Digital Narcissism and Physical Life

Watch this. It’s funny.

Did you enjoy that? I sure hope so! It’s a funny angle for Microsoft to be pitching their Windows Phone 7 handsets from, but it does sort of make sense, at least to me.

I was just reading a speech by funny-man and self-confessed Twitter addict Greg Stekelman, on the narcissistic implications of Twitter, which was ironically thrown my way, via Twitter. It’s a wonderful read, which makes you think about how social media, Twitter in particular, is affecting our behaviour. Stekelman himself admits to tweeting on buses about being on buses, and being very much detached from the physical world. This, I think, is where the above advertisement’s message comes in.

We all love attention, and we all crave it. It may be the main pull of social media, which is why we do things like Twitter, and tweet about how we’re, say, sipping tea at the foot of the Taj Mahal, or why we insist on putting up inordinate amounts of photos on Facebook of our holidays to Greece. We get it. Once you’ve seen one donkey, you’ve seen ’em all. Still, somewhere in this mad frenzy of social media production, we’ve forgotten about things like our families, our Tamagochis, and our dinner that’s burning to a crisp in the oven. That’s fine, though, because you can tweet about your dinner, and create a newfangled Facebook group in memory of how Skippy the Tamagochi filled up his digital cage with poop, and asphyxiated himself with his own faeces. Still, all that’s boring. Well, I’m sure it’s fine, really, but you can’t stop yourself from living your life because of it.

Stekelman, in his speech, talks about pre-tweeting. The act of tweeting in one’s own head, when you’re unable to actually tweet. It’s something we’re all guilty of, myself included. Still, it’s this media pre-production that can make us do stupid things, and stop us enjoying what’s literally in front of us, though some odd desire to document an event you’re experiencing so your following can experience whatever it is vicariously, through you, whether or not they want to.

Case in point. Last year, I went to see one of my favourite bands, Nine Inch Nails, on their farewell tour. Nine Inch Nails are great. I love them and their music a lot. Still, it seems to be that whenever I go to gigs these days, I always take a camera and snap away like a rabid tourist (when it’s allowed, of course) so I can upload these photos to Facebook, and prove to my friends that I attended a monumental show. In a way, this is good, because everyone who wasn’t able to attend the gig gets to experience it through my photographs, and they all think I’m very cool for sharing, and I get cool points, or whatever. The downside is that I have to experience the gig through the LCD screen on my camera, while I fiddle furiously with the manual settings to try and get a good shot of Trent Reznor’s beautiful face. All in all, documenting the gig in such a way had dampened my enjoyment somewhat. With this particular gig, it was weird. It was almost like I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand at all, but instead was experiencing a reproduction of the experience. It was a meta-experience. The result? Nine Inch Nails have now gone on hiatus, and I’m quite sad that I passed up the opportunity to go nuts in front of them, because of the prospect of digital props.

Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t let social media rule your life. As I’ve said many times in this blog, social media is a fantastic, wonderful thing, and I’m not knocking it. However, when it starts impacting on your physical life to the degree where you stop enjoying physical things, you have to do something about it.

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Life/Death

It’s funny how life and death intermingle so utterly ironically, at the worst times. Today I went to a Christening. Before that, I went to see an old friend of my father, who turned 62 today. He’s dying of throat cancer. I’m not sure how many days, let alone birthdays, he’s going to see again.

I’ve never seen my dad cry so much before. I’ve only seen him cry a few times. He’s got a heart of gold, but he’s not one of those men you can catch crying very often. I’ve never seen him cry like this, though.

We knew this was coming. My father’s friend has had throat cancer for a while. They managed to stop it for a while, but when it reared its putrid head again, he refused to go into hospital again. He said he wanted to die at home.

The cancer has eaten away at his entire mouth, starting from the back of his throat. He can’t open his mouth anymore. He even finds it hard to drink. Over my last few visits to see him, I’ve watched him slowly turn into a skeleton. A few visits ago, he showed me his arms and legs, the muscle and fat gone from malnutrition. When we were with him today, all my dad could say was, “I can’t bear to see him like this. He’s a skeleton.”

I went out this morning to buy him a bunch of flowers. My parents weren’t sure what to get him for his birthday, as he’s no longer mobile, and no longer able to support himself. He likes flowers, though, so they decided upon that. He can’t see that well anymore, so I insisted on buying him the strongesst flowers I could find, so that he could at least smell them. The thing is, I’m not sure that he ever will.

My dad wrote him a card too. I don’t know what he wrote in it. I’m not sure if it was even my place to know. We went into his room today, and approached him two-by-two. First, my mum and my dad went up and held his hands. He’s not even fully conscious, but they managed to stir him. Next, I approached him with my sister and did the same. We gave him the card, which he held against his chest. He touched his heart, and then drew a circle in the air. He loves us, and we love him. I’m not sure if he saw the flowers.

Life is so cruel, sometimes. This is a man who was one of my father’s first good friends in this country, when he came here, 40 years ago. He worked alongside him, and followed my dad from hotel to hotel. He was always so full of life, even when he had the cancer. He’s had cancer as long as I’ve known him. One of mybest memories of him is from a few years back, when he gave me a lift in his car.  He started honking his horn at women, winding down his window and shouting at them. He told me it had been too long since he last engaged in any activity with a woman. That made me laugh. He still had that youthful spark about him. I take it that’s something he never lost. He was always a jolly guy, and he always joked around. He’d always go to thrift stores and buy things for me and my sister. I’ve got a couple of bottles of cologne behind me which he’s bought me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the pack of Frosties playing cards that he got me for Christmas, since he knew I was into magic, and into card tricks. Even today, when we saw him, he still gave us a thumbs up. He gave us a thumbs up, touched his heart, and drew a circle in the air with his hand.

It’s funny how life sets things up, and how certain events are arranged. I don’t know whether you believe in fate, or what not. I do, to a certain degree. When we left, we got in the car and drove to the Christening party. We’d gone to the church for the actual ceremony beforehand, and then left to see my dad’s friend. It was the first birthday of the child being Christened, so the party sort of doubled-up as a birthday party. He’s a bubbly one year old with a head of thick, curly black hair. I didn’t get to hold him, but I got to play with his brother, who’s almost six, and his friends. Children are so delightful, and so innocent. Their heads aren’t troubled with worries of politics, government, climate change, or anything of the sort. We are a nation of worriers. Their only worries are about running around and having fun. The kids I was playing with were showing me their karate moves, as the young fellow I’ve mentioned, who’s nearly six, is quite the master, as I found out today. They took turns showing me their moves, before deciding to ‘attack’ me in unison, all in jest. We played on a see-saw for a little while. Some of the kids climbed on one end, with a girl sitting alone, in the air, on the other. She complained that the other children were too heavy, so I helped her out.

I’ve always been able to get on well with children. I think it’s because deep down, I’m a child myself. I don’t want to be burdened by the rubbish we have to face daily. I just want to be happy. I don’t want to face losing people. I just want to sit on my see-saw and bounce up and down and up and down.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. It’s a damn shame, but I’ve got responsibilities to myself, and to others. I have responsibilities for my friends and family, for the environment, for my university, for everything, really. I’ve got to accept the fact that we always need to say goodbye to the people we love. What have we learned, though? I’ve never encountered such a surreal intermingling of life and death. I guess, all that we can learn is to make the most of each and every day that’s given to us. That’s granted to us. To thank God, or Jesus, or Allah, or Buddha, or Science, or whatever you believe in, that we’re still alive today. That we can still move our legs, and have the strength to speak, and use our voices to shout, and sing. We are so lucky to be here today. All of us. We’re all constantly teetering on the edge of oblivion. Life is so fragile; who knows how long we have left here. All we can do, I guess, is make the most of it.