My friend and I, whilst swinging on a sofa swing (something that wouldn’t look amiss on a porch in America) in Roermond, Holland, chatted about inventions. We contemplated a swinging bed (an inspired idea) kind of like you get for a baby but for adults and envisaged how good it would feel to be rocked gently to sleep. We thought of other inventions and then got talking about that friendly foe ‘Facebook’.
Years ago I joined a particularly catty book club, a book club where most members reviled one another, shot eachother looks when one commented on a particular passage of a book, where the founding member insisted the meetings were minuted and oversaw the typing up of minutes. These minutes were used to insult other members of the group and I think I left not long after someone chose Daniella Westbrook’s autobiography as their book choice. N.B: For those reading fortunate enough not to be familiar with Daniella, she was an ex-‘Eastenders’ (an English long running soap opera) actress who is more famous for having lost part of her nose to a cocaine addiction, than for her acting skills. The one thing I remember about this bookclub was when we read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (it had been my friend Louise’s book choice) and when we had read it we convened in her house to talk about it and watch the awful 'working title' production of it with Ikea Knightly as the iconic Elizabeth Bennett and some bloke (whose only fault was that he wasn’t Colin Firth) as Mr Darcy. Louise had made these 'Pride and Prejudice' inspired top trumps, using all the characters from the book and I thought it was pure genius. So remember those Top Trumps and stick with me now.
Anyway back to that swing, so yes, my friend and I got to talking about facebook. I told her how someone who was in my elder Sister, Lynsey’s, school year at Keswick School, had added me as a friend on facebook. Making a withdrawal from my suppressed memory bank, I recalled sitting at the dinner table at boarding school with this girl, I was a fresh faced eleven year old who had barely left home and cried if I went away for the night (ah the many times my mum would wait for me to come through the door when I had gone to stay overnight at a friend’s house because by about 10.30 I had begged a parent to take me home). Well, this gal (we’ll call her Sherry) was sat at the same dinner table as me and she was thirteen and, well, just plain mean. We were placed at tables and had to sit at them every dinner time, she was good friends with another mean girl (let’s call her Regina). Every time Sherry and Regina would bitch about people at other tables, me (lacking tact or social decorum) would overhear (for it was pre-tty darn hard not to) and turn to look at the person they were talking about. One day they whispered (loudly) that I would always look when they mentioned someone- so they were going to ‘set me up’ (their tactics were sophisticated, I know) So the premise of this ingenious plan was that they would gossip about someone, falsely, and see if I would 'rise to the bait' and look over, to prove (to only themselves, I presume) that I had a penchant for doing this. I stifled a smile, for I was in on their highly sophisticated master plan. True to plan, they 'loudly' gossiped about someone and waited. I had finished my food and, instead of craning my little neck to look, proceeded to chase some leftover food round my plate with my fork and appear completely oblivious to their gossip. Foiled. In your face! I obviously still feel this was (a somewhat pyric) victory because it was about 20 years ago now.
Anyhow this Sherry, never civil to me at school, added me as a friend on facebook. Why? I don’t know. All I know is, I foolishly pressed ‘confirm’ (I have since learned to ignore people I had a mutual dislike for at school) One day she got chatting to me (via status comments) and asked whether I had any kids yet. YET? Yet?? Is there a time limit? Did I miss the fascist memo that demanded by 30 that I meet some loser, have a couple of kids, ditch the loser and bring up my brats single-handedly? Yes, yes, it would appear I did. No, I don’t, I calmly stated, adding that I haven’t met Mr-right-for-me just yet (said I, quite bitterly) For the purposes of this paragraph I have made sweeping suppositions about this other person.
Which, in the spirit of inventions, led us to invent the game of ‘Facebook Top Trumps’. How would this game operate, I hear you ask? Those of you familiar with top trumps will know that you play against at least one opponent, you each have an equal number of cards and you lose or win cards on whether you can ‘trump’ your opponents statistics and the aim is to try and win the whole pack. So your opponent may choose the category, for example ‘Superpowers’ and reveal their number or statistic, someone like Spiderman may have Superpowers: ‘89’ your opponent may have Batman so theirs may say ‘0’- so you would win their card. You usually lead with your strongest as you are hoping your high statistic ‘trumps’ theirs. There is a great deal more to this, but that is for you to spend a wasted childhood finding out. What I am trying to lead you to enquire is: Say, isn’t facebook a lot like Top Trumps? Yes, how very astute of you, I would have to agree it is and I'll tell you why....
The categories could include ‘amount of foreign holidays taken this year’, 'what job you have' (and perhaps whether you like it) ‘places you have visited’ (we decided that Sydney may equal a high score whereas, Skegness or Dagenham may be quite a low score) A big one would be ‘how many facebook friends you have’ (let's say 1007), then ‘how many (of those are) real friends’ (this could mean you have to minus about 1000 of the last statistic) ‘how many wall postings you may receive in a week’, ‘how many groups you are a member of’, ‘what your relationship status is’ (a seemingly important one) and ‘whether you have any children (yet)’ ‘Where you live’ could also feature but we are yet to finely hone this and couldn’t figure how it would be regulated etc etc then I think that is about how far we got with the game because we then carried on swinging and developing the idea of a King-size bed that could rock.
I began to question why people add us as friends and then proceed to make that cardinal sin of not even so much as saying ‘hi’. Not even a howdy, good to see what you are up to, haven’t seen you in years, my you look different (i.e. you’re way uglier than I remember, or didn’t you get better looking with age) etc etc. When those people you disliked at school add you purely to see what you are up to- I wonder whether they may feel they would win this round of facebook top trumps? Or, whether they would feel worse when they get a look-see at what you may be up to? But surely the bar is different for every person. I don’t feel bad when I look at others lives, sometimes I am thankful I am not married/divorced already with a few kids. I must be honest I felt sad when this ‘Sherry’ said she ‘relied’ on her kids and didn’t know where she’d be without them and claimed they were her ‘lifeline’, I genuinely felt sorry for them. I did realise (broodingly one day) that, amongst my peers, I am one of the only ones who isn’t married with at least two children. That said I am not sad about it I am capable of being happy for them and other people. I have many friends who are loving being in that position, but it’s not me, not yet.
Sometimes I update my status revealing what I am really happy about, upcoming holidays etc and realise I have genuinely supportive friends. They comment ‘have a great time’ ‘Lucky you, have fun’ and I sometimes feel a pang of guilt, as it could appear I was trying to rub something in. I try to regularly update because once I didn’t update my status for about 4 days and an ex student of mine, Boris, wrote acting genuinely concerned that I had dropped off the face of the earth. So I update for your sake. I am not so quick (not that I have never done this) to write every negative thing I am feeling, not to hide it, but rather that I feel there is a time and a place. I have written stuff in the past and had a sympathetic word in return and it felt good to know my true friends genuinely care and want the best for me.
I have also had what is termed a ‘friends cull’ on facebook, those people I added when they wanted to know about my life, that never initiated any other contact, no doubt scoured my photos (did a bit of what is termed ‘facebook stalking’), made suppositions about my life and then seemed to forget all about me. Like someone I was at uni with, she fell out with me (over someone else: see Psycho Essex girl in another blog) and I befriended her on myspace a couple of years later and I was sure to say hi. She accepted my friend invitation, then deleted me (the cheek!!). A couple of years later she then added me on facebook…. Pour quoi? Je ne ce pas! Today we are no longer facebook ‘friends’. I found myself worrying what she would think of my latest photos and what I was up to and realised I couldn’t live under that scrutiny and pressure (albeit perhaps self-perceived and almost certainly self-inflated)
Worse still are those that add you, you send them a message and they insubordinately ignore it. Why bother adding me?? Huh, huh? Ah the immense joy I feel pressing ‘deleted’ on these peeps. Now I just ignore people like ‘horrible girl who once spat in a drink then offered it to me’. Yes this girl spat in a can of Lilt and offered it to me- I, being polite (and a maybe a bit too trusting and dense), gratefully accepted only to have her laugh in my face with her friends. Oh, the strength it took to shrug my shoulders at her and say, “ah well, still tasted good”. The same strength rose in me again when I pressed ‘ignore’- if someone is that vile at thirteen what the heck are they like now?? I know people change, I know I am sure not the girl I was at twelve but if you were 90% pure evil at thirteen I can only imagine you took that into adulthood. We were never friends then, what would we have in common now? The inclination to gob in other people’s drinks? No, ignoring her felt good, I mean I wouldn’t want her spitting on my facebook page and having all her friends laugh at it.
Don’t get me wrong there are lovely people I am genuinely glad I am in touch with from school or other places, friends that are happily married and living in family bliss with their gorgeous children and I genuinely don’t begrudge them. Sometimes they are the same people that coo over the pictures of my niece, nephew and godson and always write encouraging messages, the friends I worked with that always write witty comments on my facebook status, or friends that are genuinely happy when I book the holiday of a lifetime or visit Swindon for the day. The friends that bless me daily with their encouragement, a quick message to say hi or a notification to say they ‘like’ my status update. I know I have enough real friends and rest assured that this would be a competitive category in my imaginary game of Facebook Top Trumps
Sometimes it is good to remind yourself (especially when you are feeling down) that facebook can feel like a constant, never-ending, cyclical, revolving, eternal Highschool reunion. At a school reunion you would want to show the best of yourself, look your slimmest and prettiest, be able to say you are truly happy and love your job and show only the best, best, best of everything in your life, to be able to say: Look at me, that weedy tactless spit drinker- look how far I have come- I am sooo sooo amazingly delirious with how good my life is. My good friends remind me that not one of us shows horrible or not-so-flattering photos of ourselves (especially us girls, you know I am right- I, myself, have been known to press ‘remove tag’ on some highly questionable photographs).
As long as you remember all this, instead of holding others’ lives up as a standard to which you can only hope to aspire. Remember that it is best to just be who you are and, most importantly, to be true to yourself. If you just remember that we can all feel like that, then you, my friend, are already ahead of the game.