Category Archives: Social Media

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.

Male privilege

I interacted in a debate on Facebook as to whether or not women’s sanitary/hygiene products should be subject to VAT. They shouldn’t. It really is that simple. My views though were dismissed as coming from a male privilege point of view. I found that sexist.

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I thought therefore that I would look into how much easier life is for men than it is for women. It isn’t. Thus I posted this as a response:

Well I don’t think tax should be paid on either, as they are both necessary but just to pick up on the “male privileged” thing, this idea that being born with a specific set of genitals endows a person with any sort of privilege is absurd. Sure the people at the top of business, sports and politics earn more than female counterparts, but that is only true for the top 1%. That isn’t because of men. That isn’t because there is some massive male conspiracy or a battle of the sexes going on, but the argument of most feminists is that men should, as a collective, be punished or persecuted for that, whereas if feminists looked at society in broader terms, I.e. outside of that top bracket, they would see that women actually have it far better than men.

From birth, girls, on average have £102 more spent on them than their male counterparts, on Christmas and Birthday presents in the first five years of their lives. Tedious point, I know, but I needed something to frame ages 0-5 and there it is. From five onwards, girls outperform boys at every level of education, from, infants, through primary and on to secondary but I’ll come on to that in a second. Boys used to outperform girls, then they were level pegging for a while, and now they’re ahead and the gap is growing. Anyone who cares about social equality cannot see this as a good thing. There’s no specific reason for this but it has generally been attributed to the fact that, in teaching women outnumber men five to one. If education as a sector is looked at (that is to say administration, functional work etc etc) then the number is estimated to be closer to six or seven to one. This is the main reason given, that in a female dominated environment, men are left behind.

So men leave school in a worse position than women. This is reflected and evidenced in terms of higher education. Of people in HE in the UK at the moment, 56% are female and that number, as a percentage, is growing. This obviously means that the 44% of male students are in the minority.

Outside of HE, in the workplace, unemployed men outnumber unemployed women 2 to 1. When women feminists talk about the pay gap among executives in board rooms, they seldom raise that issue. Personally, and, y’know, I may be speaking from a “male privilege” point of view, but I’m more concerned about the hundreds of thousands of men that can’t get a job, rather than the hundreds of women who can’t get a top job.

Men are far more likely than women to become victims of crime. The most common demographic for a victim of crime is a white male aged 18-30. Men are always more likely to be victims of crime than their female counterparts of the same age. They’re also less likely to report crime. They are also (and this one really makes me mad) twenty times more likely to go to prison. Courts are hugely biased against men, in criminal, civil and family proceedings. There’s a wealth of statistics to back this up.

Obviously those who defend our country in the forces, obviously that is a male heavy environment, which may be why, of the 442 soldiers killed in Afghanistan, three were female. I didn’t agree with the conflicts in Afghanistan/Iraq but it is interesting that those who said they would be prepared to and ultimately did lay their life down for their country were male.

Ex-servicemen make up a quarter of all homeless people in the country. Women make up another quarter. That is just those who have accessed homeless services though. It’s generally thought that about 90% of homeless people are male and about 10% are female. In London, of all rough sleepers, 12% are female and this percentage is thought to be smaller throughout the rest of the country.

I could go on and on and on, but do you know what the main cause of death amongst men aged 18-49 is? Suicide. I don’t know why, y’know, seeing as how easy they’ve got it and all…

Britain First’s “Christian Patrol” – Not in my name

There is a Facebook page known as “Britain First” and it started out as posts supporting our troops, and then slowly but surely more and more right wing, but principally anti-Islamic posts started cropping up. Outside of their Facebook page, they have become a campaign group actively campaigning against Islamification of Britain.

My central problem with it is that people started following Britain First to support our troops, and in that framework slowly managed to ease right wing messages in. People end up liking it and its populist messages and they get more and more extreme. It becomes a “brand” and one with appeal but it is merely a repackaging of some horrendously right wing people. Certain groups like the BNP, the EDL, the National Front and so on have lost their credibility as our society has become more progressive, and their names have become swearwords almost. The members of those groups want to get their message out there but don’t want their name associated with negative brands like the EDL, the BNP etc etc and therefore create a social media page without those negative connections being made by those viewing thus legitimizing such views.

They then show their campaigns and it seems like a “lads army” of grass roots support when in actual fact they are funded by big businesses with agendas with substantial backing and resources. People think that it is probably someone in their bedroom just doing this privately, but that is wrong. This isn’t a few people with a small operation, it’s an organised, structured, well-resourced political group with mission statements, policies, a street defence team and even a clothing line.

Britain First’s “Street Defence Team”

So, ordinarily, I wouldn’t give a group like this airtime. I would, under normal circumstances, not say anything about them or acknowledge them, but I saw something the other day that SERIOUSLY worried me. See, “Britain First” have a Street Defence Team and this team go around on the streets handing out flyers, that some (myself included) consider to be racist. They recently did this on Bethnal Green Road.

My ex-girlfriend is from Bethnal Green so I know quite a bit about the area. Some of the street signs are in Bengali. In Tower Hamlets, 32% of the population there are Bangladeshi and 31.5% of the population are White British. I regularly went to Brick Lane and enjoyed spending time there.

I don’t agree with what they do. I think it’s wrong. They are carrying on a rich historical tradition of going to East London and telling people they’re not welcome based on their race. In the 21st Century, it is Muslims. In the 20th Century it was African and/or Caribbean people. In the 19th century (as my ex-girlfriend (Jewish) would attest to) it was the Jews that bore the brunt of the “get out of our country” brand of racism. In the 18th Century it was Germans, the 17th Century was the Dutch and, well, I could go on. They aren’t the first group to go to East London and spread the message that “we need to kick these people out because they are taking over”, as people have been spreading that myth for hundreds of years.

During them handing out flyers, they were attacked, physically, by members of the public. I think it’s a little naive to go into an area, insult the resident population and not expect some sort of reaction, be that physical violence or police attention or whatever. It’s a free country and they are free to say what they want even if they don’t have an appreciation of the harm that it will cause and the consequences of their actions.

I really couldn’t care less that they’re doing this. It’s down to them, but I do have a problem, a pretty big one, with what they’re doing.

Hijacking Christian identity

One of the main lies that they are telling is that Muslim gangs are going around trying to enforce “Shariah Law”. I have never heard of this happening. I have never known it to happen. This seems patently untrue, but if this group has concerns then obviously they are welcome to raise them as they see fit.

What does seriously concern me is that they raise these concerns with what they call a “Christian Patrol” which makes me sick to my very core.

I, as many people know, am a practising Catholic. I choose to take a lot of my beliefs and life choices from my perception of the historical Jesus. I think that is key to my faith as one of the key tenets of Christianity is to live my life as Jesus lived his. Let’s look at the facts about Jesus’s life. It’s widely accepted by most scholars that Jesus was born in Galilee, would’ve been Jewish by ethnicity, would’ve spoken Arameic (an early form of Arabic), would have had some orthodox religious and liberal political views and if he lived in modern day East London would’ve been the sort of person that Britain First would take to the streets of East London with a load of leaflets in a bid to get rid of.

Jesus was all about inclusion. Christianity is all about inclusion. It’s about love, not hate. I can’t think that Jesus would look on their activities with anything but scorn, and that therefore is my view too.

Why does it matter what they call their “patrol”?

In the Catholic community we have to combat a lot of prejudice.

As a church, in fact Christianity as a whole, has been hijacked over the last 2,000 years by despots, terrorists, authoritarians, money grabbers, and generally some not very nice people. In order to justify and validate their hatred and evil they attach the name “Christian” to it. They do that because they feel it validates their views when in actual fact their actions are anything but.

To use a different example, some people in religious circles, usually in the states, have deep seeded prejudices against people of different races, different backgrounds, and people of different sexual orientations. We know that these prejudices are entirely without justification so to try and justify it they attach God and Christianity to it. In doing so, they make out that these prejudices are key to Christian beliefs, when in fact they aren’t. A good example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church. They use some obscure scriptural references to insinuate that the bible, and therefore the church is anti-gay whereas in reality, the Catholic Church is not only gay friendly, but there are even gay Catholic organisations and Article 2358 of the catechism says that our religious view should be to accept gay people and stand up to those who would discriminate against them. The problem is because some groups use that, and they are the ones who get the coverage, people take the message that all Christians, Catholics included, are homophobic bigots.

My fear is that Britain First are doing the same. Catholicism, or more widely, Christianity, does not have a fixed view on Islam as Christianity pre-dates Islam by about 600 years. From a philosophical Catholic point of view, we see that there are rays of truth and holiness in Islam (Nostra Aetate, Vatican II), we share common values (Pope John Paul II) and worship the same God (Lumen Gentium, Vatican II). Jesus is an important part of Islam, and owing to the universal nature of the Catholic we are inclusive of all people, as the bible says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:44-45)

If Britain First want to communicate these views on pamphlets and so on then, it’s a free country, they can do what they want, but I would ask them not to attach Jesus’s name to it, because people would then think that what they are doing is Christian, and it really isn’t, it is anything but. I would ask anyone that looks at the video to realise that this is not Christian and they are attaching Christianity to it to justify their prejudices.

They don’t represent Christians and they don’t represent me. In fact it sickens me and adds to misunderstandings about Christianity.

The Catholics aren’t bigots, they are universal and accepting. Just bear that in mind If you come across one of their “Christian Patrols”.

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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.

The Castaway Files: What teenage girls did before Social Media – Teen mags of the 90’s

When I was clearing out I discovered this blast from the past. There is a moral panic that occurs these days due to the ease of access that impressionable young girls have to the internet. I refuse to believe that this curiosity is a recent phenomenon and this can be confirmed by one thing that I found when I was clearing out the flat prior to a move.

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Where teenage girls used to go for inappropriate advice before Yahoo answers

The family member to whom these belonged was about 12-13 and an Irish Twin so it doesn’t take much maths to work out who it was, but even in a Catholic family (where you’re made fully aware of the “facts of life” from a very young age) these were hugely top shelf.

In my mum’s day it was playground tittle tattle that opened people up to this, in my and my sister’s day it was magazines like this that stepped in to fill the void between curiosity and fact. Now, I would say that social media and pornography (incorrectly) fill in most of the blanks.

Having given these magazines a thorough review, one can deduce certain facts. Principally, that 3T are “lish” (they were a short lived band made up of three of Michael Jackson’s nephews) as are 911 but the best was Paul Nicholls. These magazines seem to rave about him. You remember who Paul Nicholls was surely? He played Joe Wicks in Eastenders? Suffered from Schizophrenia? Went properly crazy? Eastenders won huge acclaim for his portrayal. He was quite the teenage pin up.

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A closer inspection of what is on the front reveals, far from the moral panic that exploded at the time, these represent what we would describe as tamer influences on a teenage girls life. Sure there is the odd “How to tell if a boy fancies you” but interspersed between that a competition to win one of 300 BT phonecards (remember them? Look at the top of SHOUT magazine) there are stories with sound morals such as “Cocaine messed up my life” and one of these has an exposé on HIV and other diseases to make sure girls know the facts.

I think it shows how vastly contemporary attitudes can change in twenty years. These at the time were seen as horrendously bad influences. Now we would see them as good influences. If I were a parent I would rather my children saw this than half the horrors they’d be exposed to on the internet. I suppose that’s the way the mop flops.