Tuesday, 29 December 2009

What happened to Christmas?

In chatting with fellow tweeters and reading Misswiz Christmas blog I have realised that this is the most un-festive Christmas I have had. Not that I haven't had my Turkey with all the trimmings, lovely presents and seen my family, but something was missing. I am an Athiest, so no I don't think it was the religious element that was missing, as I have held these beliefs for many years yet still got into the festive spirit. So what is it that makes Christmas feel... for want of a better word Christmassy?

I do wonder if it was my decision to avoid the torture and expense of the "work Xmas do"? I rarely enjoy it, and don't really get on with many of the other staff outside work (with one or two exceptions, but they also often avoid such nights out). I can be a little more outspoken after a drink or two, and have made the gut wrenching mistake of being a little bit too honest with some of my work colleagues in the past ("No, I won't kiss you because you are a complete twat!" is one of my favourites). And no matter what does actually happen there is always the rumour mill working over time and awful drunken photographs on Facebook following the event. This year I decided I couldn't be arsed. So booked to see Pappy's the week before Christmas, and the The Quireboys supported by Wolfsbane on the Saturday before. Great nights out, but they did lack (and rightly so) any festive spirit.

I also hate to admit it, but as much as we all despise the Christmas decorations going up in shops really early; when I used to work in a shop it drove me insane (with the endless Christmas music) but at the same time it did wear me down and get me into the Christmas spirit (eventually). Now working in a mental health unit it is not the same. The wards do put up a few decorations, but this seems inappropriate in my department, people are not well and certainly not happy (or they would not be there). Don't get me wrong the ward staff try to make things as nice as possible for inpatients on Christmas day, but it is far from a happy or festive place. I have realised today that there seems to be another not so nice trend; for the last three years I have returned from a couple of days of for Christmas to hear bad news (a patient I know being readmitted or relapsing/an incident/a suicide). It is part and parcel of the job, unfortunately, maybe my subconscious now remembers and dreads the post Christmas news?

I think the one last part of the puzzle for my lack of Christmas spirit is that I don't have any children. To me it is a time for children to celebrate and learn new traditions (with or without religion involved), they have the wonder and excitement which I have now lost. Luckily I did have a few of these moments of joy spending time with my nieces and nephews. However, one of our family traditions has managed to suck the joy from this too. We all meet at my Mum's house on Boxing day for "meat and mash", it is a bit of an all day buffet and has always been fun. Last year and this year things changed. I'm not sure if it was due to me being ill both years (yes, really ill not just hungover - last year with tonsilitus, this year a rotten cold) or just the general chaos and noise. The children are no longer cute little babies that we can pass around for a cuddle, but all toddlers or older, all demanding attention fuelled by the sugar and gifts. Even Mum hid in the kitchen with me as we plotted ways of escaping her house without anyone noticing. It didn't work, our plans were foiled.

I don't want to be un-festive next year. I have decorated my tree, but maybe I need to have a proper think about what makes me not only in the Christmas spirit but also happy to be so. I need to plan my Christmas as a celebration of what is important to me (and yes include family - just not all at once). I can't simply be too old to enjoy Christmas any more (I'm only 29!).

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Stigma of Social Networking

I haven't done one for a while, so it's time I had a little ramble. Does anyone else feel there is any stigma attached to using social networking sites (Facebook/twitter/forums)?

I ask because I have met up with some friends I haven't seen for a while, as usually happens at this time of year. They have asked what I have been up to, and I tell them about my new found love of comedy, and my adventures this year (Latitude/Edinburgh/various trips around the country). They ask how I got into it and I explain, basically through chatting to lots of lovely people on social networking sites. This is where there is a mixed reaction.

Some people are shocked but strangely impressed. As if it is a brave thing to talk to strangers online and then arrange to meet them in public places like gigs and see what happens. I don't find it brave, except getting over my own nervousness perhaps. Especially when saying hello to comedians after their set. Online however it is easy, as it feels some what detached and they can always ignore me if it doesn't work out, or if I become annoying block me. Having the agreement to say hello from a chat on twitter does make it easier in reality, permission is granted, and it then becomes less intrusive (with both comedians and fellow comedy fans).

Others have had a different reaction. I sometimes get the "Oh, you are an internet geek now" look. Or they quickly loose interest and drift away. I do wonder if this is through ignorance, not using such sites or having an understanding of how they work. I must admit, this reaction tends to be from people who don't know me as well. The ones who don't give me the time to explain how I got involved and the lovely people I have met as a consequence of it.

Is there a stigma around using social networking sites? I don't really mind the assumption that I am a nerd as I have always been rather academic, but to think that using such sites means I have no life. I have found the opposite has happened, I have become more sociable through using twitter (I always went out with my 3D friends but as I get older they are often busy with children/husbands/work).

Plus there are other benefits of such sites, they are a wealth of information (depending who you follow and how you use them). Tonight the power of social networking sites was realised even more when Killing in The Name of became the Christmas number one, thanks to a facebook and twitter campaign. More importantly other important issues are raised, discussed and publicised sing such forums, such as the campaign for Libel reform and raising awareness of numerous charities.

In my opinion social networking sites are a very valid and new way of communicating. I consider that perhaps the stigma arises due to the fact that this may be true, the fear of the unknown. The celebrities who publicise their use of twitter do raise its profile, but those with technophobia (not fear of electronic dance music) remain unwilling to hear about the benefits of such technology. Twitter (and facebook) is not my life, but a hobby I enjoy and use in order to do more; meet more people, read more and go to more places. Yet I often feel forced to defend my use of the internet to actually have fun, people are still ignorant enough to believe that an interest in social networking sites means you are unable to socialise in the real world. This is simply not true.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Social networking is not a substitute.

I think this ramble is a bit of a reiteration of my first couple of posts on this blogspot, but the topic has been refreshed in my mind this week. I know I said that twitter is just fun, and that is all it should be and facebook I tend to keep more for my 3D friends but I have realised (again) that there is a little more to it.

A few weeks ago a 3D friend removed me from Facebook, this led to a confrontation (via text) and the eventual realisation that for some unknown (and some inaccurate) reason she wishes to disassociate herself from me. This was upsetting in itself, and sounds like the stuff of school playgrounds. Is this what the world has come to? Do friends not argue and fall out in person any more, where issues can be debated like grown ups? My concern is that by using social networking like facebook and twitter with 3D friends (defined as people I see more often face to face and have known for some time in case you forgot), we are removed from the context. I don't know about anyone else but I find it easier to have an opinion which is considered and planned out by using such mediums. I'm not sure this is always beneficial where an emotional dispute needs to occur. Saying things on the spur of the moment means that things actually get said and then dealt with. I am reminded of this tonight having spoke to two other friends who have now been banished using the facebook dumping method, they were understandably upset, and with no explanation were too shocked at the immaturity of an action.

I was also reminded this week that sometimes things said on twitter and elsewhere in the virtual world can also intentionally or unintentionally hurt people's feelings. I know the majority of people using such mediums do not mean any harm, but it does happen. It may be that someone takes things the wrong way, or has had a bad day. I'm not saying that we can protect ourselves or others from this, but I do wonder about my emotional responsibility. It sounds heavy, but it isn't. I have several friends pending in my facebook account, this is because I'm not sure who they are and I like to keep my facebook profile rather selective. However, I have not explained this to them, so as far as they know I have rejected their request. Is this rude? What is the etiquette? I also try to reply to most people who reply to me on twitter, it is basic good manners. But my question is, should there be manners and etiquette in the virtual world? I understand celebrities not responding to everyone (they would be there all day) but the few replies the most of us get are easy to manage.

I remain partially detached from social networking sites, in that they get a version of me/what I am thinking; the image I wish to project. Yet, I have found that I can still be hurt by them, I can imagine the situation where I could take a tweet/facebook comment the wrong way. The above situation is different in that I think it should have been managed differently.

I think I need to summarise this ramble, as it is a bit more unplanned than usual, so my key points are (and remember this is just my opinion, feel free to disagree/comment):-

- Social networking sites are not a replacement for open discussion with 3D friends, nor are they an appropriate way of ending any sort of relationship. At least explain such actions.

- I am aware that some people struggle with social 3D situations but if you have 3D friends I would suggest trying to keep them that way (at least some of the time). Emotions are difficult to read and often misinterpreted in the virtual world.

- It is polite to reply to people if you can, even if you don't follow them, you never know you may get to know them and follow them in the end. Unless they are rude/offensive/inappropriate etc. Us none celebrities can usually manage this most of the time.

As usual these are my thoughts, so feel free to discuss anything you think I have misjudged with me on here or twitter. Thanks for reading. (I feel better after this one, maybe it was more of a rant?).

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Is ignorance bliss?

I know I may think too much about things, but the purpose of this blog is for me to express such thoughts and prevent me ruminating on them. So here we go with another ramble about such thoughts.

In thinking about ignorance I have considered there are situations where I actually do think it is bliss, others where I’m not sure and times when I know it is not; but even those times have consequences. The only way to explain this is to consider some hypothetical and not so hypothetical situations.

Consider being in love, that first few weeks of adventure and excitement as you gradually find more out about each other. To me at that moment in time ignorance can be bliss, not knowing the annoying habits or differing views that can lead to realisation and push you apart. Love itself protects us from seeing such failings; that is if you believe that love is blind? I do, I look back on some relationships and think what was it I saw in that person? Does love protect us from absorbing that which we do not want to know? The beginning of a relationship is arguably when we are selective with what knowledge we consciously accept about the subject of our infatuation. As eloquently said by Alain De Botton (2006), “Every fall into love involves the triumph of hope over self knowledge”. Our desire for love is greater than our desire to know the facts, the real details about the person we love. But I do believe the beginning of a relationship is blissful and exciting, I also acknowledge that one which grows into something more than this and last is far more powerful, and as if you grow closer it is the knowledge of one another that bonds you. I guess the summary of the answer to my question in this instance is ignorance is bliss for a while, but then it is the make or break of an enduring relationship.

Another context where ignorance could be considered is in the media. I remember (and am a little ashamed of) the times when I believed what I read in the press. I was naive enough to think that stories were researched and facts reported. At that point in my life reading the paper was informative and enjoyable. Now I know better. I can’t even read a newspaper anymore for the fear of poor reporting and only knowing one side of the story due to some political or sales related agenda. I am well aware that I should (and now do) search for the true facts of any news story I am interested in, but honestly, I don’t have the time to find all the information I need. So I now find myself avoiding the media. I am intentionally being blissfully, well not so blissfully ignorant. Yet, this leaves me uncomfortable, I want to be more aware of current issues than I am, and like many of us, I now rely on the internet and some very intelligent bloggers who work relentlessly to find and report the holes in the mass media stories, in order to give us the facts (or their version of them). I am in a way jealous of readers of the tabloids who don’t even consider such issues; things are simple and easy, yet, I am also painfully aware of the social effects of such newspapers on the views of others, the ignorance they create is not something to envy.

“Knowledge is power.” (Sir Francis Bacon, 1597).

I almost quoted Spiderman there! I remember when I used to work in a large department store, I quite enjoyed it, and it was at times hard work. I came home from work tired and then tried to spend my time off having fun. Things were simple (don’t get me wrong I am not being negative about shop work at all, it is a perfectly respectable job). But I found I wanted more, I went to college and university, then back to shop work having not found a career, and finally back to university to train in my current profession, mental health nursing. Things are different now, I love my job but it has great responsibility and some emotional baggage (I know some people say you should leave work at work and be detached etc, but this is not always possible when you work in such an emotional field). My thirst for knowledge has brought me consequences which can, and have in the past affected me in a negative way. I am sure there are many careers do this, as you rise in a profession gaining more knowledge there will inevitably be more responsibility, which leads to more stress (for most). Even in my current career I have found this to be the case. As a nurse I had quite a lot of knowledge about the medications used in mental health and used it effectively to help my patients understand what they had been prescribed (if I was unsure I sought the facts on their behalf, I don’t know everything and am not afraid to tell patients this). But recently I qualified as a non medical prescriber, in doing so I learned a lot more about medication and prescribing issues. I can now empower my patients which is great. But, there is always a but; I now have increased responsibility (again good) and on some days worries about the impact of medication on my patient’s lives. Was I blissfully unaware of such issues? Was I a good nurse before this additional qualification? Yes, I like to think I was, but now I do occasionally envy my colleagues who do their jobs brilliantly but they get to call on someone else for the information, someone else with the responsibility of giving accurate and appropriate information to the patients. In one sense I am saying ignorance is bliss because it makes life simpler. Yet I am well aware that in this case knowledge is power and responsibility, and something which I accepted when doing the qualifications, I asked for it, I want to empower patients; and I accept the consequences fully, for the most part having this knowledge is wonderful and rewarding (although not financially, I do work for the NHS).

I can only think of one scenario where I truly think ignorance is bliss and without negative consequence, it is morbid too. I don’t want to know when I am going to die. That is unless there is something I can do to prolong my life. Of course I would want to know about a diagnosis of an illness which can be treated. But if it were a case in which nothing could be done, I personally, would rather blissfully get on with my life without the thought of impending death hanging over me. There is not a way I could know that I would be hit by a bus tomorrow and die, but if there were, I would not want it. I blissfully live not knowing when it will end. I do believe that we all should be aware of our mortality, but only in the sense that we should aspire to live our lives to the full where ever and whenever we can.

The point to this ramble, and I think there is a vague point, is that ignorance can be bliss but only until we realise the way in which knowledge can empower us. I occasionally do miss the times when my life was simpler and I was ignorant of so much, yet I would not change what I have learned. But don’t you miss being a child without a care in the world; believing that people are basically good and life is all about the moment? I think I will aim to have a few more moments like this if or when I can.

Monday, 9 November 2009


Here we go again with a few random, well not that random thoughts from the vaults of my mind this week. I do wonder if I over think things, but perhaps by trying to get them out in a blog I won’t focus on such things so much? Worth a try. This ramble leads on from my last blog on social networking and is on the topic of consequences. Do we think about what we write in the public arena of social networking sites and their consequences? Are there consequences? Are consequences a bad thing?

I’m not saying I sit and think about every single tweet I write, I don’t (especially drunk tweeting), but I do have a bit of a think about my facebook status updates. Well, to the extent that I think about who will read them and the impression of me they give (sometimes this leads to the thought “who cares?”). But in the case of tweeting I don’t think I do as much and should think about what I write sometimes, and that this could apply to others. Tweeting is a social activity; it involves others and therefore their emotions as much as my own. Most of the time it is inane facts about my day, links to things I like and jokes or silly stuff. But I have been pondering if there is another side to twitter, one with consequences.

I guess to explain what I mean I need to consider some examples and the perceived (or not perceived as the case may be) consequences of them. The most serious of these would be the hoax suicidal girl a week or so ago, there was really no way of telling if it was a hoax or not. We all had a few options, retweet the concern about her, ignore the tweet, pretend we didn’t see it or investigate further. These options all had consequences of some kind, to the extent that they had an (probably minor) impact on our emotions and possibly the emotions of others. For some people there was genuine concern about the suicidal girl and her friend’s concerns, to feel empathy for someone evoke an emotional response, it can bring back memories or even cause anxiety. I’m not saying we all had panic attacks about the suicidal girl, but it if was a hoax it was a cruel one. Ignoring the tweet also had consequences, I noticed that some people discussed why they did or did not retweet it, and all for justified reasons (e.g. not wanting to get involved/unsure if it was a hoax/unnecessarily giving a hoaxer publicity), but why should we defend what we do or don’t tweet? Does this suggest that our emotions are more involved with twitter than we like to think? Some people did investigate further and stated that it was a hoax, but again the hoaxer was given publicity in this reaction and I should think that the people who found this out were annoyed or frustrated; there are consequences to such tweets, they evoke an emotional and not necessarily desired reaction. But on the flip side and it was not a hoax the consequences are even more serious, if it was found that the girl did need help and we sat back assuming a hoax and missed such an opportunity, are we all collectively responsible. Personally I think I would feel guilty if I did nothing, and let’s face it; a retweet is hardly doing a lot.

That was a bit doom and gloom! I do believe there can be positive and more fun consequences to what we write on sites such as twitter. It is easy to suggest that celebrities (even z list ones) may use twitter for affirmation. By its nature twitter is basically saying “look at me, look what I did, tell me what you think” (or is it just me?). I don’t blame them at all, and I think it is certainly not limited to those in the limelight, as I said in the last blog I use it for company if I am home alone; what is the point of company if you don’t get interaction from them. In fact am I not doing the same in tweeting this blog? I guess I am, to the extent that I am expressing an opinion and asking others to give me feedback (to be honest I don’t mind negative feedback as I am interested in the psychology of the social interactions). I do think celebrities should publicise themselves on twitter, and even more so people who are not yet famous and have a talent; it is a great way of connecting with their fans. I do wonder if celebrities think of the consequences of their tweets? By this I mean the impact they can have on people’s emotions; they can stimulate discussion and influence opinion, but also a reply can be an exciting thing from a celeb; on some tiny scale we have been listened to by someone we admire. I generally don’t expect a reply from celebrities on twitter, but it can put a smile on my face and a skip in my step to get one. (Yes I am aware it may be a “fan girl” moment, but come on we all have them from time to time).

As I suggested before the emotions attached to replies are not, in my opinion limited to celebrities. Jokes shared between friends can be just what are needed to cheer someone up, and to be ignored when asking for help or support could be disheartening. My concern is the people who take twitter too seriously. I have seen celebrities get frustrated at being asked the same question repeatedly, or being when being criticised. What do they expect it is an open arena with positive feedback there will always be negative (and there are some vile rude people out there who get a kick from offending people). But for us everyday un-famous people the risk is still there; as with any social interaction we can be offended, upset, amused or thrilled, by everyday people. This is a benefit of twitter but also can be a downfall. I think it depends how you use it. If you use it in the light hearted not too serious way as it is (in my opinion) intended then it is fun. But my concern is that some people may invest too much in it, as discussed in my last blog, I don’t think it is the place in which people show their true colours all the time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we use it for fun, contacts and escape, but we should remember that there are more vulnerable people out there who look for more from a tweet. I am cautious in responding to people who I may assume (possibly wrongly so) to be more vulnerable; my concern is that I cannot give them what they seek, I can’t give such a level of emotional response on a public forum. If I feel I can be more supportive to some people I have got to know on twitter then I take the conversation elsewhere, privately.

I know all of this may just be me, but I am curious to know if anyone else thinks about these things. Am I over thinking the subject (probably, yes)? But social connections and the psychology surrounding them interest me. I would be interested to know anyone else’s thought. Thanks for reading and well done, I ramble for ages.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Social Networking

Firstly, I should point out that I am not anti-social networking at all. I do it, a lot and I enjoy it. However, I wanted to consider the topic in a bit more depth. What is the real purpose of social networking sites?

The question is not as straight forward as you might think. It suggests it is to network and “meet” people, whether it be virtually or in real life. But it is not as simple as that. Yes, you can reconnect with old school friends, or work colleagues and on sites such as Facebook many people do (including me). But why do we do this? It may just be me, but yes I am intrigued to know what they are up to, so accept them as “friends” but are we really interested in being friends with all of them? There are some where to reconnect does reignite old friendships, but for the majority it is virtual eavesdropping, where we all give each other permission to spy on one another. I know we have true friends and family on such sites; by true friends I mean the people who we regularly meet in real life, the ones who we telephone or meet to find out what they are up to rather than head for facebook. But let’s face it if you deleted everyone you had not actually spoken to in the last year, your facebook friends list would be considerably shorter (speaking from my own personal experience). I am not saying it is wrong, but I am starting to think, what really is the point? Do I really need to know all of this stuff? But then I think again, there are the moments that facebook has helped create, the gigs where we all agree to meet (even the people I haven’t spoken to in over a year). The people I wish I had made an effort to stay in touch with in a more meaningful way who then get in touch with a message or a wall post. But is it worth it? There are downsides to such sites. I have friends who have posted status updates or a message, forgetting who else is in their friends list; and we have all seen the stories in the media of people who have been caught out by work.

This brings me neatly onto my next point, who are we on social networking sites? I know some people wear their hearts on their sleeve and post everything they do and feel on facebook, but I do not, and am sure others do the same as me. I consider who is going to read what I write and the impression it creates of me. I try not to be negative very often, as I assume that people do not really want to know such things on a networking site. Well, that is not entirely true, I have grumbled I have had a bad day at work, or a harsh hangover, but I mean the true deep and meaningful stuff. I don’t want everyone to know such things, let alone people I don’t know very well. It is not where I point out that I am feeling lonely, tearful or really upset by something. If I am ever feeling in such a way I think to myself, people go on facebook and twitter for fun, why would they want to listen to me whinge endlessly? But in keeping such things back I am only giving an impression of the real me. How can we truly network or make real friends on such sites if we use them in such a way?

Twitter is very different to facebook for me. I have less “real friends” on there (by that I mean people who I have known for years and see often). Yet it is easier to be more honest, it is in the moment, people don’t read too far back, so once something is said and a reaction had the moment is passed. But I still keep this guard up, why? I guess the anonymity of it is why I feel I can be more honest, but is it a true reflection of me? I say things on twitter to have fun, to join in and chat to people. But I am also aware that some people say things to get a reaction in such a moment, like the recent (alleged) hoax of a suicidal person who then deleted her account. I don’t mind that people on twitter sometimes feel upset or angry and say so as I have the option to either offer a virtual hug, advice or ignore them. I know a virtual hug sounds silly, as if it could help, but in all honesty I think it does. It is an acknowledgement that you are listening or feel for that person. It is in those instances that I choose to tread carefully. As a mental health nurse I am wary of giving advice to people I don’t actually know, I have a responsibility as a nurse to keep professional boundaries and not give ill conceived advice. But those people who I think I know better I can give brief advice (if I’m in the mood). I do imagine the scenario where I am home after a night out or a few glasses of wine and I give someone bad advice and something awful happens. Maybe I over analyse things in such cases, but it does worry me. There is a reason mental health nurse can’t go to work under the influence of alcohol!

There is a huge plus side to twitter and forum sites (and to a lesser extent facebook) for me. This year I joined a forum and twitter and found myself a little bit over involved with it for a while. I am not a loner, but do live alone and as you get to my age (nearly 30) a lot of friends have commitments (children, work and partners), so we meet less frequently. I needed something to occupy my mind, social networking filled it. The forum stimulated me to read more and develop my opinions on numerous subjects, and then twitter became my more instant gratification. Don’t get me wrong I do have a social life, but it is nice that I can have company on the internet when I am home alone. Then I started to take chances and be a bit braver, I agreed to meet one person at a gig (in a public place so not risky or stupid) and after that we later went to a festival. It went very well, we had fun and it was nice to meet someone new, someone not in my close group of friends. This escalated when I went to Edinburgh festival and met more new people, and since then had some to stay with me. I do not advocate taking unnecessary risks, or meeting strangers and putting yourself at risk, but it is a perfectly acceptable way to meet new people with common interests if you are careful. It was a fun and crazy summer and I know I have new friends from it but...

Again I wonder how much new people who I have met really know me. If I remain guarded on networking sites, where our daily contact is and we only meet for gigs, comedy shows and festivals, how much do we really know each other? I am not saying I don’t like these people I do, but for me it takes a long time to get to know someone properly. Maybe it is just that I have had the same circle of close friends since I was in school/college, we know everything about each other (well a lot anyway). I am not used to having new friends where everything is new, and there is always some initial shyness when we first meet face to face, so it takes time to really know people. I still wonder, do they know me, or an impression of me. But in the same vein I have not told all of my “real friends” the ins and outs of my adventures, as I have not seen them as much (my fault for travelling around the country), so do they now only know an impression of me? Have I changed? Has social networking changed me? I have become more outgoing; I have introduced myself to comedians and tweeters when I have seen them. I don’t think I used to be so brave.

I guess we all have different personas for different situations; seeing family, with a partner, close friends, work and on the internet. Maybe I am over thinking all of this because I am single. Past experience tells me that I would be more my true self if I were in love, especially if living with someone, you can’t really hide who you really are then, nor should you, that should be what love is about, to totally be yourself and appreciated for it.