The other day a work colleague referred to one of my recollections as one of ‘Wayne’s stories’ and I wondered whether I’d spent too much time reminiscing and not enough time moving forward. Perhaps it was his sutble way of telling me that I should be working and not sitting down telling everyone about the further adventures of Wayne.
But I actually take his comments as a compliment, not least of all because it plays on my own natural abilities, one of those being the ability to engage and capture an audiences attention through storytelling. Authors, filmmakers, script writers, journalists and musicians are just some of the people who have this ability. That’s not to say every journalist or scriptwriter has the ability to paint you a mental picture and captivate, but I believe if they’re any good, then they should possess these skills.
Labeling people is nothing new, funneling people into the most convenient definitions, I spent most of my education judged by educators and classmates on my social skills, my achievements with the opposite sex, my achievements with the same sex, my music taste, my grades and my aspirations. Bowling 4 Soup probably hit the nail on the head when they said “high school never ends” and it’s as true as the sun will rise tomorrow that people will label. For many, it’s an opportunity to break common ground in the most efficient time possible. Telling you everything in a sentence but saying nothing in a lifetime.
Labelled and processed, you may feel the need to almost justify yourself, your own existence, your interests, hobbies and passions. This is certainly something that happened to me. In school, for example, it was common to make such a huge statement of music taste, commenting on the bands that were allegedly fighting or the next album coming out. It wasn’t so much about what you actually liked as the way you liked it – the opinions you had were meaningless, nobody was going to debate the finer points, instead they just expected teenage hormones and wild flowing statements. You defended your beliefs, partly because you believed them, but mostly because it was part of the group you’d been labelled with. And the worst thing you could imagine was being outside the box.
Social media has, in my humble opinion, made this even worse. It’s almost as if Facebook is the Inquisitor, asking you to justify constantly your abilities and strengths, exposing your shortcomings and reminding you to keep in line with social status. Add to this the platform it gives us, that we each have a choice to use or not, to shout about our day in the most constructively positive or negative manner we can think of. Thoughts that were once retained, only for a moment, now immortalized in a status update. My journalism lecturer used to tell me straight – libel was worse than slander because it was printed for all to see – a single voice can only reach so far. But Facebook is the voice of many.
You can, of course, choose to remove these libelous or self deprecating posts when you’ve “calmed down” or “thought it through”, and a few do. But most do not. Of course, that opens another – more curious – box, that of censorship. If you say something out loud to 400 friends in a packed hall with a microphone, the information cannot be retracted. You can apologize and make amends if needs be but you cannot simply erase that information from their minds or hope half of them won’t hear it. You can’t selectively choose to alter the words spoken or give the impression you were misunderstood. Should you have the right to censor and modify those Facebook posts, does it make us subconsciously feel that people should treat us with a different approach in “real life” when we do the same thing? Is our online persona different to that of our real life, primarily because we don’t expect to be judged in the same way for both personalities?
There are people I know on Facebook who I’ve never met in reality. That’s because they’re contacts for stories, I’ve sold things with them online, met them through trading forums…that kind of thing. And there’s also a lot of people I’ve met in real life but haven’t seen in years. I lived in Edinburgh from May 2008 until December 2009 and loved the city, the experience of meeting so many different people. I left my home city of Dublin shortly after finishing University. In both of these examples there are ‘friends’ on my own Facebook with whom I’ve exchanged virtually no contact – asides from perhaps a nostalgic reminiscent post if someone tags you in a photograph.
Now just as I’d like people to think I’ve changed, grown and learned as I’ve become older, so too would I think these ‘friends’ of mine would like me to believe they’ve changed as well. So the only contact I get with them, real or otherwise, is through the medium of Facebook. There’s no reunion, no alumni…people lead their own lives…they disappear into the fullness of time and that used to be the way it happened, naturally. But now we find ourselves reunited with old friends, old lovers, old rivals…and even if we’re not reunited and we’ve just moved on…to what value is a random persons comments on my news feed going to make? How many people will click this link on my Facebook feed and even bother reading this article? If they offer no value to my own life then why should I spend time listening to their daily negativity? Their daily struggles and problems? Why should they care when I’ve my own problems?
Baz Lurman once said that “the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young” and I think, much like the fact that Lurman ‘borrowed’ these lyrics, that statement has only an element of truth to it and should not be followed literally as instructions for life. Remaining friends with someone with whom you worked nine years ago just so you can see their holiday snaps or watch them announce their pregnancy, a level of intimacy you never would have shared with them when you saw them every day, seems like such a bizarre and confusing ritual. Trapped in a cycle of perpetual nostalgia. Holding on to those fading memories of the good times. We label because it allows us to more easily find and sort those memories, categorize our relationships and make us not feel so bad when we don’t speak to a school friend whom we later find out committed suicide due to depression.
Labeling is our way of living in the present. We have access to more information than our parents or our grandparents. We have more choice of how to spend our money and less restriction on where we have to live or the rules society says we have to follow. Class structure and family hierarchy still exists but only insofar as providing a safe place for people to retreat when life is overwhelming. In many respects I believe there is too much choice in the world today and that can lead to a lot of people becoming very lost and insecure. And very early on. Labeling is a way for people to restore order, find a way not to get overwhelmed with their feelings and to essentially treat life like a work fridge where every person has a lunchbox, a label on the box and a specific contents inside – dietary requirement, personal taste, financial means and practicalities are all inside that lunchbox. But from the outside it looks the same as everyone else. Just like Facebook.
Nowadays I take my labeling with a sort of pride. I see them as character strengths rather than weakness. Someone tells me that I’m always telling stories I’ll tend to assume that I therefore have the ability to tell such stories. Stories people take away and remember, stories they know come from me personally and ones which (in some small way) entertain them. Having recently started working for a newspaper for the first time in my life, first studying journalism some thirteen years ago with those hopes and dreams, I’m glad that I still retain the basic instincts and abilities needed to bring a story to life.