Category Archives: Cyberpsychology

A note on society since the referendum

Many, many years ago I used to blog politically. It manifested itself as an obsession with news, recycling stuff that I heard through the rumour mill (which I really shouldn’t have done), voicing an opinion on anything and everything and talking in very broad ways about things that I had yet to understand.

I let things slip away from me, pretty badly. I even neglected other parts of my life to tread down a path that I wish I hadn’t. I wrote things that I shouldn’t have and have always wish I’d redacted. I wished I’d apologised for them since and shown a modicum of tact and discretion. To this end, when I started this blog I swore it would just be about my musings, thoughts and philosophies. I would just write about whatever ideas fell out of my head from time to time, steering clear of the dark path that I once walked down and essentially share what limited wisdom I had with anyone bored enough to hear about it.

To that end I have stayed off the subject of politics. There is something that I have wanted to discuss for a while but given that it has been a political issue (or is at least perceived as a political issue) I have given it a wide berth. Brexit.

Now, let me be absolutely clear on this point. I do not want to discuss the merits, or lack thereof depending on your point of view, of leaving the European Union. It’s an argument that we’ve had in this country. The decision has been made and so I don’t think that any further discussion on it is needed or wanted. What I would like to comment on though, is what it appears to have done to society.

To give you a bit of background, I didn’t vote in the referendum, nor did I campaign for one side or another. I was, and still am, staunchly leave. I won’t go into my reasons why because, as stated previously, I don’t want to discuss politics on this blog but rather society instead.

The reason why I didn’t vote was because during the election campaign, I was living in the quaint Breton city of Rennes which is in North West France. Wednesday night in the bars and pubs around Place St Anne in Rennes was socialist night. When I was living there it was a hotbed of the far left. The then president, François Holland, was, on the advice of the EU and his economy minister (now President Emmanuel Macron),

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 A “quiet pint” on Socialist night at the “Artiste Assoiffé” in Place St Anne in Rennes – May 2016

trying to bring in things like zero hours contracts, extend the working week and generally trying to severely erode workers rights, which had been hard fought for in France, in a bid to lower the astronomical unemployment rate which is roughly double that of comparable countries such as the UK and Germany.

There was a fairly uniform view on the reforms or “Loi travail” or “Loi El-Khomri” as they were called and it led to strikes, protests, all sorts of shenanigans. As a hard left socialist, I stood in solidarity where I could. The only coverage that I saw of the referendum was on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. It was interesting to see the people that I’d been on anti-globalisation marches advocating remaining in the European Union and all the ex-pats living in France advocating leaving. I remember being sat in having a few beers with my flatmate one evening and I was cycling through the channels. I’d drifted onto a news channel called BFM or it may have been France24, I forget which one exactly, but they were having a debate on the referendum in the UK. Very quickly it deteriorated into a shouting match between the five people on the panel. I turned to my flatmate and said “This is exhausting. I can imagine it is what everyone in the UK has been going through these past few months.”

Shortly after the result came in on July 10th I moved back to the UK. It felt like I’d returned to a different country. I think everyone has always noticed a gradual change in direction that occurred from roughly late 2015 but because I was in France, I only saw the hugely contrasted change. When I do discuss the referendum, I usually comment on a few specific pages. One of those is Chuka Umunna, a Labour MP vociferously arguing that we stay in the single market. I got into a discussion (linked here) and things got onto the subject of the tensions between the two major camps of the referendum, leave and remain. He was a “remainer” and was saying that he’d found the leave side to be very threatening. I suppose every thought I had on it since I first observed that contrast over a year ago came out as I retorted:

See, all I’ve seen is everything the other way. People who would describe themselves as both liberal or democrats or socialists coming out with the most horrendous slanders against those who hold a different opinion to them. Anyone who does is either elderly, uneducated, was lied to and is gullible, racist, xenophobic, a bigot or (and as a true socialist this grates me) is of a different social class or is in poverty.
 
They always have their reasons and if they ever try to debate or reason with the those who voted remain, they get shouted down, not with facts but with one of the above slanders. They get called fascists. Wouldn’t you start to feel angry/violent is someone called you racist or thick whenever you voiced you opinion? Collectively lowering the bar for all of us when reason and fact state that you were correct? Every man has their limit and they are the very emblem of tolerance and reservation because they’ve had to put up with this in the fifteen months since the referendum and intensely in the nine months that preceeded it.
 
For a lot of people, it’s thoroughly frustrating that they rejected what Peter Shore referred to in a 1975 Oxford Union debate as an absurdity. It’s nonsense. It’s deluded craziness and has been shown not just to be deluded craziness but also a ticking bomb primed to go off at some point within the next ten years. When someone won’t accept the base facts of the matter and then calls you names, in essence it shows them up to be the infantile, stupid ones, but true to Dunning-Kruger effect form, people who voted remain seem to think they have some sort of intellectual or moral superiority without any evidence to back up that being the case. Those who voted remain would describe themselves as open minded, accepting and non-judgemental but when someone says they voted leave, their idea is that only staying within the EU is a good thing for us (for reasons that I’ve stopped listening to, such is how whacked out they are) and far from listening to their reasons and entertain civilised effective debate, they realise they’ve got nothing so they just resort to name calling. It’s a sort of thinking that calls itself “progressive”, “liberal” and “left wing” but in fact is anything but. It is ripped directly from George Orwell’s 1984. “Anyone who disagrees with us is a thought criminal and is therefore fair game for ridicule and derogation.” It’s a mindset that says “I’ll do anything for the working class. Anything, apart from, y’know, mix with them and find out why they voted the way they did.
 
And what of those who were right? They don’t want to call remoaners stupid but merely to try and get through to them, to show them what we see, that the EU are not your friends, they weren’t looking out for you when they laughed David Cameron’s miniscule promises out of the room which caused this in the first place, they weren’t looking out for YOU when the campaign was going on and they offered nothing but vitriol and disgust at the notion that we would make our own choices and they’re not looking out for YOU now. It’s in a forlorn effort to try and take away the pain and discomfort that you feel as if to say “Don’t worry, we headed for a better place, just trust us on this one. It adds up for us. Try and see that this is what’s best.” but like a rejected, sociopathic, narcissistic spurned ex-girlfriend who has just realised that her ex-partner is now wise to her tricks, there go to place isn’t constructive rationale but rather aggressive contempt.
 
The reason I think detainment or detention is perhaps the only option and definitely a purge of some sort should happen is because there are people who are intent on spoiling this when they have no reason to. They haven’t changed their views and it’s almost as if they’re programmed in some way to disregard everything to achieve their objective of us staying in the EU or spoiling the country if we don’t. I think treason and sabotage are often thought of in quite antiquated ways. We tend to associate them with capital punishment but while they’re still criminal offences, they no longer carry that penalty. I would consider trying to subvert and insurrect what is now quite clearly the democratically expressed will of an overwhelming majority of the British public in favour of a foreign power, well, I don’t see that as anything but treason. Lock them up and shut them up to save our democratic system itself. The rights of the many are more important than those who try to redact their rights by choice. No one forces remoaners to act that way. They do so through choice. They don’t need to. They choose to. The autistic army would retreat off social media and finally leavers can get on with doing what they intended to do when they put that “x” in that box, making this country a better place.
Now I think if we look at the level of discourse we can see that it has changed from mild mannered discussions to something altogether more sinister and I suppose my question would be, when did this happen? When did it take place? What marked polarity or event happened in our society to polarise people in such a way and is there really any way to bring them back together?

I have no conclusions on this but it has certainly given me something to think about.

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Online communication: No substitute for the real thing

I remember about five years ago, I used to hang around with this guy. He was a neuroscientist who worked in the psychology faculty of Nottingham Trent University. One day he had some of his students doing an experiment and they hadn’t finished so he suggested I take a saunter around. That was when I saw the poster. It was offering an MA or MSc, I forget, in Cyberpsychology. It then occurred to me that our interaction with technology is changing the base of our psychological processes. I regret to say, by and large, it isn’t a positive change. I also notice that young people who have grown up with this technology have an entirely different thought process to anyone who didn’t grow up with this technology.

The ex-girlfriends

Last year, I was in an extremely abusive relationship with a girl. The bulk of our communication took place online. When we were together, I mean in each other’s company, it was really good, but then she’d go home and we just communicated online. I found it horrible, unbearable at times. It was impossible to have sound discussion with her. Don’t get me wrong, there were other factors, such as her schizophrenia, an unplanned pregnancy, my lifestyle at the time, etc etc that all contributed to the breakdown of the relationship but I noticed that none of those barriers could be overcome as there was a irretrievable breakdown of communication between us.

These problems prevented us from progressing the relationship. This is because relationships never run smoothly. Relationships are peppered with problems. The success or failure of any relationship doesn’t hinge on the what has gone right but more on the ability, or lack thereof, to deal with the problems.

The problems and traumatic situations that arose out of that relationship were best solved when we spent time together. Problems can’t be sorted out online because online communication is incoherent. We would periodically block each other on various social media platforms as a means of punishment. So rooted was our relationship in doing that I was frustrated that I couldn’t have a proper conversation and problems couldn’t be addressed (as an OCD sufferer I have to solve problems) that what would happen is that I would walk to where she lived (about seven miles from where I lived) and walk back, just for the sake of seeing her for fifteen minutes. It alleviated the stress, the anguish, the angst and the anxiety that communicating principally online brings about. A fifteen minute conversation in person had coherency, context, tone and sentiment.

Bizarrely, it mirrored the relationship previous to that one the year before. In that instance I was in a relationship with a girl who lived about 100 miles away in the Roman Spa town of Bath. All through the week we would speak to each other through a variety of social media platforms and conversations were disjointed and fractured. She would absolutely beg, or close to it, to phone me. Sometimes I simply wasn’t up to a phone conversation, but on reflection she garnered tone and a sense of calm from it, something which doesn’t come across in messages over web.

If we rewind to my last “serious” (though in hindsight I probably should have given it more gravity than I did) relationship before both of those, it was again, a long distance relationship. She lived in London and I lived in Nottingham. She would call me everyday, sometimes for upwards of an hour. I found it exhausting. Even though we spoke by telephone regularly, she would constantly relay her problems to me. It was frustrating knowing that I was miles away and in no position to help. It was crushing, emotionally.

The France Situation

I find myself in a situation at present that is not dissimilar but at the same time hugely different.

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Me in France doing French people stuff.

I’m in another long distance relationship. This time it is with a French woman. Being the social creature that I am I have a new and emerging social circle in the city where I live. I don’t live there though, yet. I know my way around the city I live in and can successfully navigate Paris with some proficiency at street level. I was really enjoying France, not least because of the people I had around me. My partner, my friends, I wouldn’t go so far as to say my family, but my home life was good. My life is so good in fact that I’m thinking the next move may be a permanent one.

When I was over there, life was good, but some base in reality is always needed. I had to come back for work. As much as I missed all my friends in Plymouth, am missing people in France like crazy. The main form of communication that I use to communicate with people in France is what’s app. I notice, almost immediately that there is a disconnect there and I wonder about how changed and diverted things are from the essence of the relationship that was originally started given that now the relationship is principally a digital one.

The first example is with a friend. I’m not going to go into detail but one friend that I’ve spoken to since I got back, I said something to. There was an abundantly clear lack of context which led to a huge misunderstanding. Suffice to say that this misunderstanding would not have happened had we actually been face to face. When people communicate digitally, there is no context to what they are saying. It’s not that something can more easily be taken out of context, it is that it isn’t out into context in the first place.

The second example is a good one, and I can be a bit more specific here. One of, if not my closest friend in France, is also the person that speaks the best English. I try and speak French to her and she tells me to stop. Ironically, she has never been to England or an English speaking country. We can chat for hours. She was a real pillar to me in France. Now our messages don’t follow a linear path, there are always fractures and splinters. Think about it this way. She sends me a message which I pick up when I wake up, I respond. She picks that one up a bit later. Then I pick that one up when I’m about to start work, and so on. Can you imagine periodically returning to the same conversation, over the course of a busy day, every few hours and remain focused on the attention you’re supposed to give that person and your interaction? Of course not. It’s impossible. The conversation ends up fractured with no conclusion or end point, along with the lack of fluidity and the other things that one can take from a conversation either by phone or in person.

The third and final example is my partner. Aside from the obvious that one misses not being in her company, people often turn to their partners for support and reassurance. I am in another country, pondering a huge move to another country, and that really scares me. Sometimes I look too deeply into the messages she sends and when problems do arise, they are impossible to resolve and will be impossible to resolve until I return to France. There is also another thing. My partner doesn’t have the best command of the English language. My French isn’t perfect either, not by any stretch of the imagination. Our bodies have an unspoken communication with each other though. I’m not talking about anything sexual or even about body language. It’s really difficult to explain or describe. I think when two people don’t share a language fluency, they have to communicate in other ways. Say for instance when we are brushing our teeth before bed, we may be silent but more often than not there are a series of glances, small actions, I may reach for the mouthwash, she may turn off the tap I’ve left running and these things form a conversation. Sometimes when we’re doing something more, like playing pool or digging up vegatables on the farm, these small, almost insignificant actions make up a conversation. That’s why being away from her is unbearable. I suppose it is that that highlighted to me that while messages back and forth are ok, there really is no substitute for being together and in person.

Why is it so difficult for women to maintain normal composure in photographs?

Aah, the selfie. There was a time when having your photo taken was an exceedingly rare and special event. I think photo’s  are very special. Philosophically, when that shutter opens, when that photo is taken, we can do what man has dreamed of doing ever since he could first conceptualise it, we have stopped time. For that brief click, for that split second, for the fraction of a second that that shutter is open, we have taken that time and frozen it.

I suppose it used to, when it was a bit more rare, it made us feel special. It made us feel like someone loved us that much to want to take a photo of us. The last relationship I started with a girl before the advent of the camera phone (which I put at 2005) was in 2004. I went absolutely crazy with buying camera’s and taking photo’s because I wanted to immortalise that time of my life, and looking back, even though the situation didn’t turn out to be everything that I wanted it to be, I’m so glad that I captured that moment in my life.

Then we fast forward to the age of the smart phone. The photograph is disposable. If I don’t like a photograph I can take it again. I take photos of things I don’t care about. I take weird and wonderful snaps. This has led to, in my opinion, the most meaningless of all photographs, the selfie.

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Before I go any further, let me explain what a selfie is. A selfie is an exercise in narcissism. It is when someone takes a photo of themselves, not for themselves but because they want others to see it. They share it on Facebook, or Twitter, or snapchat, or instagram, all for the vain purpose of seeking validation.

One would think that as a Catholic, I have a massive problem with this. To a certain extent I do. It is vanity and I think it secretly belies a latent insecurity. People post it because they want the likes, the shares, the comments. My opinion isn’t going to change that. It is deep seeded in human nature. One key to human evolution is that humans gathered together in packs for support and protection. I also think in an increasingly isolated and individualist world, it’s only natural to want to seek out people to enter a “pack” with and the sole remaining vehicle in which we can communicate with each other, social media, we find a useful medium. Even though I level this criticism at the selfie, I don’t say in blanket terms that that is the main objective. I think it is all about context. I think that if someone is looking unusually smart, or on a night out with friends, or in a situation they want to capture, fair enough.

There is however one thing that I don’t understand about selfies. Why do women find it impossible to maintain a normal composure when taking a selfie? I have never understood it.

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Bank Holiday Sunday in Plymouth is a “thing”. It’s a tradition where everyone goes to the Barbican, which is the quay area of Plymouth, and goes around the pubs. I had a friend from Northern Ireland who’d come over to Plymouth to study and I suggested taking them out on Bank Holiday Sunday. We’d had this discussion before on St Patrick’s Day about girls and selfies and such. A few friends and my mum turned up so I asked her to take a photo of me. My phone not only has two cameras, but also a specific “selfie” function on it. It’s a HTC Desire 610 if that is something that appeals to you. Nonetheless, after she took the photo of me and my mum she took a selfie doing the “pout”.

I couldn’t understand why girls always pull this face when they are taking selfies. My mind boggles whenever I see a girl do it. I can understand when they take a photo at a weird angle, or deliberately try to get cleavage into it, or their figure or whatever. That I can get. You never know, today might be the day that that footballer/millionaire/famous actor might drift on to your instagram page and it will of course help him to fall madly in love with you if you are accentuating the parts of your body that he may like. I get it. I don’t like it. I’ve seen those body parts before on other women. They’re generally all the same and it unsettles me as to why a woman would take a photo like that (as if her body, rather than her core, her identity is what she’d want to “sell” herself on) but I get the theory behind it. What I don’t get is the pout face.

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I don’t see men pulling the pout on the rare occasion that they take a selfie. It doesn’t happen. I realised that men in photos maintain a normal, natural composure. Using my powers of deductive reasoning I turned to my mother. I noticed that it is only women that do this and also that my mother is a woman. She also has Facebook, the internet and a smart(ish) phone so I figured she’d know what I was talking about.

I asked her and she said “I know. Why do they do that? I can’t understand it either. Do you ever see X’s Facebook? Or Y’s Facebook? It is absolutely packed with selfies. Not only do all the photos look exactly the same but also they are starting to get wrinkles from doing the pout that much. I’ve got two and a half decades on them and my face doesn’t look like that.”

This is why I ask the question. I don’t understand why girls pull that pose because there is never a situation where they would generally look like that. It baffles me as to why they do it. I have asked girls why they do it, why they pull that face and the answer I keep getting is “Just because…” I never have a coherent, contingent or comprehensive answer to that question. Why is it impossible for girls to maintain normal composure when taking a selfie? If we rationalise it for a second, it actually seems kind of weird. If a woman had that sort of composure in any given normal setting, I would think there was something wrong with her. I would probably think she had a medical condition of some sort.

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I suppose that if I know I’m not going to get a straight answer to the question, then why ask it? It is nary more than an exercise in futility. I suppose the reason why I am so desperate for an answer to the question is because I want to change the mindset.

I admire, adore and worship the female form. I think it is a beautiful thing. I have not yet found a woman that I don’t find attractive in some way or another. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not a letch. I’m a practising Catholic, so while I find girls attractive (and in many cases it is reciprocated) I don’t chase after them. In my celibacy, (well, not quite celibate, but still to most women I am) I have a whole new appreciation for women and how they look. I like natural, I don’t like make up. A nude woman is a beautiful thing, and that is what I like. I like to take photos when a woman looks natural. This is why I don’t understand why a woman would scrunch up her face, into a pout and take a photo with her camera raised so people can see down her top. I wish they wouldn’t.

Here’s a tip for women. You’re beautiful as you are. You don’t need to cake on the make up, make silly poses and take photos at weird angles. I don’t know why women can’t maintain normal composure in selfies and photo’s but my guess is that if they did, and the real them shone through like it is supposed to do in a photo, that would attract more likes than taking silly selfies.

Maybe Facebook should have an “acknowledge” or “don’t like” button

Facebook has redefined certain words in our society.

Example:

The word “friend” is one of words Facebook has redefined. I was discussing this with a friend of mine the other day. I said to him that on my Facebook, I have (or had at the time, I now have one more) 132 “friends”. In real life though, I don’t have 132 friends, I have six friends a I would have defined the word friend before Facebook. Now, I have six really good friends. I have tops, twenty friends. The people that I have on my Facebook aren’t “friends” as such. They are relatives, colleagues, casual acquaintances, people I went to school with. A friend is a person you can call up and say “I’m feeling a little low, fancy a pint?” or someone that says “I see your down on your luck, let me help you out until you get back on your feet.” That is what a friend is. Not what Facebook says it is.

The word “like”

I’m pretty sure I have explained this before when talking about “like farming” so I won’t go into it but there are several posts that I want to acknowledge, or say that I am thinking about them, but “like” is a specific specific term for saying that I approve or am positive about something wen in actual fact, I’m not. I’m actually very negative about it. I “dislike” it. A fine example is something that cropped up on my Facebook today.

This is the post in question that displays, alarmingly, that a family is made homeless in Britain every 15 minutes.

This is the post in question that displays, alarmingly, that a family is made homeless in Britain every 15 minutes.

I did a fact check on this post (as I always do) and it checks out. The one thing I notice though is that 296 people, as of the point when I screen grabbed it, “like” the post. It seems, or at least appears, that those 296 people “like” the fact that 130 families in Britain become homeless every day. See, I can’t click like on that, because it unsettles me that up and down the country that many families, (which will comprise of at least two people) will become homeless. I want to raise awareness and show that I support the organisation, which I believe is actually what every one of those 296 people was doing, but I refuse to under the terms that in order to do so I would have to like post about a statistic that in some way appears that I condone that statistic. I think people have “liked” the post, as it raises awareness, but not the statistic therein.

Maybe a don’t like or “acknowledge” button is in order

What I want to do is acknowledge that I have seen this. I would like to acknowledge that I support that organisation (one of the few charities that I do support) and I would like to say that while I support the awareness being raised, I don’t “like” the fact that in the time it has taken me to write this, that five families are homeless, and some of them are likely unsheltered.

If Facebook had an “acknowledge” button, I would like to acknowledge that I have seen this post, and that I support the organisation, but I don’t “like” the statistic. I would like an option, other than like, to show my opinion of this post.

Also, David Cameron posts a lot to Facebook and he usually gets a few thousand likes. The comments denigrating him though usually get, cumulatively, more likes than his post. Facebook could save people a lot of time by just putting a thumbs down symbol there.

I realise that this has been proposed (and rejected) before, but I feel it is maybe something that does need to be looked at as it creates a disjuncture in or a warping of society when a word as ambiguous as “like” is attached to so many things. It doesn’t provide people with a fair picture of the world, or a correct view of people’s opinions if the only option they have is to like something or not like it. Youtube has a thumbs up, thumbs down system, why can’t Facebook have that too?

Yes, Facebook does ruin relationships, but not in the way you might think, and I’d say the same of What’s App too.

I have an ex-girlfriend. I love her very deeply. She loves me very deeply. She has been my ex-girlfriend for almost nine months now. Following some misplaced values and poor communication around Christmas, we got into a cycle of breaking up and getting back together, which has led to some horrible game playing which has quite frankly, soured things. Both of our families and friends are exasperated by all of it. Now, if I’m meeting someone new I describe her as my ex-but-when-is-an-ex-really-an-ex-girlfriend and people tend to understand that reference.

Recently I fell on some hard times where I had no money and no roof over my head. Life is full of these stumbling blocks and thankfully I had friends that were able to help out, and they did, in some pretty huge ways. Although, and it begrudged me to contact her (the time that I contacted her before that was to tell her that if she didn’t stop, I’d get a restraining order, due to her behaviour on Facebook) I remembered that while my friends would bend over backwards to help me, they weren’t well resourced. She on the other hand had money and lived in a big(ish) house.

Such is the animosity between her parents and I that they would rather have seen me homeless, hungry and destitute on the streets no doubt savouring the moment and popping along with a digital camera to capture it for future enjoyment at a later date. It also took her a leap of faith to help me, which she did.

The breakdown of the relationship was spectacular. It started in the most intense and interpersonal of ways, and ended with slagging each other off on social media and to each other’s friends. It wasn’t just one break up, it was several.  Bear in mind that had the situation been the other way around, I would’ve helped her no questions asked, again, despite the ferocious nature of the break up. Of course, as a very social couple, the break up too was very social. One friend, upon hearing about this said that he thought that it was sad that a social circle descends into civil war and factionalism when a break up occurs.

When my ex-girlfriend heard about what was happening, she immediately offered to take me out for a vegan dinner, which I went along with. She wasn’t working very far from my friends so she came to pick me up. My friend, who, while he had witnessed the breakup, had never actually met the girl in question. He said how he had never seen a couple as much in love as we were. I saw her a couple of days afterwards and it was as if no time had passed at all. I was, and still am, completely in love with her. I then went to stay with another friend in the small South Devon town of Ivybridge.

I asked my ex-girlfriend if she wanted to come out and visit. She obliged. We spent the first half hour kissing and cuddling. Overcome with a sense of guilt, I suggested we go for a walk by the River Erme to some secluded beauty spots. No prizes for guessing what that entailed, twice.
The day was magical. Fresh air, the September sun shining walking along with the woman I love. Occasionally stopping to take it all in. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

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Cows blocking the path to the river. Meant we were all alone, just us.

A notable point is that my other friend, who has never met the first friend, said also that he had never seen a couple so much in love. He had briefly met my girlfriend, and we all went to school together but I wouldn’t say they knew each other well enough to say “Hi” in the street. I felt it odd that they made the same point. That very evening when me and my ex-girlfriend returned to his, peculiarly he went out, affording us some time alone which was put to good use cuddling in front of the television with some chip shop food.

I trust I’ve set the seen. A young couple, in love, basking with the sort of radiance that makes everyone else want to tear their hair out. So, what went wrong?

Things happened on both sides. I won’t be so harsh as to divulge hers, after all, she isn’t able to defend herself. On my part I went to another country with a female friend for a week and stayed with her family there. It seems obvious that I shouldn’t have done it now but miscommunication at the time and the fact that we were still intimate in the six months that followed led me to believe it was all ok. I’ll never understand how her family came to detest me so strongly, that is just there way I suppose. I can’t expect everyone to love me, but their hatred and derision of our love also led to some unsavoury behaviour on my part.

I do, however, think there was one more key thing that drove the relationship of these two people, that even apparent strangers could see how much they loved each other, to the point where it became painful and unworkable. To explain this I will need to go back some years.

Dating in the pre-Facebook era

Aah, the first one. Everyone remembers the first. The Eagle pub, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, 1999. The day of the Carnival. Number three, Skateboarding at the civic centre. Number Four, in a nightclub, Five through nine, at college. I could go on. I used to meet girls in normal places, we would exchange numbers. We would arrange to meet up. Phone calls were still (kind of) a luxury, and generally the whole house would share one telephone, and mobiles were still exhaustively expensive, though everyone had one. The only way to communicate effectively and at length with someone was in person. Face to face.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve/Day 2003/4. Number 24. A childhood friend and friend of the family. We’d been partying all night. We were taken with everything and stuff, just, y’know, happened. We were together for four and a half years. In that four and a half years (where I wasn’t on the pull) Facebook came out.

When the relationship came to an end, suddenly I was back on the dating scene and nobody met in the same ways anymore. I was flabbergasted. There were a few places where it was actually easier to pick up women. The newly established smoking areas in pubs (God bless the Public Health Act 2007) became a veritable gold mine of women. Generally though, nobody seemed to be meeting in person.

For me the chosen method of meeting a girl seemed to be meeting up and being together, in person. Everyone else was meeting on Plenty of Fish, chatting on Facebook or what’s app and I couldn’t get to grips with it. Fast forward to number 31. This is where I first noticed things beginning to change.

I met her on a dating website. She wasn’t beautiful. In fact she was… well… though I’m not naming names or showing photographs there is still no need to be unkind. We tried to meet up regularly. I had a dodgy feeling about the whole relationship though. There was evidently something going on that she wasn’t telling me about. I’d just had a newly acquired smartphone. On this smartphone, I’d installed what’s app. Suddenly, we’d spend every evening talking on what’s app and spent no time at all seeing each other. She would message me incessantly, yet she would never want to meet up. I couldn’t for the life of me understand it. Needless to say we didn’t end up seeing each other for very long.

Skip to number 33 who, ironically, I met in a smoking area. Facebook was how we first began to communicate. Then what’s app. We got together but we lived, I’m going to say 120 miles away. She lived in, I’m going to go with, Gloucester. Yeah, Gloucester, let’s go with that. We saw each other once every fortnight or so. In the in between periods we contacted each other unremittingly on Facebook and What’s app. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was being ground down and gradually exhausted by the relationship and I think us not seeing each other played a large part in that.

I think the internet loses a lot in terms of tone and context. It’s difficult to put across those things to just characters on a screen. Undoubtedly the person reading that will attribute context and tone to it, whether it is there or not.

My situation

Facebook is normally the cause of break ups because one partner uses it to cheat or another believes that their partner is cheating using Facebook. Her words were “Cyberstalking you is my way of letting you know I care.” Both these things happened, well, sort of. However, quite early on, we descended into a situation where we would use Facebook to chat. When we worked together and saw each other every day, it was fine. When we didn’t was when the trouble used to creep in, and this, in my opinion is how Facebook played its part.

I’m quite puzzled that there has been a change in divorce law in the UK. A person could give one of several reasons for divorce and now it is reduced, in simplicity, to just five. Consistently, year after year, the top cause cited in nine out of ten divorce cases was “breakdown of communication”.

With us, because we were communicating predominantly on Facebook and what’s app, we never spoke in person. When a problem occurred, we’d discuss it on what’s app and Facebook, never talking about it in person. The problem was therefore never resolved. It just lay under the surface. We’d have a growing animosity towards each other that didn’t exist when we were in each other’s presence, and probably still wouldn’t.

What happened was that we had substituted speaking in Facebook and what’s app for regular communication and as a result, a chasm grew.

Then came another event. She decided to open Pandora’s box. She used Facebook to contact several of my exes. Something that was never going to end well for either of us. She did this alongside messaging several of my friends that she had never or barely met.

When I was younger, one of my Catholic mentors was talking to me about money. He said “Money is like a gun. A gun is a tremendously useful tool. Money is a tremendously useful tool. Unfortunately, people use these tools for evil, as is their nature.” I think social networking tools are the same.

Social networking is a useful tool, but when it’s misused or substituted for normal conversation, it can be misused and used for evil, which has the propensity to reduce a relationship between two people who, when they are together are the most in love couple people have ever seen, to a smouldering wreck of a relationship with little or nothing to salvage from it.

Lesson

I suppose the main lesson I will take from this is that number 35 will not be on my Facebook, nor will I talk to her in any other format than in person, especially for those super serious conversations.

The past can hurt. You can either run from it or learn from it. I prefer to do the latter.

With the advent of the internet, everyone presumes themselves well informed. Not the case.

When I was younger, and I mean in my teens, the internet was the preserve of a small, wealthy, if a little geeky, elite. Now, I would think everyone to some extent has access. Every mobile phone has some level of web access on it. Everyone has a computer. In short, everyone has access to the sheer wealth of information that is out there.

The tone of internet comments and internet etiquette has changed as well. As technology becomes available to everyone, the temptation for everyone is to interact with it. Everyone then sees something online, believes it to be true, and forms an opinion on it based on that fact.

When I was younger, I was relatively alone in watching the news. I used to work in a nightclub at sixteen and when I’d come home, I’d have a beer, put on news 24, and get informed. People, if they weren’t informed on politics, would never offer up an opinion. This is 2001. Even then I considered myself well informed. In late 2001, I studied politics, sociology, law, citizenship and French at college. Then I learnt about things like agenda and bias. 

Ten years later, everyone has the internet. Everyone considers themselves well informed. Everyone offers up their opinion, and thinks it is either funny or correct. The notion is “if you watch the news, you are well informed” but that simply doesn’t fly anymore. 

We live in a world saturated by news media. When I’m in Plymouth, it’s on my phone. Then as I walk through the city centre, it’s on a massive television, then there are several newspaper front pages. Also, as I was growing up the Sun, the News of the World, The Daily Sport, the Star, were all joke papers that no-one would take seriously. Nowadays, even people see stories printed in those papers as semi-respectable.

The reason why I notice internet comments and things like Twitter going downhill is because everyone has an opinion and feels they should voice it. They really shouldn’t though. 

I see the reason for this as three fold. One, people voice their opinion without being given any information. There were calls to deport Abu Qatada, but did any news outlet actually state the nature of the crimes he was being accused of, or just that he was an “extremist”? The second is that people often know what has happened and yet only have a minor understanding or don’t read it correctly. For instance, when a paper prints a story about an “alleged” rapist or an “alleged” paedophile, people often look past the word “alleged” and just read what it is the person has been accused of, believing them to be guilty before the trial has taken place and offering up what they would like to do to paedophiles, which usually involves something entailing an unspeakable horror saying more about the person suggesting that than the person accused of the crime. The third, is when someone has a grasp of the facts, but not an overall understanding of them. The one to concentrate on here is when someone sees a program about the welfare state in the United Kingdom and offers a, usually poorly spelt, uninformed opinion based on what they think they know of it.

What I would probably say is, given the age that we live in, have you ever considered not offering up your fleeting opinion on things as they may change? Have you ever thought of not being reactionary to things? Have you ever thought of maybe mulling over or researching your point before taking to Twitter/Facebook/The Daily Mail website to voice your opinion?