I find it remarkable that we live in an age where Geoffrey Blainey’s ‘the tyranny of distance’ could now be understood to be an auto antonym. This term, around since 1966, coincidentally a great year for births, has taken just two generations in which to convert to its opposite meaning.
For my parents generation who were probably the last to actually travel overseas by boat as their first choice as air travel still belonged to the wealthy (how times have changed) it was a mission to get to Europe, sometimes taking weeks with many ports of call. These days this would be called a ‘Cruise’ and interestingly this sector of tourism worldwide has seen a huge spike in enthusiasm for its product. Personally, I couldn’t think of anything more tedious than shuffling around numerous decks for days on end avoiding people who I got stuck with at the buffet and dodging the ‘Entertainment Officers’ who insist I join every conga-line when ‘Feeling Hot Hot Hot’ blares out over the Tannoy during Happy Hour.
I’d rather just get there. That’s our Tyranny of distance thingy again. When you live here in Australia, it takes time to travel, and money, a fate we share with our Bledisloe Cup winning brose and sustas acruss the dutch. So I think it shapes our attitudes toward what kind of a holiday we want to extract from our allocated time. We tend toward longish trips, often saving for an age in order to fund the time required to suitably explore our endpoints of choice. ‘Its not the destination, it’s the journey’ say many a smug retiree sipping from a bamboo tumbler of mojito but not all of us have to kill, we just want to get there and start our adventure.
But, back to this tyranny of distance.
I think it exists only in a terrestrial manifestation nowadays. We’re all living very close to each other in this country and more so around the globe bought nearer through the many mediums of technology, well in the Western world anyway. It’s as if this distance has been shrunk to the point where finding a spot away from the madding crowd has almost become unattainable, in fact its almost become a luxury that only a few can afford.
Living on an island like Tassie could be argued as a step closer to finding this space between the cracks, given it’s a state with so many deficits compared to our cousins on the mainland but even then, the persuasive clutch of modern life has many tentacles.
And no more alluring a sirens call, is that of social media.
I can’t lay any claim to being an early adopter of ‘The Facebook’ as it was once known, or the ‘Twitterz’ as the latter has come to be affectionately referred and Tumblr and Instagram I just never got around to managing.
As for blogging, I was late even to that party and after several hiccups and false starts where I navigated the unfamiliar world of having a public persona where an innocent misstep or even a calculated spray could bring down the same tirade of anonymous hate no matter what the root cause.
I learned to grow a thick skin and I also learned that the public domain could be a nefarious one in which one must always be vigilant in ‘managing ones message’.
As my good mate Stickyfingers said to me long ago when I was but a young Padwan, ‘Its always your brand out there, so take care’. Actually she may not have used those exact words but that’s what I took from it.
So blogging was my first real toe in the pool when it came to ‘putting myself out there’ like so many zillions of others did however I did get a taste for a similar kind of thing back in high school when Dungeons and Dragons seemed to be the prototype avenue for role play on a large scale in an imagined universe. Over the next few years as an adjunct to my blog presence I decided to add Twitter to my quiver. Why did I do this?
I suppose I thought that by appending another layer of my online presence would go some way to enhance what I vainly imagined to be a ballooning interest in my opinions. I should have heeded the advice stencilled across a Tee Shirt a mate sent me which read 'No One Reads Your Blog' and applied it to my twitter fixation but I didn't.
Eager to connect I commenced tweeting my every meal, thought and opinion all served with a generous dollop of irreverence, or so I thought.
As a person interested in amongst other things, food, I naturally gravitated toward the luminous examples in the fields of restaurants, food reportage, satire, the Yarts, fillum and social issues.
I felt like a had joined a big club and ludicrously assumed a dialogue would all but materialize with my chosen heroes and heroines just because the number on their own ‘Followers’ counter had just gone up by one.
Like a waggy-tailed puppy I enthusiastically latched onto any sound-bite, observation or pithy comment from my pin-ups and posted my own riposte at speed and waited and then waited more and then waited for some time after that for a response that very rarely emerged.
I was becoming agitated. Wrongly I had assumed this new avenue of connectedness was free from the prejudices, the clubbiness and the cliqueyness of the everyday.
Like the modern day fan letter writer, autograph-hunter or, it must also be said, stalker, following your idols on twitter is about as deluded as one can get.
In Clive James book ‘Cultural Amnesia’ he wrote about Greta Garbo’s penchant for never reading any of her fan mail, in fact she made a point of having her minions incinerate it before it touched her manicured hands. Aptly, her surname on every envelope insured that they made their way directly to the bin custodians of Hollywood at the time(my line not Clive's by the way!) James goes on to say that she knew, even back then before the idea of social media was just about perusing the pages of the gossip columns, that any correspondence between a fan and herself was bound to end in tragedy, of the Lennon, Harrison or Versace kind.
Soon enough my own ‘Followers’ were increasing in number and I would dutifully return the favour, ‘Right back atcha’ fellow-follower-ee. I started to notice that if I didn’t follow someone almost as instantly as they followed myself I’d get ‘Un-followed’ just as snappily. It became evident that for many of the Twitterati, accumulating status through having multitudes of followers was a top priority, as it appears to be with the Facebook.
This made me reflective.
Was I not as concerned with my obvious lack of legions of followers because I didn’t care or was I of the opinions that I shall never reach the lofty heights of an Ashton Kucher or a Stephen Fry? Not really to both.
What I enjoyed was having a conversation with someone whom I’d got to know a bit of through the medium, so my rules for following became simpler, I would only follow people witch whom I’ve had a conversation.
So, suffering the ignominy of being ignored by my idols, I began to cull them cold-heartedly from my list to follow. Then it came to the great swathe of people who through some form or another decided to land on my little twitter rock, deposit some phosphate and flitter off to another twitter rock. ‘Unfollow’ got hit so many times I thought my index finger would get RSI.
I stopped at a relatively small number which presented some new challenges one, of which was the hurt I had unintentionally inflicted on an earnest follower or two. Another was this notion that I had become ‘snobby’ and had sniffily deemed some of my loyal followers to be too déclassé for my liking.
I started to question why I was on Twitter at all. The continuous tales of someone else’s incredibly fabulous lifestyle began to irritate me and I tried to emulate them by making what were generally mundane aspects of my life, sound as intriguing and abstract as possible. Being limited to 140 characters is a good way to make oneself sound enigmatic, believe me.
Then it became apparent that keeping up with what everybody else was up to wasn’t really working out for me. I was spending so much time and energy reflecting on what other people were doing that somewhere in the maelstrom, I forgot about what I should be doing and what was important to me.
Truth be told once you start un-following people the content and conversations in your Twitter feed reduces dramatically to the point where you are only hearing things from the usual suspects and frankly, this can get tedious.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy once you commence extricating yourself from social media’s grasp and with each considered culling of followers, your voice and the voices of others get a little fainter. And in that space once filled by the chatter of people living their lives on show is a calmness that I had forgotten all about, having misplaced it for a need to live large without realizing that this pool of stillness was there for a reason.
Technology like this can be incredibly enlightening and very useful in bringing people together but documenting the minutiae of one’s life and putting it out on social media platforms is becoming less attractive to me in my quest for peacefulness.
Perhaps the ‘tyranny of closeness’ has become more appropriate? A modern day malady where one gets fatigued by having to keep up with everything?
Honestly, how can anyone ever hope to really communicate with their scores of Twitter followers for instance or Facebook friends for that matter? Whilst I enjoy the banter on Twitter, I do often think about its exhaustive drain on my energies and my time. Don’t get me wrong, I have met some very interesting people through twitter and some have even morphed into friends but I think its time for me to push my chair from the big table, cash in the chips and return ‘IRL’.