This week, the “husband” sent me a picture of myself on Google Maps.
He saw it because he likes to look at how our road has changed in the time we have lived here (also weird) and it seems that anyone who is looking at our road now sees me. I am pushing the children in the minibus (the Phil and Teds – we also have a Mercedes (a Bugaboo) and a nippy little sports car (a Microlite) Why so many buggies? I have no idea.) accompanied by my mother. There is also a man in the shot. I don’t know him but perhaps he is equally freaked out by seeing himself on t’internet for the whole world to see. But why do I find it so freaky?
I’m here every day hawking the offspring all over Instagram trying to get a few likes and maybe the odd comment about whatever fundamentally mundane moment has just occurred. It seems a bit pathetic when I read it in Verdana Regular 12 but I can’t help but see it as harmless fun. The “husband”, however, is definitely less of a fan and the question is, am I less suspicious, or just more naive?
Since becoming a parent I have found myself lurking, and now becoming increasingly active, around the pages, accounts, and blogs of the “sisterhood” and in particular other mums. Despite having plenty of friends I have found the whole motherhood shizz rather isolating at times. Online I don’t really “do” celebs, or lifestyle stuff, or even music these days, but I do find comfort in visiting the pages of people who I feel are a bit like me. Who are more likely to have their f**ks, and not so much their ducks, in a row. They say that it takes a village to raise a child and while I have no idea who “they” are, they sure are talking a whole lot of sense. But increasingly few of us stay in the village that would have helped us raise our children, so to whom do we turn?
As we have grown, the world has shrunk around us thanks to the marvels that are the internet, super-fast broadband, Facetime, and all other forms of technology that I know mostly nothing about (it is worth saying that my technological ineptitude has reached the point of paralysis. I can’t get my head around the fact that grooves in vinyl make music therefore my mind freezes completely when I think too hard about the fact that information travels through thin air). As a result I sometimes wonder if this has contributed to the flux and flow of people in and out of population centres like London where I have lived for the last 12 years. Very rarely do I meet someone who is living in London, who is actually from London. Where have all the Londoners gone? It is as though the ease of communication has salved the worries of leaving your family behind. These days, with a sideways swipe and the touch of a screen, you can hear their voices and see their faces. So, many miles away from home, our homesickness soothed by the light in the centre of the living room ceiling (or is it just my parents who always seem to point the iPad camera up there?), this internet thing becomes “the village”. Becomes the community to whom you turn your hopeful gaze when you need some uplifting words, some timely advice, or just to be told that you aren’t such a bad mum afterall.
Of course it has its drawbacks – trolling, the receipt of unwelcome (and boring) parenting advice as a result of an IG post (mine, and cheers for that), and the insidious presence of bullies who hide behind their computer screen and find a relatively risk free forum to hate on other people – afterall t’internet really would be weird if someone could reach through their computer screen and land one on your chin – are just a few of the risks that adults run on t’internet. And then there is the very real chance that my offspring are going to hate me in ten years time when the photos that would traditionally only be trotted out on 18th birthdays to offer up a reasonable amount of embarrassment, are instead OUT THERE. But more worrying is the effect it is having on our young people.
I won’t be the first, nor the last, person to point out that these days, even when a child runs crying up to his bedroom and hides under her duvet there is no escape from the bus-stop bullies. The next beep or buzz from his phone could be a picture of her face super-imposed on a porn star’s body. In days gone by the paper version of this slur would be torn up and cried over but only a handful of people would have seen it. These days, between Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, these things can go viral and achieve an audience of hundreds, if not thousands.
Then there is the damage that the internet is doing to the cultural capital of young people. A friend explained to me recently that the sixth form students to whom she teaches Film Studies have rarely seen a film made outside their lifetime. In fact, it is often the case that they have not seen a film that has been made outside of their teenage years. I asked her whether she thought this was any different to when we were teenagers – did we really take that much interest in the classics or were we more likely to watch Teen Wolf on repeat (children of the 80s that we are, the fact that Michael J Fox was a thirty year old borderline dwarf did not matter one jot. When I was 8, he was my god)? We were absolutely different, she insisted. Having just four channels to choose from means that most, if not all, children of the 80s (and probably 90s) have seen ET at least 15 times – one for every Christmas they can remember between the ages of 3 and 18 when they could escape to the pub at the first sight of his scaly fingers. We’ve all seen Zulu, although perhaps not in one sitting, as I certainly can’t promise that the Sylvanian Family wouldn’t have made an appearence hiking across the leatherette settee at some point during it, as that film is ep.ic. But the point is that even though these films, amongst others, were made a long time before we were teenagers, we were aware of their existence.
In contrast, young people nowadays reside in an increasingly crowded bubble of people just like them. Their access to information is unparalled in history but they (being young) are content to populate their online experiences with one another. Just more of one another. Their worlds are completely saturated with versions of themselves and their choice is never going to be between another game of Trivial Pursuits (to which they know NONE of the answers), a cold park bench, or watching The Goonies for the 75th time. And as a result they are growing poorer. Bloody t’internet.
Despite all of these drawbacks, however, for those of us who remember the tense, wasted minutes of dial-up internet, and the nervy, sweaty wait next to the phone box, never sure if your friend was running late or had stood you up, all this technology malarkey is rather fine. It is pleasing to be able to find out exactly what time that bus will be arriving before you’ve even left your house, and while I gently mock the “husband” I have to admit a modest level of curiosity about how the street we live on has changed since Google maps started whizzing its eerie little cars all over the joint. Of course people survived perfectly well before t’internet took over therefore perhaps this renders its benefits merely superficial. But tell this to the many business men and women (although I have to admit it is the women I am particularly interested in) who are harnessing the power of the internet, and in particular social media, to create brands, sell products and basically bring the game to the doorsteps of established retail big guns.
When writing about my first forays into Instagram I mentioned a few of the new mum heroes I had “met”, and with each passing day my admiration for them only grows. When I step onto the square tiles of Instagram I often feel connected to the world and excited by its possibilities. I am at a cross-roads in my life as I am three working days away from leaving the profession I have been part of for twelve years. Seeing women who, faced with the choice between work and children, are taking a plunge into combining the two that makes the traditional workplace look about as flexible as an octogenarian at a yoga class, is enormously inspiring.
Having said that, this internet thing is definitely a bit weird. The dawning moment was literally my first Instagram post when I tagged @midwifeyhooper as one of my inspirations. She kindly replied (I imagine she was up on a nightfeed with nothing better to do) and said that her blog is neglected at the moment. I replied “Ha! I think your hands are more than full at the moment” followed by two baby emojis, two girl emojis, and four hand claps. Only a split second had passed before I thought “Is it weird that I know that?”. Six weeks in (jeez, is that all? I’m fairly sure even crack fiends don’t develop a habit this hard in six weeks. Gulp.) I’m still pretty certain it is weird. But I like it.