Joining things up

Sometimes, it seems like we’ve not yet worked out how to talk about the Internet.

One example is the idea that “social media” is a somehow separate entity, removed from normality and happening inside our phones, but for lots of us, it’s a normal part of everyday life.The Internet can be brilliant at connecting people who might, in the real world, be both close and very far away from one another. (For instance, this community Go Fund Me page to support the family of a woman and child killed in a hit and run accident.)  

The author of this article in The Guardian, which tries to give an even-handed view of how social media can help and hinder maternal mental health, makes the classic mistake of forgetting that lots of people behave roughly the same online as they do in real life. If the words “social media” were replaced throughout the article with examples of things that happen in the real world, the message would be roughly the same.

For instance,

“What role does social media play in facilitating this unhelpful undermining of confidence and capability in new parents?”

works equally well if you recast it as:

“What role do Boden catalogues play in facilitating this unhelpful undermining of confidence and capability in new parents?”

“What role do parents with close social ties in their community play in facilitating this unhelpful undermining of confidence and capability in new parents?”

“What role do baby yoga classes/all parenting books ever/unhelpful articles in The Guardian play in facilitating this unhelpful undermining of confidence and capability in new parents?”

People who look like they’ve worked it all out and are having a brilliant time can be found as often in the café at the end of your road or your local playground as on “social media”. And looking like you’re having a brilliant time isn’t the same as actually having a brilliant time. So rather than creating false partitions between our online and offline lives, we could talk about people supporting each other and joining useful communities, how people can be empowered by being connected to one another, how feeling unsure and as if everyone else has worked it all out is a natural part of a new and frightening life stage.

What’s the new community infrastructure if local churches and coffee mornings and playgroups aren’t available to the people who need them most, but Facebook groups and impromptu meet-ups are? One way to understand this is to use language that represents our lived experience – the WhatsApp post that’s read while waiting to cross the road, the advice asked at 2am when there’s no one to call, the happiness of seeing a geographically distant friend or loved one pop-up on Instagram – and think about building bridges rather than setting things apart.

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