The door opens and she slips in quietly, rubbing her cold hands together, then as the door closes behind her, she steps forward, walking past people sitting on small wooden tables and blowing her icy breath at them, chuckling to herself as they shiver and reach out to wrap their hands around teal cups of hot coffee.
At least that’s how I imagine it because every time the door opens, there is a short pause before the cold air reaches me, a languid passing by, almost distracted, like the smell of someone’s perfume as they pass by or the suspension of smoke in the afternoon light inside a dim room.
Fahad and I have divergent views on civil protests and demonstrations – while thousands of people, friends and strangers, gathering together to speak out for human (or animal) rights tugs at my heart strings and pokes at my tear ducts (enough for 2-4 tear drops), Fahad scoffs at what he calls ‘idiots getting together for something they have no idea about’ or more succinctly - ‘hypocrites’! He says that too many people join a popular social movement not because they have researched the underlying principles of the protest or read up on the opposing side to make sure they actually do believe in what they are holding up a witty sign for. Too many people join in for other reasons – their friends are posting about it, everyone in the office is doing it, they’re bored, they want to brag about being rebellious, or they’re frustrated about something else and standing next to other people and shouting really loudly is therapeutic. I say that it doesn’t matter (too much) if people are part of a large movement for different and sometimes not so noble reasons, because if only a puritan group was out there waving banners and demanding justice, it would not have such an impact. There is strength in numbers and if a little hypocrisy needs to be stirred into the mix to make sure that something happens, then so be it.
But both Fahad and I agree on one thing – these days too many of us do too many things we don’t really put much thought behind.
It is understandable - we’re busy folks. From the minute our eyes open and then close back to wait for the alarm to ring, to scrolling our newsfeed before finally rolling ourselves out of bed, from our days filled with work and coffee, social media and TV shows, lunch breaks and emails, and ending with sleep, the blue-white screens of our phones lulling us to restless sleep; from our carefully planned ‘getaways’ to tightly scheduled solitude at the edge of a magnificent cliff – we are constantly on the go. So a lot of what we do has become routine, is influenced by what most people around us are doing and doesn’t necessarily come out of a real need or belief in its utility, rightness nor a consideration of any indirect impacts that our actions might have.
Wiping aside the vague words (like a wide sweeping arc on a table littered with crumbs), I’m specifically referring to our life on social media. From our obsession with frothy cappuccinos to brightly colored breakfast to our declarations of love for our husbands (who for many of us reside in the same house and not a thousand miles away holed up in an igloo in Alaska), to our birthday wishes commemorated by cute photographs, to long, personal messages for mothers-in-law shared with the world, from videos of our babies smiling their first smiles to polaroids of our brand new cars or very expensive bags…
I try to practice tolerance and pacifism, I try to stem judgmental thoughts and criticism because I do believe that we need to be positive and angle ourselves in the position that is best suited to see the sun. Everyone is entitled to their life and their actions as long as it doesn’t impinge on another’s freedom – I do believe that. But a lot of our social media lives are not as innocuous as we might think.
I’ve been pondering over it for a while, especially when impulse tells me to post a photograph for my sister’s birthday or a status update about how cute it is that my husband got me dark chocolate (actually I’ve fortunately never gotten an impulse for the latter), I pause and think about it – why should I?
There should be some reason for why we do things. Even if it’s something really straightforward and base/basic – I’m having a cup of coffee because I enjoy drinking coffee. I’m taking a nap because I’m sleepy and gloomy. I’m buying a book because I like to read and I also like to just look at my collection of books.
I am posting a photograph of the really expensive perfume my husband got me because …? At worst, it could be a half-acknowledged need to brag and prove that you have something other people don’t; at best it could be an effusion of your joy that you can’t stem and you think it won’t have any negative effects on other people. Most likely, you don’t really think about why you’re doing it and how it will impact those who see it.
I am going to write a really long message about how much I love my sister because…? That’s what most people do now? Because a private message just isn’t good enough? A public declaration makes it more true? Because I want other people to know I love my sister, because that makes my sister fluff up like a sparrow in winter?
I do think that the current culture has negative effects that may outweigh the positive ones.
People are inclined to draw comparisons, and to make comparisons while turned in the direction that is usually going to make them feel worse off. (Another one of God’s little jokes, I think, slipping in this urge to gloominess, to see the neighbor’s grass as greener than ours, to always look at the bigger houses on the street and the prettier ladies on the street). And social media perpetuates the myth of perfect lives. It doesn’t matter if rationality dictates that the photographs are exactly that – snapshots of moments in time. We’re naturally inclined to compare our present to the frozen pieces of time shared forever online.
It also corrupts – it merges personal spaces with the public realm and blurs the line between something that is special because it exists between two people rather than on our third cousin’s newsfeed. Messages that six years ago we would have scribbled on a card and slipped into the snug privacy of an envelope are now skimmed by hundreds of eyes, by people as they sip their coffee or sit on the toilet or stumble over a step on their way down the stairs to catch a train to work. Photographs that make a woman whose husband hasn’t remembered their anniversary for the last four years sigh with longing, that squeeze in between a couple who has just been told by the doctor that they can’t have a baby and push them further apart, that rile a young man who can never save enough money to visit beautiful white and blue islands. Media that perpetuates consumerism and materialism, that perpetuates the belief that money buys happiness, that life is a continuum of blue skies and white mountain tops rather than a trek up the hill interspersed with times when there is a perfect grassy slope and you can roll down it in a flurry of joy.
And more simply, it just shows that there is something we do without wondering about its purpose.
If you think about it and there is an objective and you’re happy about moving towards that objective, I guess that’s okay. Go for it – it could be an artistic expression, the need to get more people to read what you’re writing, or look at your photographs because you spent a lot of time taking them, it could be because you’re reaching out to connect with someone or trying to state what you truly believe in.
I don’t think social media is horrible or frivolous in its entirety. But what I am trying to say is, it might be good to pause once in a while, step off the moving walkway that doesn’t stop even when we’re asleep, and think about why we’re doing what we’re doing.