In Defence of Social Media

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When I moved away from Australia I got a job working for a social media company in London. It had taken advantage of the rise of Facebook and quickly built millions of followers by setting up credible-looking pages for sportsmen. Off that, a successful business was born and now the company represents lots of athletes and sports organisations across the world, keeping fans in touch with their heroes on social media.

It was the only company that had replied to my application, and having sent out about 100 applications I felt very lucky to get the call back. I almost hadn’t applied on the fact that you had to work six weeks for free on an ‘internship’ basis, but I figured while I wasn’t doing anything else I might as well try it and work there while I applied for other jobs.

It turned out to be a job that wasn’t right for me for a number of reasons and within six months I was out. But my social media experience at that company propelled me into my current journalism position, which has in turn given me the opportunity to move to Germany and have immediate work, supported me throughout my many visa issues and above all, has allowed me keep writing about one of the things I love most; football.

Meanwhile, after finally getting out of a toxic relationship and feeling comfortable with myself in London for the first time, I travelled to Oktoberfest with some Australian friends feeling on top of the world. It was there that I met a guy who didn’t speak English but asked for my Facebook details anyway. I’m on a super-private setting where people who aren’t my friend can’t search for me, so I asked for his instead. He gave me a really weird name, making it obvious he was just as concerned with privacy, and I assumed it would be impossible to find him. But alas, the nightclub we were at that night posted a picture of us and I found him after his friends tagged him. I added him, not expecting anymore contact, and a year after writing to each other constantly we were quickly realising there was something more going on. Another year on, we were planning on moving in together.

Since being away from Aus I’ve prioritised keeping in touch with people around the world; I’ve talked about the difficulties of this before, but as well as the down points of trying to juggle past and present lives there are so many benefits I enjoy from the ways I can keep in contact. Without Skype I wonder if I would have left in the first place; it’s unimaginably wonderful having family there at Christmas and birthdays and all those times you’d feel pretty lonely otherwise, and it’s a massive bonus that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the privilege.

My relationship with Facebook has changed over the years like my relationship with real-life friends. I, like many 20-somethings, went through the stage of obsessing about having as many friends as possible, and staying friends with people for far more political reasons than simply liking their company. I grew out of that, and got rid of a lot of the ‘quantity’ friends in real life as well as on social media when I moved to Germany. Now I feel good about Facebook, much like my real-life social interactions; and I use it a healthy amount. When I was travelling last summer my mother asked if I could post pictures on the way. At first I felt uncomfortable about it as I didn’t want to look like I was spending my holiday on Facebook. But then I thought, who exactly is this page for? Me and my friends and family to stay updated on my life or the people who might bitch about what I’m posting?

The constant ‘oh you shouldn’t post baby pictures, and people who post they’re drunk are so annoying…’ whinging should surely be put into perspective. You’ve chosen to be friends with that person, you can easily block them from your newsfeed without deleting them if social politics ask for it. And like in real life, there will be people who are annoying and weird and attention seeking. This is just another way to display those qualities.

So when I’m having stupid ‘social media is bad, get off your phone and see the world’ stuff thrown at me on, ironically, Facebook’s newsfeed – and the majority of the time by people who post the annoying stuff in the first place – it does get a bit tedious. Especially the Youtube video with the bloody spoken poem – next thing we’ll have someone preaching at us with puppets and interpretive dance telling us that real life is so much more important than the communicative services we use to make it so wonderful in this day and age.

If you’re sitting on your phone constantly posting at the expense of spending time with loved ones, you obviously need to change your habits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be doing something else just as lazy and obsessive (video games, watching TV, sleeping even) if they didn’t have a phone/laptop. So maybe when we’re all up in arms about social media taking over our lives we could remember it also enriches our lives a lot too and accept that some people are lazy, and some are annoying, whether it’s on Facebook or in reality.

Suffering from Correspondence Guilt

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I’ve been living away from Australia for three years now, though I travelled for around 6 months before making the move a permanent one. While I had a lot of acquaintances in Aus before I left, nowadays I would say that amount has whittled down significantly. When you leave a country permanently, and the friends and life with it, it’s obvious you won’t be there for important moments in those people’s lives and when you’re not there, over time, they can forget about you. I’ve seen wedding pictures on Facebook I know I would have been invited to had I stayed in Melbourne. I’ve watched old friends make big life achievements through social media and wished I had been there through every step, but being so far away makes being such a good friend to everyone I knew before impossible.

I constantly prioritise keeping in touch with people, and particularly with my best friend there are regular Skype sessions where I feel like I’ve almost been there for her first years of marriage, buying a house, starting a business and having a baby. But it’s only almost. It’s a terrible feeling knowing that once-close friends have moved on without you and don’t see you as the person they can turn to for help and advice anymore, and there have been times I’ve questioned my decision to move abroad because of it.

The time difference is also such a big issue, with Europe in day-mode while Australia goes into slumber and vice versa. I try to Skype with as many friends and family as possible but there are only 7 nights in the week and with work in the morning, I can’t just grab a lunch break and talk to them briefly as it’s 11pm by this point over there.

I was discussing this with a English friend who is in Australia at the moment – over Skype of course – and both of us were expressing the constant guilt we feel over not being in touch with the ones we love enough. At any given moment, just looking through my emails, and Facebook, and Whatsapp, and whatever other programs I have that keep me in touch with people, there are countless messages I need to reply to. It can be overwhelming sometimes and reminds you of what you’re missing elsewhere while living your life here.

Of course I’m well aware that I’m bloody lucky to be in a position to have so many friends and family to talk to. Equally, the fact that we have these means of technology is certainly one of the reasons our generations travel so freely compared to the ones preceding us. I wouldn’t be living in Germany if it weren’t for the internet – Google translate alone has been a godsend. And Skype gives me the ability to talk to whoever I want for free across the globe. It’s an invention which can give anyone living abroad much needed strength and dulls the feeling of loneliness on command.

But having such technology, with the ability to contact our friends the world over with ease, also has an added pressure I’m not sure I was prepared for. Finding that my English friend was going through the same thing – trying to coordinate the sails of life abroad with holding onto the anchor of those back home, and struggling with the balance – made me feel less alone in my own struggles.

Constantly worrying over when to sit down and go through messages to reply to often builds up until it becomes too overwhelming, and then I end up not replying to people I care about. On the flip side, I feel frustrated that other people don’t seem to think of me as part of their lives anymore and don’t reply to my own communication. It’s a cycle of stupidity on my part really and it has to stop.

So now that I am settled in a city, hopefully for the long term for the first time in 3 years, I will make more of a conceded effort to plan my correspondence better. To save set times for it and not worry about it outside of those. People have gotten on with their lives since I left, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. And I’ve gotten on with mine too, which they understand.