Facebook: Friend, Foe or Farce?

Have Facebook and Twitter changed the definition of friendship? And have they altered the way we view and approach friendship?

A quick look at some of your Facebook friends’ friend lists will reveal that some have literally hundreds of ‘friends’. How many of these would have been termed friends before the advent of social media? Before the likes of Facebook a friend would have been someone you met up with, if not frequently then on some kind of regular basis. Even the couple you met while on holiday in Gran Canaria would only be your friends if you maintained face to face contact with physical visits or repeat holidays. Unless you’d exchanged addresses and phone numbers the holiday friendship would disappear into the photograph album along with the memories.

Is it some kind of competition? As in, “I have five hundred friends and you have six, therefore I am infinitely more popular and a social butterfly whereas you are a sad, lonely individual”.

Is there a need for a new set of rules, an etiquette for social media sites? I’m wondering because besides the well documented episodes of Facebook bullying there is a boulder-strewn precipice of a path to negotiate where social media friendship is concerned.

What should you do if invited to become a friend by someone to whom you do not wish to expose your life? And what of those to whom you’ve extended ‘friend’ invitations and have received no response? I must confess here, reader that I have experienced both these occurrences during my few years of Facebook. Does the pleasure of ‘friend’ acceptance outweigh the pain of ignorance? It is worthwhile considering, here, the nature of the friendship-if the ignoring ‘friend’ is from a mere, fleeting holiday encounter it can be dismissed. If, however it is your childhood best buddy, the inseparable companion you grew up with, shared your innermost secrets with, laughed and cried with, it is understandable to feel a degree of rejection. But it is worth remembering that these names on the screen are not really real friendships; they are mere digital contacts.

Among my own friends, old and new, a number do not participate at all in social media. Their reasons vary from ‘not knowing how to use it’ to ‘it’s boring’. There is an element of truth to the second complaint, in that we all have FB contacts who spew out the minutiae of their daily lives like effluent, although I point out to those who criticise that there are ways to avoid seeing tedious posts [eg turning them off or scrolling past them]. And unlike many, I do enjoy seeing photos of the places others visit-I may well want to visit those places myself.

So are social media sites overall a good thing? I’d say yes, providing you treat them as the shallow, cursory level of contact they are. But Facebook friends are not a substitute for real, talking, moving, laughing, gesticulating, sharing-experiences people.

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I’ve had a few-but then again-too few to mention-

                Regret is an interesting emotion. As you get older you might be forgiven for having accumulated a net full of regrets that you’ve trawled along behind you all your life. But then the net would get heavier and more onerous to haul in with time. Better to release the captive disappointments somehow and allow them to drift away.

                Of course some regrets are entirely trivial, and the wrong decision can be rectified in a short time. Ill-advised haircuts, that last glass of wine, holidays with family members, vitriolic emails-the repercussions of all of these do not last for long. Last week I regretted my lack of speed in capturing a pine marten crossing the road with a limp stoat dangling from his jaws! More serious decisions like career choices, partners, buying a home can be a source of regret for ever.

                Twenty years ago I made a momentous [for me], life changing decision that had a profound and lasting effect. At the time someone very close warned me I would regret this decision the whole of my life, and yet I have always considered this one choice to be the very best decision I ever made. Sometimes you just have to take a leap into the unknown, take a gamble-and then accept the consequences, whatever.

                Amongst the circulating emails and Facebook spam that floods on to our screens there is often a set of images of historic products-items you might have used as a child. There is a fleeting, misty nostalgia to these pictures, prompting you to say, ‘Whatever happened to ‘Spangles’, or ‘Do you remember ‘Loxene’ shampoo?’-but we don’t seriously want to turn back the clock. ‘Loxene’ shampoo was little better than washing up liquid, and if ‘Spangles’ still tasted good they’d still be on sale-as Mars bars are today.

                I don’t doubt that some aspects of life were better fifty years ago, like children playing outside, not getting obese, less cars on the road etc. But who would want to go back to that time? There were no machines to do all the dirty work. My mother had a ‘copper’ that she boiled the washing in and then put it all through a mangle! I don’t think we had a fridge for some years. There was a cold slab in the pantry and a ‘meat safe’ like a cage to keep flies off.

                So I believe it’s ok to wallow in a touch of nostalgia now and again, but better on the whole to look forwards, live life to the most full you can and do the ‘carpe diem’ thing. Then one day, [if I should live long enough to be immobile or even more demented than I am already] I shall be able to look at photos and dwell on memories with nostalgia but without regret-that is if I am able to recognise anyone or anything by then!

The Vanished World of Faded Fifties Females

                If we’ve had a normal, reasonably happy childhood our memories of it tend towards the sentimental. This is well documented. The summers were always warm and sunny. We made sandcastles on the beach. Parties were the simple kind, with jelly and ice cream and musical chairs. We had beloved pets-seemingly for an implausible number of years; we wore leather sandals with a cut-out flower in the toe, walked to school along lanes where the tar bubbled under the sun’s heat. We had a rope swing under the apple tree, played ‘Cowboys and Indians’ and watched ‘The Lone Ranger’ on tiny, black and white TV sets in huge, wooden cabinets.

                My memories of childhood, and in particular, childhood holidays are peopled with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles and the friends of parents [who were also ‘aunts and uncles’] and especially that section of the family that no longer seems to exist-the maiden aunt.

                I had maiden aunts on both sides of the family. I loved them. They visited from other parts of the country, sometimes for weeks. I’d share my room with them, sometimes even a double bed, if expedient. One, my father’s unmarried sister, had been engaged to an RAF pilot who’d met his end during the war-a common reason for fifties spinsterhood, no doubt. So she stayed with us often-once, memorably getting snowed in for six weeks and unable to return home. She accompanied us on several holidays, providing useful babysitting services and assuaging some of her maternal urges by borrowing us, the children, for some of the time.

                We’d visit, too and be given huge spreads of ‘tea’, with bread and butter, scones, jam, slices of Victoria sponge, tea in bone china teacups from a large pot clothed in a hand-knitted cosy. There were even occasions when I stayed overnight and was able to explore the domain of this maiden lady, delve into the contents of her dressing table and ponder over the mysterious items it housed; delicate webs of hairnets, perfume atomisers, corn pads, monogrammed lace handkerchiefs, a tumbler of water containing pale pink and white dentures, like undersea coral. She loved entertaining children, relished the chance to instruct in gentle pastimes such as crochet or ‘patience’ [solitaire], or simply sorting the contents of a button box, laying out the contents as if it were a treasure chest.

                My mother had a maiden aunt herself, who visited-though never without her inseparable friend, Rose. They’d share my brothers’ twin-bedded room and I’d pay morning visits, enthralled by the sight of them in their lurid, floral patterned, winceyette pyjamas as they sat sipping their tea. They exhibited a mild, old fashioned humour and exasperated my mother by needing to add to their silver teaspoon collection whenever they were taken for a day out by car [none of the aunts drove].

                Now, of course it seems obvious that my mother’s aunt and her friend, Rose, were a gay couple, although I’ve no idea whether my parents realised and if they had it wouldn’t have been discussed except in the whispered confines of their own bedroom. The women certainly didn’t share a home so perhaps those summer holidays spent with my family were an opportunity for them to find happiness together? I like to think so.

                I never thought of them until now, as middle age morphs into older [elderly?], presumably because it is natural to become reflective, but what has replaced ‘maiden aunts’ in today’s world? Answers on a postcard…or the comments section?