Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your life?

Grads

The youth and I do not always get along well, it’s true. There are alot of things I just don’t understand about how they do their thang. Fake glasses with thick frames, when all I ever wanted to do with my glasses was get rid of them. All that eyeliner. High-waisted shorts. Man buns. Endless selfies under layers of filters. Texting each other when they’re in the same room. The strange popularity of obnoxious YouTubers. I will stop right there, as I don’t want to sound like a shirty old cuss. Now, if everybody will just get off my lawn and pull up their pants, I’ll get on with this rare post in support of young people.

It’s graduation season. All over the world, people are closing the book on one chapter of their life and moving on to another. Our darling Fiona is leaving the familiarity and security of her school of the past five years for highschool at Notre Dame. With the added fuss of end-of-the-year activities, including uniform fittings and a leaving ceremony (because apparently sixth grade grad is a thing), our June’s been ridiculously busy. She’s excited and nervous, all at once. Big changes are coming. Every spring, for several years now, my Facebook newsfeed contains at least one person sharing the following meme:

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It’s made me snicker every time, I admit. However, it’s not true. Being a kid is actually really hard.

Your personality is still forming – and so are those of your peers. This means that every day you make a conscious decision as to how to present yourself to the world, and that world consists mainly of people who are too immature to respect what you’re offering. Popularity occupies a disproportionate level of importance, and is based heavily on things that are beyond your control. Good hair. Clear skin. The right (i.e. trendy and expensive) clothes. Smooth moves. I’m pretty sure teenagers have not changed that much since my own teen years – which means smooth moves still elude many of them. You have strong opinions, but they are laughed at by many of your peers and dismissed by parents and teachers. What do you know? Talk to me again when you’ve been around the block a few times …. If you put out, you’re a slut – and guys like you while girls scorn you. If you abstain from sex, you’re a prude – and girls like you while guys don’t bother with you. If you’re queer, you face the heavy task of trusting people with that deeply personal piece of information – and they might not react well. Everyone probably assumes you’re straight. You’ve been alive less than 20 years, but people are asking you what you want to do with the next 30 or 40 years of your life. You are constantly being tested on what you know, even though alot of what you know is new – and there’s more of it every day. The results of these tests determine whether you can follow the career path you’ve told everyone you want to follow. You’re being evaluated by just one institution’s accepted metrics – yet you’re being told that you have to measure up or you’re going nowhere in life. You’re facing years of testing, development, uncertainty – and debt.

Not all of you are going to make it. Failure, bad choices, heartache, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, drugs, crime, and suicide stalk you like wolves. Your generation is the one that is most vulnerable to all of these things. If you’ve made it to graduation, fab for you – it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Here’s to your future!

 

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My underwhelming return to Facebook ….

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I made it through Lent without Facebook. 40 days without social media. I accidentally clicked on the Facebook link a time or two, but then I walked my trespassing ass right back out of there. It’s been nearly two weeks since I came back to the fold – just after Easter began, in fact. “Began” you say? Yes, began. According to Catholicism, this past Sunday was the 7th Sunday of Easter. Easter is not just a weekend – apparently, it’s 50 days long!

Theology aside, I thought it would be difficult to be away from Facebook. I was wrong. It was peaceful. I didn’t have to subject myself to the boredom of being party to the minutiae of people’s lives. No fascinating updates like “traffic was so bad today” or “painting our kitchen” or “my little kid said insert totally-predictable-little-kid-statement here“. No pictures of what people ate for lunch. No political hoopla or look-you-guys-my-life-is-so-awesome staged pictures. Nobody felt the burning need to reassure me that they are #soblessed. No love-me-love-me-love-me selfies posted for the sole purpose of receiving compliments. I didn’t have to read the same ungrateful statuses from the same collection of whiners every day. The acronym FML fell off my radar. When crazy things happened, I didn’t have to listen to the analysis and processing of 50 different people. I could just quietly think the event through, maybe talk about it with a pal. And there was no pressure to craft and post exactly the right response.

Sure, it was strange not to wish Ryan a happy birthday on Facebook, or create a tribute to my father on the fifteenth anniversary of his death. I missed some people with whom I only communicate via Facebook. I was taking pictures, but I wasn’t able to share them with my dozens of Facebook friends. I just had to enjoy them myself, then print them for our family albums. Like people used to do with pictures. It was frustrating not to be able to share links to my blog posts. I kept writing through Lent – in fact, I published five posts. They didn’t get nearly as much attention as they usually do. Ten readers at most. However, this caused me to consider just why I feel like I need lots of people to read my blog.  Maybe I don’t. After a couple of weeks, the pleasure and satisfaction of simply composing a blog post was the same as if I were about to hook 100 readers.

I thought I would be excited to return to Facebook. Wrong again. After a few weeks away from it, social media looks more ridiculous than ever. I feel increasingly alienated from Facebook. I don’t bother to post nearly as much as I once did. I didn’t even share with the Facebook world that Ryan and I were going to New Orleans until I assembled an album a week after our return. I didn’t post a drippy Mother’s Day salute, either. Another precious little soul is going to be calling me Auntie Beth some day. I didn’t share that news. Occasionally, I think of things that could be fun to share – and then I don’t bother. It just isn’t as important as I once thought it was to give a digital audience a breathless update of my everything all the time. Moment of shameless honesty here: I love attention. Good, bad, laughing, shocked – I don’t care. One of my biggest fears is oblivion. But the price one pays for the kind of attention social media dishes up is starting to look rather steep.

Many days, I scroll joylessly, waiting in vain for something – anything – that cuts through the banality. Advertisements. Quizzes. Do you actually think you’re brilliant because you got 9 out of 10 right in the quiz-of-the-moment? Do you really believe that by sharing the result of four minutes of multiple-choice questions you will establish yourself as a genius in the minds of your digital acquaintances? Most of us are rolling our eyes so hard we have to stop scrolling until we can see again. Drama. Oversharing. If you took eight pictures of the same baby in the same clothes with the same background, we only need to see one. Maybe not even one if we saw a shot of the same baby yesterday.

Bullying. You can be anything you want on Facebook and nobody will bother you about it. Unless you’re religious. Or conservative. Or pro-life. Whatever you do, do not be openly pro-life. It will be a matter of minutes before people start piling up on your page, ferociously defending their right to kill their babies under any and all circumstances. You will get called names that would make a sailor blush.

And the ignorance …. Good gravy. A while ago, I fought openly with a blatant racist on Facebook. He is convinced that Islam is a religion of murder, and Muslims are inherently evil – and that one Muslim in Canada is one too many. Never mind that he is a redneck jackass from the arse-end of nowhere who’s never even met a Muslim – he is determined to make sure he never will, either. Sadly, he’s from my home town, and we used to be friends. Many people from Robert’s Arm are lovely, but not him. He is so hateful his Facebook account was shut down. I found out this week that he started another one under a new name, because he showed up on my “people you may know” list. The new account has been suspended multiple times. Apparently, he doesn’t care. He continues to spout evil and – much to my dismay – the asshole has 155 friends. How?

I was guilty of a few of the things I just complained about. I shared things that no one would – or should – care about. I said things that would only be entertaining for me and a handful of my friends. I posted three pictures where one would have done. I got a kick out of compliments on my pictures, even when I knew the compliments were knee-jerk reactions to my pictures by sycophants who just wanted me to notice them – and maybe compliment them back. I eagerly participated in drama (I loves me a good throw-down sometimes), and maybe there are people out there who feel I have bullied them. I thought this was all fine for the most part until I pulled away from it for a while. Surveying it all from the sidelines changed my take.

I don’t really know where this is going. Maybe I’ll quit Facebook altogether. Maybe I’ll go along with it for a little while longer, trying to find my groove. Maybe a thousand words is too much to spend on this subject. Either way, thanks for reading. I love it when you look my way.

I don’t have a life, but I imitate one on Facebook.

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Cooking is a passion of mine. I love the interplay of colours and smells as you build a dish from hot oil or melted butter into a meal, adding meat, vegetables and spices along the way. I love the feeling of having created a really good sauce, or a bowl-of-love soup. I relish pulling a hearty casserole out of the oven or serving up steaming ladles of chunky chilli on a cold day. Seeing smiles on the faces of my family (and guests, when we have them), hearing the noises of appreciation and contentment as they eat what I’ve made – that’s soul food for me. A few weeks ago, I discovered a website called Yummly. It is a vast collection of recipes, meticulously organized. These recipes have been contributed by people who love cooking, and have featured these recipes in their blog. Practiced, perfected recipes, vetted by people who know cooking. Why is this worth pointing out?

Because Facebook.

My newsfeed is filled with recipes. Usually, it’s a sped-up video detailing the steps of a recipe, and it will be introduced with lines like “you’ll never microwave popcorn again” and “she takes eggs, milk and sugar and you won’t believe what she makes” and “the only good-tasting gluten-free bread I’ve ever had”. About 95% of the time, these videos are posted by people who’ve never tried the recipe. They’ve taken some stranger’s word for it, and posted it because it looks legit – and tasty. Sharing recipes used to be a thing of honour – a tried-and-true, everyone-loves-it thing cooks wanted to share with their family and friends. These timeline posts are nothing like that. They are basically part of a poster’s stream of consciousness – a “wow, check it out” shared with everyone from their mother to their mail carrier to the college roommate they havn’t seen in seventeen years.

And this is not limited to recipes …. There are housekeeping remedies (“never buy shoe polish again”, “return your shower head to a factory-fresh shine”, “wash your dishes with nothing but baking soda and lemon juice”). There are step-by-step instructions for creating elaborate hairstyles and 3D nail art. There are beauty hacks (“wash your hair with these four common household items and never deal with dandruff again”, “soothe cracked heels by soaking your feet in vinegar and essential oils”, “12 delicious face masks made with nothing but fruit, honey and oats”). Make-up tips and tricks. Dance moves. Exercises guaranteed to address everything you’ve never liked about yourself. Fun shoe-lacing techniques. Ideas for upcycling old clothes and furniture. Fashioning the perfect spice drawer or underwear organization system using PVC pipe. Plant pots made from old hats, boots, sink basins, toilet bowls. Then there are the craft suggestions – if you have young children, you’ve probably perused the internet for fun, seasonal, age-appropriate crafts for your littles. Well, look no further. Your Facebook timeline contains everything from assembling puppets from toilet paper rolls and fabric scraps to making paint out of flour, oil, food colouring and …. oh, I don’t know, inner peace, ambition and pixie dust? Amazing vacation destinations, posted by someone who thinks it would be awesome to go there someday.

All this would be awesome if it weren’t for the fact that most of it is wishful thinking. The videos are almost always accompanied by lines like “this looks amazing”, “OMG, I’ve got to try this” and “someone do this and tell me if it works”. These things are basically a low-budget, minimal-effort bucket list, a someday-maybe-if-I-feel-like-it brainstorm. The posters have never cooked these dishes, crafted these hairdos and nail jobs, cleaned their hardwood floors with their dog’s ear wax, gotten rid of their crow’s feet using corn syrup and cream of tartar, eliminated their belly fat eating only bananas and jalapeños, or hung out in the same room with PVC pipe. They’re presenting a carefully curated image to which they aspire, and they are unlikely to ever do even a fraction of the great ideas they’re passing on. The online world (particularly the social media world of Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest) not only allows this – it encourages it.

And I’m tired of it. What a waste of time, brains, dreams. We’re like caged tigers pacing in front of a wall painted with a jungle scene. Strangely content, though there’s a restless awareness that it’s only a shadow of what we could have – what we’re meant to have. When are we going to stop creating holograms of the life we want, and start working on the real thing? Or is that just too much for us now?

 

 

 

Today, I’m using the internet to complain about how the internet affects me.

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Last Friday, I composed and sent an email. An hour went by. No response. Two hours. Three. The rest of the day. It’s now Sunday. Crickets. Logic says that’s no big deal. Maybe his internet connection is down. Maybe he’s away, and doesn’t bother with the internet when he’s away. Maybe he’s given up the internet for Lent. A part of me that didn’t exist before I had access to the internet, though, is mystified and frustrated and feeling somewhat rejected. Why has he not written back? Why, why, why? It’s been a whole bloody weekend! This is a sensation that I would never experience if it weren’t for the fact that we’re all connected, all the time. I don’t have a name for it, so I’ll call it “crickets angst”. Definition: mounting anxiety caused by receiving no response to your message; crickets angst escalates quickly. It is particularly strong when the non-responder is a person known for responding quickly, or a good friend or family member.

Crickets angst is closely related to the feeling I get when I put up pictures on Facebook and no one comments or even “likes” them. I start to wonder if, for some reason, nobody saw them – so I check the security status of my pictures. No, it says friends can see them. My news feed shows activity by various friends who normally respond to my pictures. Then why has nobody commented? These pictures have been available for twenty minutes already! Are my pictures boring? Am I boring? Well, kind of! Why would people be interested in dozens of pictures of the same person in different clothes with different backgrounds, day after day after day? Who needs to see a picture of what I ate at a restaurant everyone’s been to? A decade of Christmas trees? They’re beautiful, but they all look the same (well, except for the one we had in 2012 that probably could have been seen from space – lovingly christened tree-hemoth).

After years of surfing the net, I’m more impatient than ever. If a page takes more than five seconds to load, I start jiggling the mouse. I hit the refresh button obsessively. I right-click on things – not sure why. Maybe to reassure myself that the mouse is still working? I draw mouse-pointer circles around various images on the screen. Sometimes I pound the enter key or the space bar. I can barely contain my annoyance that what I clicked on is not in front of me right now. If my internet connection is down, I immediately start thinking of all the things I can’t do. Can’t check my bank account or pay bills. Won’t know if someone’s sent me an email. Might miss an invitation. Can’t look things up. Can’t upload pictures. But it’s been ages since I last uploaded pictures! (“Ages” being, of course, a few days.)

Sometimes I have to steel myself while scrolling through my news feed, because – without warning – a disturbing image pops up. It could be connected to a news item about a bombing or a plane crash. It could be one of those ridiculous urban legends – “Girl uses a new skin cream – you won’t believe what happened to her face!” Then there are the highly suspect stories at the bottom of so many websites I visit, accompanied by photos of melting celebrity faces and double-iris eyeballs and that guy with a deep dent in his head (I think that one’s about sports injuries). I never read those stories, but they are continuously offered to me. Sometimes there’s just too much sadness. Missing or abused children. Prayers and virtual candles for the dead. That horrible poem about a teenager who gets in a car with a drunk driver. It’s not even well-written, but it makes the rounds again and again. Everything has to be taken with a whole packet of salt, never mind a grain, because so few people actually take the time to verify what they post.

Youtube offers solid proof that people are desperate for celebrity status in any arena. Guy chugs four litres of milk. Girl shaves head on a dare. Burping contests. Stripping teenagers. Dancing babies. Goofy pets. Rants about everything. How-to videos for everything from hairstyles to home improvement to opening a pomegranate (saw it, used it, it works – just ignore the comment about cutting the top off the pomegranate and “scalping it …. the way an Indian does a human being”). Everyone who ever thought they could sing well, singing their collective hearts out, hoping to be discovered. Most of this stuff is useless, some of it embarrassing, but sometimes I find myself watching it anyway. How many hours have I wasted on Youtube? I hope I never have an answer to that question, because it would almost certainly be depressing.

Without the internet, I would never have had to have a discussion with Fiona and Bridget about what constitutes “appropriate content”. I howled with laughter when Ryan, who regularly checks the search history on our computer, showed me that someone had searched using the term “wiggling privates”. However, I managed to keep a straight face during the conversation that followed.They broke a household rule and then tried to hide it, so they lost their internet privileges for a week. Having an internet connection is like having a window on the whole world, with thousands of different views. Many of these views simply should not be seen by children, and constant parental vigilance is required. My parents never had to deal with this! If I wanted to know about sex, I had to have an older brother with a stash of dirty magazines under his bed – or a cousin with a book with a plain brown paper cover. I had neither, although I did have a friend who didn’t mind asking her mother …. er …. sensitive questions. Now, it’s a simple matter of waiting for your parents to leave the room for a few minutes, and typing any term in a search box. Boom! Pages and pages of links appear, whichever one you choose loading in seconds at the single click of a mouse. If it’s even that tough. Many children have their own device that goes wherever they go, and minimal supervision. They have to be taught how to protect their personal information and how to avoid buying things by accident around the same time they are taught to read and write. If your child has an email account, you will, at some point, have to explain what Viagra is or why anybody would want a penis enlargement or that they really shouldn’t contact Kandy Bottom for a good time. Maybe even all three.

If it weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have that eerie sensation of somebody’s-watching-me whenever I log in to any account. The ads used to be generalized. Now they’re frighteningly well-tailored to my taste. Stores I love. Dresses that are just my style, sexy shoes, body jewellery, books by my favourite authors, music by my favourite artists, clever lunch box time-savers, kids’ outings and camps, all of it available in my area. I’m sure I’m not the only one who buys more junk because of the internet. You can turn off your radio or television when the commercials become too obnoxious, you can toss out the flyers stuffed into your mailbox without a glance, you don’t have to pick up the phone. But if you, like most people, use emails to keep in touch and do your banking online, you cannot avoid the temptation of just-what-you-always-wanted, dangling in front of your screen-scalded eyes.

On the other hand, because of the internet, there’s less of something I love: the printed word. Newspapers are becoming slimmer as more and more of their content is contained on their website. If I subscribe to a newspaper, it’s because I want a newspaper – not a stupid bar code to scan with my smartphone so I can spend more time online. Magazines are pulling the same trick. If you buy a magazine, you’re mainly paying for glossy ads – you have to visit the magazine’s website to access many of the articles and photo essays. And e-books …. Well, e-books are breaking my heart. There’s something about the weight of a book, the smell of ink, the dry rustle of turning pages. Reading is a tactile experience. Not a virtual one. Not for me, anyway.

I know it’s only a matter of minutes before someone pokes their nose in here to point out that, without the internet, I would not have this blog. The internet offers so much entertainment. It gives me a simple way of connecting with people who are dear to me, but far away. It makes banking, business and shopping easier. It’s an excellent educational tool. Tutorial videos have saved me money on cleaning and small repairs. It’s provided me with ideas for crafts and recipes and party games. And, yes, I can use it as a platform to say whatever I want. But I sometimes wonder if I might be a better human being with a better life without it ….