Facebook: A Love Story

heart-facebookWhen this most social of all the social networks came out and we all piled on the bandwagon, we adored Facebook. 2007-8 were Facebook’s golden years of unbridled and unabashed fanboy love. Here was the thing we’d all not known that we’d been waiting for – the answer to days of boredom and the perfect excuse to put off essays. Long live the internet!

As the years went on, our marriage to Facebook deteriorated and now many of us are barely holding on and keeping up a pretence at affection. We openly cheat on the side with Twitter and Tumblr (they really know know to make us feel good) and spend the rest of our time resenting all the quirky little things that made us fall in love in the first place. Some have even divorced Facebook and gone to live in happier parts of the internet, like BuzzFeed.

I frequently see blog posts (not dissimilar to many of my own I might add) in which the blogger outlines the many ways to be insufferable on Facebook (that article truly is quite insightful) and we’re constantly reminded just how annoying people whose online “friendship” (that word is always in quotes) that we accepted of our own volition can be on this free internet service that we are in no way obliged to continue using. It’s torture, really, it is! It’s getting to the point that if I saw a Facebook status that read “Grrrr! I’m so ANNOYED at cryptic Facebook statuses!” I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not it was intentionally ironic or if it was an actual thing that somebody wrote in all seriousness.

But let’s just slow this hate-mobile down a tad shall we? Why do we still use Facebook if it’s just so gosh-darn shite? Yes, it’s useful for inviting people to events that they will passive-agressively click “Maybe Attending” to. It’s sometimes fun to revel in just how good your life is compared to that of that person you always despised back in school. And sometimes people post funny things (I mean, where else on the internet can we find such delights…). No, the truth is that we use Facebook because we like it. If you’re on Facebook right now, you actually like it. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be on it or it will have been seven days since your last login (bless them Father, for they have sinned). I do have friends who hate Facebook, and you know how I know they hate Facebook? Because they’re not on it. They’ve bitten the bullet, cut the cord, eaten the cake, and all other manner of bizarre idioms. The rest of us who are still here actually and actively enjoy the experience, it’s just that we’ve been told that we don’t or that we shouldn’t.

The internet has latched onto the small nugget of discontent for Facebook and informed us that Actually, We All Hate Facebook Now And Nobody On There Is Really Your Friend Except Maybe Your Mum (But Even She’s More Interested In Farmville). By blowing the slight grating of certain aspects on the site (and there are many little things that irk us) we are now reliably informed that although we must keep on using it, we have to hate it at the same time. Cyber-Sadomasochism at its finest.

The truth is, I rarely get that annoyed on Facebook. Even when people keep their wedding photos as their profile pictures for over a year, change them and even go back to the photos (we get it, you’re blissfully married, has nothing else developed in your life?) When people post endlessly about sport (Was anybody truly outraged by Gareth Bale’s transfer amount? Literally everybody knew that the day would come where a man would be sold for that much money). On Sundays when people Jesus the place up (seriously, it’s as if you’ve all been given God homework – “Go home and post a random verse of a hymn and you’ll get an extra acre in heaven” or something). Not to mention when people brag endlessly, complain eternally, or just wont stop posting pictures of their fugly kids. Honestly, it’s only moderately annoying. I’m a big boy, I can get over it. In fact, if you ever do something that honestly annoys me, I’ll either tell you, hide you from my newsfeed (who said Facebook updates were useless?) or just unfriend you. It’s pretty simple.

And yes, the people I have on Facebook may not be as engaged with my life as the friends I see on a regular basis but there’s a reason I added them. I to whatever extent am interested in your life and would like to know that you’re not dead yet and are in fact having a nice time. No, I probably will never see you ever again but at least we can enjoy the planet together and bitch about it on this website.

I Am Dying

ekg_flatlineWhoa there people, hold your horses.

Yes I’m dying, but at the same rate as you. Or at least I hope it’s at the same rate as you. Sorry for freaking you all out with my catchy title which is clearly only there to up my blog views which I obviously don’t care about…

I had a weird experience the other day and it’s stayed with me. I was waiting at the train station in Oxford and sat next to me on the rather uncomfortable metal bench was a soldier. A soldier in full soldiery get-up: helmet, camo, kevlar, the lot. The only thing missing was his rifle. He had with him two massive bags – the type you could carry two medium sized people (or oversized children), and I remember being glad that I never chose to go into the army as the mere sight of those bags made me blanch. Eurgh – hard work. Lifting. My hands are made for finer things, like writing snarky comments on my amazing new phone while being thousands of miles away from the hapless recipient of my wit. On the bags was the soldier’s name. I’ve forgotten the soldier’s real name but let’s just call him Harper.

I thought very little about him if I’m honest. I spared a thought for the guys I went to school with who subsequently went out to sandy places to shoot, be shot at, and disarm IEDs while advancing under fire (true story). I then promptly forgot about the whole thing and went back to listening to Bon Iver.

The journey progressed and we arrived at Birmingham, where I was to change one grubby train for another, even grubbier train. I stood, and down the other end of the carriage the soldier stood up and walked out. Exiting the door myself, I glanced down at the luggage rack and saw a massive bag in which one could fit a medium sized adult (or an oversized child). See where I’m going here? On the bag was the name Harper.

He probably left it by accident. Though quite how you’d forget a bag that big I don’t know. Perhaps it was ransom money and he was instructed to leave it on the train or his pet bunny would be slaughtered. I have no idea. But if you think that last suggestion sounded unrealistic, wait till you hear what my brain actually chose to believe for the next ten minutes.

In my mind, that bag – big enough to hold a medium sized adult (or an oversized child) in fact held a titanic sized brick of plastic explosive. My writer’s brain was in overdrive. Every action film I’d ever seen came screaming back to me in one massive download of “You’re going to die in a terrorist attack, a terrorist attack committed by a British soldier against this mass of the unsuspecting (and by the smell of them, unwashed) British public. You’re gonna die sonny!”

Was I ready? I quickly weighed up my options. I knew deep down that the chances of a massive bomb going off were about the same as me winning the lottery without actually buying a ticket, but the topsoil of my cerebral cinema at that moment was awash with adrenaline and what little testosterone my body could scrounge together.

When faced with the (utterly incredulous and entirely fanciful) possibility of violent death (or victorious stardom through helping people through the rubble!) my mind did a weird thing. It just shut down. All I thought was:
“Are you ready?
– Yup
– Really?
– Think so.
– Cool.”

I then emerged from my weird state of death-readiness and realised that there was no bomb, but instead I’d just watched a guy get off a train without his luggage and done nothing to alert him of the fact. In short, I was a dick. In my defence, there are so many announcements telling you to take your belongings with you, I’d like to think that it’s his own ruddy fault.

But encountering what my bizarrely wired brain interpreted as imminent firey death was a new experience for me, no matter how moronic. I was reading Reddit today and came across a story about a paramedic who was in an ambulance treating a guy. The guy was in pretty bad shape and sadly things got the better of him. His last words were “I feel OK about dying now, I’ve had a good life. I danced a lot.”

I’m happy I had quite a zen reaction to death. Had I panicked in any way I would have felt rather uneasy for quite some time. The fact that it fazed me not a whit makes me smile. I’d like to keep this attitude until the day I actually die. I’d like to be lying there and be able to say that I feel ok, I’ve had a good run, and that I danced a lot.

Might need to take dance lessons first though.

On Thatcher And Etiquette

Margaret Thatcher's papersMargaret Thatcher, the first and only female British Prime Minister is dead. There’s a saying I often hear in regard to Thatcher and it goes something like this: “Depending on who you are, Margaret Thatcher is either God or Satan”. I’m not a massive fan of branding famous people in such Marmite-esque diametric terms but it seems that with Maggie, this is somewhat true.

And so it can come as little surprise that on the occasion of her death, some people are sad and others are having a party with fireworks to, as one of my Facebook friends put it, rival the ending of Return Of The Jedi. The second of these reactions I fail to understand.

I mean, I hate just about everything that woman did when she was in power, and I was only alive for a year of it. I disagree on just about every point with Conservatives in general and Maggie was the greatest of them and so it stands to reason that I would quite happily happy slap her, but why have a party when she’s dead?

Now I’m not on a “respect the dead” rant because I struggle to logically justify that position. What I’m questioning is why people are partying now. Is Margaret Thatcher less of a political threat now she’s gone? Was she breathing threats and devising elaborate schemes to further impoverish the poor yesterday? No. The truth is, that Margaret Thatcher, an elderly lady who suffered from dementia, was no more of an influential figure alive than she is dead. Her time has been and it went many years ago. The party should have been in 1990.

You can whine about hurting her family’s feelings, or quote that you don’t rejoice in the death of anyone (though I find it hard to believe as I for one breathed a sigh of relief upon learning of the deaths of Osama Bin Laden, Col. Gaddaffi, and Kim Jong-Il) but the real mystery is why people are making this a bigger deal than it is. All that has happened is that a previously immensely powerful, influential, and divisive political figure who retired from professional life many years ago and eventually grew less and less herself due to illness, has finally and quietly ceased to be. The main show was over before I even knew there was a show.

Anyway, as much as I disagreed with Lady Thatcher’s ideals, I honestly have to hand it to her for being the first woman to smash through the glass ceiling, defy the patriarchy, and lead our country. That, ladies and gentlefolk, takes balls.

To Be Or Not To Be On The Internet

header 1I often wonder why we use social media. Well, aside from the obvious uses of keeping in touch with friends far away, organising events, and things of that nature. I mean, why tweet? Why write that status that you just know will annoy people and generate comments like bacteria swarm and multiply in a droplet of water? Why write a blog? Sometimes I think it all is simply a technological way of grabbing your friends, or indeed complete strangers from the internet, by the lapels and screaming “Love me! I’m important! Listen to my ground breaking opinions which I stole from somebody else!”

Of course, there is this side to things, and we are all guilty of such narcissistic technological sins from time to time (some more than others that’s for sure) but for the most part I think we can see why some people are like that when it really comes down to it.

But I find that the bigger question is “Why not?” Ok, so let’s all not ask why not when it comes to mind-numbingly moronic Facebook statuses; but when it comes to the question of whether or not to write something and put it out there, if you feel that you have talent as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this tweet “Be uprooted from the depths of my brain and be planted on the internet for all eternity”.

After all, how else can I fully enjoy this hilarious thought unless I share it with hundreds of other mindless internet pilgrims? That, at least, is how I choose to look at the world. I write because I can. I tweet in the vain hope that you find me as funny as I do. I blog because I have bugger all else to do with these words in my head. Yes, I appropriate phrases and sentences from other people to use in my writing (if you didn’t notice, I ripped off both H.G. Wells and Jesus in this one) but as I see it, art is made to be shared. In the words of our great and glorious king Oscar Wilde: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.” Oh, and if you ever find a typo in my writing, it’s because I’m following another maxim from a literary giant: “Write drunk, edit sober” – Ernest Hemingway

Yet, for all this, there are just some things on the internet that we simply do not understand:

Game On

DiceI think one of the most revelatory moments for me was when I decided to embrace the concept of imagining life as one big game. Not a game where there are winners and losers like Monopoly (though if it were Monopoly I just know I’d be the guy clinging to the hope that although I only owned The Angel Islington, putting a hotel on it would make everything better. Also, I wouldn’t have my first choice of counter – I’d be the sodding wheelbarrow) but instead, I imagine life as one big MMORPG.

MMORPG stands for Massive Multiplayer Onine Role Playing Game. It’s basically for nerds and geeks (and that is fine and I embrace both these terms) but it is essentially life. With magic. On the internet. I feel any extended definition of an RPG is rather redundant I’m afraid.

To illustrate what I mean: Everyone is equal, we all start at the same point, though some people tend to go about things with the wrong attitude. Most people just play to bumble along and advance their story while completing sidequests like mastering a second language, learning to water-ski, and baking cakes just for fun. There are those who take advantage of the newer, less experienced and naive but those are frowned upon. The objective is not to win but rather to play out your particular story and get better and stronger along the way.

To be honest, I could continue to extend the analogy forever but for those of you who play RPGs you already get what I’m on about, and for those of you who don’t then I think I’d only bore you.

In short, while serious things may happen, taking life less seriously than most is a liberating experience. Regarding everyone as entirely equal takes some work but it makes for a better user experience. And when things get a little more difficult in life, it’s rather comforting to think that it’s only because you’ve managed to level up.

Sheesh this blog seems a little heavy. But then again its content isn’t. I think what’s moved me to writing this is that because of how I look at the world, I am increasingly puzzled by those who take things oh-so-seriously and don’t seem to realise that everybody else is just bumbling along the same as them and, in the words of Liz Lemmon: “I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich”.

But then again there’s absolutely no use pretending that we all don’t whip off our clothes and dance like we’ve just won the bleeding lottery every once and a while. Even saying “every once and a while” is also a humongous untruth because we all know that we’d do it every second of every waking minute of every day if we thought we could get away with it. Well, that and sex. But even then, that is just the no-pants-dance done by two people instead of one. And so in a way, finding a partner with whom you can settle down and live a long life of glorious lovelness with is essentially the quest to discover somebody willing to strip off their clothes and move their limbs quasi-rhythmically (we are all not so gifted as the young Thomas Cruise is in the video below) in time to the universal music of unadulterated pleasure. Even if it does happen to be adultery.

Vatican’s Got Talent

So apparently we’re getting a new Pope. Not that the current one died or anything, he just thinks he’s getting a little too mentally frail to be up to the task. The task of… sitting in a chair and pretending to be infallible. This is obviously a poor excuse, after all frailty or madness hardly stopped any of the other Popes from trying to brainwash the world with their particular brand of crazy, and even the last Pope to resign only did so because of scandal. Pity there wasn’t a handy storehouse of scandals that poor doddery old “Benedict” could latch onto as an excuse, imagine if he could claim that he used to be in the Hitler youth, or that he covered up multiple accounts of child abuse, or that he was just faking it all or something. Now that would be headline news. But no, he’s had enough so he’s packing it in to write a book or something. About time too, I could do with a new doorstop after I used George Bush’s autobiography to make paper mache Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Strangely, what some news outlets are focussing on at this time is the fact that the St Peter’s Basilica was struck by lightning only hours after the Pope’s announcement that he was resigning. I find myself very confused as to why on earth this is considered news. Well, to be honest, I find it difficult enough to comprehend why a textually unnecessary head of a sensationally misguided wing of a religion I no longer subscribe to stepping down is news either, but I understand that some people might find it mildly interesting seeing as Big Brother is over and Game Of Thrones isn’t back until the end of March. But why is lightning striking the Vatican newsworthy? Last time I looked, Catholics worshipped some form of Yahweh, not an amalgamation of Zeus and Thor. My Bible knowledge is struggling to find an example of God chucking a lightning bolt to get his point across.

And anyway, isn’t lightning from a deity supposed to be a bad thing? Like, a big “Hey you, stop dicking about or the next one will hit your head” kind of thing? Are we saying that God is displeased with the Pope’s resignation? Did he want him to die while still on the job? “Aw shucks, he’s not supposed to retire until the aneurysm I gave him pops in his head” Or is God so monumentally thrilled with Joseph Ratzinger’s time in office that this is a divine version of shouting “Encore!” at the end of a play?

Interestingly enough, lightening is a totally idiotic weapon for a god to use, at least in this day and age. One would have thought than an omniscient being would have foreseen the invention of the lightning conductor. “What is this devilry? They seem to be defying me with some sort of metal rod!” Aaaand this brings us round to the part where science takes over and says that a) if God really did have something to say in the form of a lightning bolt regarding the Pope’s resignation, he was quite a few hours too late – perhaps he was on the wrong time zone? and 2) It is no strange miracle of nature that lightning strikes a humongous metal rod sticking up high into the sky in the middle of a storm. It is no more surprising that it struck more than once because it is a myth that lightning strikes the same place only once.
Science, bitches.

Yet now we come to the hit reality TV show “Vatican’s Next Top Pope” or “Vatican’s Got Talent”. Let’s hope that the next Holy Father manages not to fall into the trap of praying for Africa’s “poor, sick and needy” while telling them not to wear condoms to stop AIDS, waving a solid gold incense burner about, gripping a six foot tall gold cross, and sitting on a golden throne while heading an international organisation estimated to be worth trillions of pounds.

The Prodigal Sun

I guess this year is a first for me.
The first Christmas without the Christ if you want to be blunt about it.
And while I hold no ill will to those who adore the story
Of a man come from glory to a shed here below, a great message to bestow,
I guess this is a first for me.
The first Christmas with a looking forward more than a looking back.

Not that those who love Jesus don’t spend some time to tease us
With the promise of life everlasting,
But their main focus in December is on a fire that became embers many years ago.
I love the story to be honest.
Two parents with only a promise that their love had been true
And their God had come, out of the blue, to give them a child – the child born of destiny,
One to heal all man’s iniquity.

But all that aside for a moment,
Can we take the time to get back to the Romans?
Way back when so few people knew the score,
Back to the dark ages of magic and lore.
Back to the time when we didn’t have a sodding clue,
Why nights grew dark and lips turned blue at the mere mention of winter,
We could have honestly done with a hint here and so we looked to the Sun.
That flaming brilliant ball of heat, that cooked our skin and spoiled our meat in the summer time, was dying – nay, gone!
And the winter’s bite was hard and snow shone,
Bringing smiles but yet frowns as the easy days had flown.

The sun would return we said.
We know it goes up and down and we’d bet our daily bread on the fact
That even if blinded by cataracts the fire would be there,
Drying the land and heating the air.
For summer comes e’re winter is gone.
Have faith, joy will return, we tell our little ones.

So I guess this year is a first for me.
The first time I look forward only one year, and take comfort in the knowledge
That come hell, high water, or orange flavoured chocolate (ew),
The sun will rise with vigour anew and heat our earth perhaps a little too much;
but perhaps that is something to think on come March.
And life will again, come and return
With the reign of flowers and leaves, strong rivers, streams,
Bees will pollinate, procreate, obfuscate the reason for nature’s palate vis a vis their fate,
And bring new spring in the step of winter’s demise.
Yes. Again the sun will rise.