Thursday, 28 July 2011

Share and (over) share alike.

...Actually, no, please don't.

Maybe it’s just me and I am getting old and cynical and bitter but people REALLY should stop themselves and have a think before they hit the ‘submit’ button.

What am I talking about? The seemingly inescapable tendency to ‘overshare’ on social networking (SN) sites; predominantly Facebook because (in my opinion) that is the most unavoidable variety of SN which anyone with 3 brain cells can operate and which unfortunately does not screen users for any modicum of decency, discretion or grammatical abilities. (Neither do the others really but lets face it, Bebo is for kids, Myspace is totally last decade and Twitter I shall come to shortly – FB is sadly ubiquitous).

You do not have to look very far to see and understand how completely integral SN is to our everyday lives, The Guardian even has an entire section of it’s online edition dedicated purely to social networking as a medium.

Facebook, it seems, is the social network of choice for the masses. I have, in general, always had a love/hate relationship with it but increasingly I find it pretty unappealing and mostly this is due to 3 things.

1.    Oversharing. Appalling oversharing. Oversharing so bad that I cringe and am a bit sick in my mouth when I read it. There is a mildly amusing website dedicated to this subject here.

2.    People who have so little grasp of grammar that their posts turn me into what I can only describe as a ‘Grammar Nazi’. If you do not know the difference between there, their and they’re I am talking to you. And I probably have your profile set to hidden if we are ‘friends’ on Facebook. This bracket also includes people who use that bastardisation of English known as ‘text speak’. Also, “Brrraaaap” is not a word unless you are in Blazin Squad and we all know what happened to them. 

3.    Mafia Wars. Pretend farms. Virtual cafes. Seriously – I struggle to understand how anyone with a job and a family and friends ever has time for this nonsense. PLEASE do not send me endless invites and requests for help with “catering” for an imaginary chip shop or milking your imaginary cows. Because I get irrationally angry and it ruins my day when you do. I am probably going to develop repetitive strain in my mouse hand from clicking ‘block’ and ‘hide’ too much at this rate.

Blazin Squad.

But, returning to the oversharing. I am sure the lack of ‘netiquette’ prevalent in facebook users is worse than it is on Twitter and I do believe this is in part because of demographic differences between user groups. This article comments on research published recently which underlines my feelings on the subject. This is broadly sweeping of course but it does explain some aspects of a phenomenon which, in my experience, is curiously commonplace on FB but less so on Twitter.

The general consensus is that Twitter users are educated to a higher level than FB users. I am hardly surprised at this because Twitter is less user-friendly and less facilitating of verbal diarrhoea.  I think that the 140 character limit on Twitter actually works in two ways to stop people ‘oversharing’.

Firstly you have to be able to be succinct and eloquent in order to make sense and get your point across within the text limit and secondly, in order to do this it is routine to type your message in as you want it and then self edit down to within the limit, working like a human thesaurus to cleverly cut it down to size. Doing so forces you to really think about what you want to say and I believe that this stopping and thinking before submitting is the key part of the process which is lacking on FB with an unlimited text box.

As Facebook is, sadly, pretty unavoidable for some things, keeping in touch with genuine friends and some remote members of family for instance, or providing a great forum for holiday photos (check out our Little Monkey album here), let us return to the problems I have with the site. Well, with the manners of it's users really.

I genuinely feel sorry for those people (and we all know them) who insist on shouting, ranting and swearing at their various ‘friends’ for apparent slights which have occurred but which they clearly need everybody to know about. I assume that they only publish it on FB to get a reaction from said individuals because if the target can’t see how potty mouthed they have made you then what’s the point, right? It is effectively ‘Jeremy Kyle Syndrome’ – needless, base level, cringe inducing, asbo collecting, attention seeking, vile behaviour which seriously makes you question where on earth humanity is heading. If I wanted to view this kind of behaviour I would watch Jeremy Vile Kyle. I do not want to be confronted by it in my ‘news’ stream.

This kind of behaviour is the social networking version of living on a perfectly nice street which, in daylight seems fine and where you are vaguely aware of all of your neighbours and have no major issues with them most of the time. But then every so often one of them (and its usually the same one) gets absolutely ratted and decides to have a full blown domestic in the middle of the street, regardless of the ongoing sane and peaceful lives around them they are disrupting. Why they have decided to use the street rather than their living room remains a mystery but one can only assume that an audience makes them feel better about their selfish, idiotic lives.

Worse than these shouty, abusive updates are the ones that make me a bit sick in my mouth. These are the completely, utterly, vulgar and tasteless declarations regarding people’s sex lives (or lack thereof). I think these individuals actually do need expert help. It is really difficult to view this kind of oversharing with anything other than pity; an incredibly misguided and vulgar adult version of playground prima donnas vying to be the object of attention – a clear, desperate yelp for attention. I do not want these kinds of people as my ‘friends’. Thankfully they will never be Friends with a capital F – friends in the real world.

Talking of which, I am absolutely useless at the art of ‘defriending’ or culling on facebook. Why? I wish I knew. Probably because it is much easier and avoids confrontation to just use the ‘hide’ function (thank you Mr Zuckerberg for the hide function!!) and the awful people I have hidden will not even know I have done so. In fact I have only actually ‘removed’ a ‘friend’ a couple of times. One was a girl I had gone to school with (and never really got to know very well) who had clearly turned into a full blown asbo idiot and thought it hilariously funny to upload a video of her cat going round in the tumble dryer where her magnificent specimen of a boyfriend had put it for a laugh. Yes, really. I didn’t even pause to think about offending her that time.

Somebody summed up the differences between FB and Twitter really well to me the other day, stating that Twitter is for news, sharing thoughts and experiences, celebrity watching, monitoring world events (and over the weekend during the appalling catastrophe in Norway it was also a tool for contact and reassurance) whereas FB is merely “a place to look at photos, predominantly baby photos”. And farm imaginary cows, of course.

This observation was from a person the same age as me and I guess it reflects the fact that our generation is popping out babies left right and centre at the moment. I, however, am not, being some kind of freak of nature with a natural, inbuilt dislike of children matched well to my husband’s absolute horror at the idea. Maybe that is why Twitter appeals more, it is rare to see people tweeting about what Alfie or Izzy did today, FB seems to be the natural forum for offspring discussion, Twitter is not.

My experience of twitter is that each tweet is there for a reason, they can be funny, considered, insightful or informative, sometimes all of the above. But very rarely are they utterly mundane, even less often are they obnoxious or Jeremy-Kyle-esque. Despite my uselessness with the removal of friends on FB I am completely at ease with un-following. Twitter being not so focussed on being ‘friends’ with everyone you have ever crossed paths with in your life lends itself to being far less precious about being followed. And the people that I do follow I am therefore genuinely interested in, not obliged to. 

And so I will probably continue to use both but Twitter far more frequently. Facebook does have some strengths; it has better photo facilities and some people I have genuinely wanted to be in contact with are only on FB, but I will continue to hide the idiots and try to turn a blind eye to the things that annoy me. I can’t help wondering where it will all lead though. Will people start to behave more acceptably over time, perhaps, when social networking is less of a new toy? I certainly hope so. Or maybe people will begin to be more considered about who they have within their ‘friend’ set. My new year’s resolution for 2012 is to have a proper big Facebook cull and only keep the people with whom I genuinely want to stay in touch.  

One thing I am sure about though - I predict an increase in the amount of studies into social networking behaviour versus demographics and personally I will be reading those with interest, probably, of course, while tweeting fervently.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

How to Lose Friends....

A few months ago the Guardian printed an article called ‘How to Lose Friends’ which inspired me to write this note. I felt it was an interesting, informative and quite topical piece with particular resonance for me (for reasons which will become clear).

Having undertaken Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) a couple of years ago, which dealt, amongst other things, with this specific issue, I was intrigued by the bluntness of this piece and also by the notion that there is indeed an ‘art’ to ending a friendship. I wholeheartedly agree with that and the ability to let a friendship go is one I have only learnt to do over the last few years.

I truly believe that you can put every single friend you have ever had into one of three categories – a reason, a season or a lifetime. This method of thinking about your friends runs along a similar theme to the piece by Hannah Pool; that not all friendships are going to fit with every period of your life or come out the other side unscathed.

In my life I have always been lucky enough to have a lot of people who I consider friends and these range from people I have known since I was a child to work colleagues from across the years to the usual random acquaintances who become friends along the way. I have never had a problem making friends; in fact my husband views my social life and constant friendship juggling with an air of complete puzzlement and slight suspicion. But then he is someone with a very different view on friends and also he has no particular need or desire for many friendships within his life, this is an area where we differ greatly.

I sometimes think he has a point – rarely a week goes by when I am not putting some kind of effort into at least one friendship. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I do wish I did not have so many metaphorical plates to spin, as it were. But on the whole there is generally a specific, identifiable reason why I continue to put effort into those relationships. And a reason why I do not for others. Identifying the balance of input and output has been an acquired skill.

CBT taught me to analyse the balance of each friendship in a useful and quite businesslike way. Basically, a job description was drawn up of what I expect in a friendship, as if I was going to advertise for friends – desirable traits, expected abilities and minimum requirements were all considered. Once this was created my therapist and I worked through each of my central group of friends at the time to see who met the criteria and who did not.

The results were astounding. My (frankly quite bafflingly astute) therapist had already fathomed which of this group were having a particularly negative, non-helpful effect on my life but I had not (or could not) see the wood for the trees until we carried out this exercise.

Strangely, some people who I had placed in the central circle (we used concentric circles to plot out the importance of different friends at the outset) turned out to be the least helpful, most selfish and least generous of the lot. Conversely, a couple of people in the outer rings were meeting every requirement and ticking every box in terms of support, genuine care and generosity of time.

These revelations were timely and necessary for me to move on with my life and begin to make better informed decisions regarding who I shared my time and my life experiences with. But that does not mean that they were easy to swallow or act upon.

Interestingly there was one particular friendship within that centre circle which I had not really noticed change from a balanced, enjoyable relationship to an almost claustrophobic, unhealthy (for both of us) and bordering on vampiric tryst. It is only fairly recently that the pair of us have finally and formally acknowledged the complete death of the friendship although we both know in reality it reached the end about 3 years ago.

I blame myself for some elements of why this friendship, one of the closest I have ever had with a member of the same sex, ultimately collapsed and died after a pretty solid 11 year period of shared fun and history – but I am not entirely to blame. What I can say without any doubt is that the catalyst (and I believe this is the case for many friendship endings per se) was a crisis in one of our lives. In our case it was a crisis in mine.

Without going into detail (CBT has also taught me not to overshare and I now find it pretty vulgar in others – another note to come on this topic) my personal life was somewhat in turmoil for most of 2006 culminating in the sale of our house and myself and my husband taking a break to consider our options (NB – this really works, marriage now stronger than ever).

At the beginning of said crisis this particular friend, we shall call her K, was an absolute rock and I expected no less. Shoulder to cry on, complete confidante, reassurance on tap and devil’s advocate in my moments of utterly irrational idiocy. I honestly do not know how I would have got through the early months without her and regardless of what’s happened since I will always be grateful for that.

I suppose with hindsight what actually happened was twofold. First of all I became that most terrifying of things, a clingy friend. I was pretty much completely dependent on her and this must have been quite hard work. It did not help that at the time I was coping so very badly with the whole situation that I was drinking a lot and behaving like a complete buffoon. Alcohol is not a good thing to use as a crutch in such situations – a lesson I learnt the hard way in this case.

And then K seemed to hit a wall in her support, undoubtedly triggered by my own lack of ability to sort myself out. But, also with hindsight, I think she handled it like the proverbial bull in a china shop. What do I think she should have done? Well, and again this is much easier with hindsight, I wish she had just shaken me by the shoulders and told me in no uncertain terms to sort myself out.

What actually happened was a series of things which I later came to realise all clearly showed the balance of power in this friendship was starting to go wrong. The early years of our friendship had been fun, zany, easy because of our similarities. Now it was a pattern of drama (from me) and response (from K) which was completely unhealthy but also dangerously addictive.

Items on a whiteboard with my therapist which hammered home, much later, the instability of the relationship, shocked me when viewed in context. If anyone else had told me that they had been treated like this I would have told them they were being bullied. I don’t think it was malicious, however, I think it was just the easiest route. Easier than telling me to pull my finger out I guess.

Two things in particular stuck like a thorn in my side and shone a light on the whole thing. Six months into the crisis (which was still very much ongoing) I was told that from now on I was not welcome at social gatherings because I was too much hard work, instead they would like to invite my estranged husband. This was so painful to hear and to swallow. I understood completely that I was less ‘fun’ than he was at this point – I know that the prospect of me + alcohol probably = tears and possibly drama. But talk about twisting the knife.

AT (amazing therapist) stood shaking her head at me as I blamed myself entirely for this. “You might have behaved like an idiot” she said, “but you had reasons in your life and I thought she was your best friend”. And therein lay the crux of the matter. The ‘limit’ of the friendship had just been proven. The support had run out.

Subsequent time and therapy sessions made me understand that actually when the boredom threshold set in for dealing with the excitement of the crisis, Ks priority was elsewhere.

It then followed that a mutual friend told me they were sympathetic because I was the constant butt of jokes in this circle when I wasn’t around. I was shocked. I had no idea. Little pieces of evidence surfaced that I was very much being painted as the mad woman in the attic. Unfortunately I made the error of sharing this concern with a mutual friend who then totally betrayed my trust (for his own sadistically selfish but understandable reasons – long story) and fed them back to K.

For a while I was blissfully oblivious to the problem. I genuinely took a while to realise there was one. But it became clear over time that this final piece of tittle-tattle had given her enough excuse to draw her own line under the friendship full stop. This says it all really I guess if all it took was secondhand gossip to create (or justify) a final nail in the coffin.

My husband, one of the most astute people I have ever known, (and also one of the most ruthless when it comes to friendships) was very quick to point out that K clearly despised me these days. It is rare our paths crossed since to be honest but I had noticed a chill in the air on these occasions and I would have had to be blind and deaf to remain oblivious to blatant rudeness on some of them. He would have sliced out that part of his life years ago if it had been him. But I needed time to grieve.

Am I angry about it? No. Sad? Yes, a little. But every single thing that hurts teaches you something. It is ironic that the crisis that triggered the death of our friendship was subsequently resolved, the fallout from it having changed much more than just the two of us as people. Our social circles have changed, for the better in my opinion because I have learned to value friendships with much more accuracy as a result.

And I guess that this is why I feel that Hannah Pool makes some very good points in her piece. When I see people abusing each other in their facebook statuses I feel sorry for them for a number of reasons (not least the over-sharing they clearly need to curb). Friendships die, it is a fact of life. Fear of the death of them is about as helpful as fear of death itself – and about as pointless.

Accepting that people change, move on and ultimately outgrow one another is the only progressive and positive way to deal with this, it is indeed a very hard lesson to learn but an incredibly valuable one.           

A place to vent...

This is a place away from my Quorn blog for me to write about non foodie things. I have actually had other blogs under pseudonyms for years but decided it was about time I had one which is proudly just me. I am old enough and hard enough now to take the flack if people don't like what I write and to those ends I am looking forward to utilising this blog as a forum for me to philosophise on the things I find baffling in life and share the things I find incredible.

I have a number of posts already at half finished stages on subjects as varied as social networking etiquette and the intricacies of ending friendships, I will start posting asap.

Please do let me know what you think, I am always welcoming of debate as long as it is structured and considered.