This week, Helen Walne – a columnist far better than I – had something perceptive to say about social media (she always has perceptive things to say).
She says, memorably, that “social media has become a ’70s potluck dinner where people nibble politely on terrible meatballs, swop niceties about one another’s kak kaftans and then drive home bitching about the terrible meatballs and the kak kaftans… ”
The Facebook icon. Credit: Associated Press
Democracy, she notes, has freedom of expression as a key tenet. “Yet, here we are, stuffing our faces with fear, feeding an ever-shallower status quo where social correctness kills the very diversity it pretends to promote.”
I know what she means. In real life, there are often occasions where I don’t say what I’m thinking. But those occasions turn into an almost perpetual silence on social media. I’m left with commenting only on the safest of topics, and posting pictures of my cats.
The irony of this is that the friends I have on Facebook are almost all of unimpeachable middle-class liberal and left- wing stock., defenders to a person of the value of free speech and diversity. Yet it seems to me there are a great many orthodoxies that simpy can’t be challenged without fear of losing a friendship.
But Helen expressed at least one fearsome innermost thought that I have also had: Zapiro occasionally gets it wrong. If she can do it, so can I. Here are some of the things I never say:
Some transient episode of odd weather which you have observed is simply not evidence of climate change. I am not a climate change sceptic but I don’t think a passing shower of unexpected rain is the same as years of hard scientific data-gathering. Now, today, it is just weather. Get a grip, Grizelda.
To atheists and agnostics and pagans, it is just possible that the constant posting of Christian sentiments is not just irritating but offensive. Your people have a history of burning my people at the stake. You have a right to your religious life and thoughts. But so do I, even if they seem less mainstream than yours. Could we all agree to keep our religions (or unreligions) to ourselves?
Park simplistic political solutions at the door. We can’t solve all our problems by getting rid of Jacob Zuma. Pravin Gordhan (as in “Hands Off”) is not in fact necessarily the single saviour for all our woes. Every time you do the knee-jerk get rid of Zuma thing, reflect on the fact that he was put there by the ANC. Ask yourself why you think it has the organisational nous to find some other wonderful leader at the drop of a hat? Could we talk about that instead of sharing endless almost-racist memes about the president?
For the love of all that is thoughtful, please don’t share things just because they sound right. Apply some thought. Especially about alarmist hoax warnings, or woolly political or religious rants (see above).
Just because Facebook has done something irritating, and you are cross, does not mean I am particularly interested. You get the goddam thing for free. Learn to live with its idiosyncracies.
Spare me the passive-aggressive mysterious complaints about your life. If you type: “The people round here are just too much” or something similar, what do you want me to do? Ask if you are alright? Ignore you? Send you sympathy even though I haven’t a clue what you are talking about. I have my own issues and life is too short to puzzle over what could possibly be wrong with you. Fix it, learn to live with it or tell us what’ s wrong.
Unless you’ve seriously done the research, please don’t share posts about how eating celeriac is for certain sure going to cure bunions. Lots of people have genuine medical issues and these Internet cure-alls are often unhelpful or even dangerous.
So. That’s what I think, but am too cautious to say. The gist, as is plain, is a yearning for thoughtfulness and sensitivity and rigour. I’m just a foolish idealist really.
Back to cat pictures, I think.