, of activity and of possibility. Then I consider the possibilities, the potential and such modern phenomena like the role of social media in the Arab Spring and must ultimately conclude that the accelerating momentum of benefits infinitely transcend the dangers inherent within.

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