Saturday, 31 December 2016

Some thoughts on using social media

Because the end of the year seems to be a time when everybody looks back over the past year and makes judgements, I thought I would take a look at some of the things that have occurred to me about using social media, which after all is a place where we spend growing amounts of time. It's not a trivial aspect of our lives any more, I think we can safely say. In fact, for some people - like me - social media forms an important component of the day.

I think the first thing that I should say about social media is that it works to make communities. If you work at it and develop larger communities of people in Facebook or Twitter you can easily spend hours without seeing the same messages twice. The important thing is to develop capacity in your feed sources by connecting with more people, who may be people who have views that are similar to yours or else they might have completely different ways of seeing the world. Developing capacity means connecting with other people to form a community that is resilient and strong, and that can provide you with the quantity of information that you need to get through the day. You don't want to run short of stories to read.

Once you have built a community of like-minded, or variously-minded, people you can start to talk to them regularly. But participating in social media isn't just a one-way thing, it's a conversation. So be prepared to have your off-the-top-of-your-head rant ignored if it is excessively narrow in scope or if it too negative. People like to respond to things that mean something to them personally, so try to be engaging in what you tweet or post. Reach out to all those lonely people out there in the social graph and try to make their day just that little bit better. Don't be shy. But don't be bitter either. Be positive and you'll find that your efforts are rewarded with the attention you crave online. You'll get likes and comments to things that appeal to your followers.

But if you don't then don't get despondent. Go back to the social graph and try to find a conversation that you can become part of. This can be painful. We like to think that our views and ideas are the most important things in the world. But they may not be. However there may be existing conversations out there in social media that you can tap into in a way that gives you the recognition that you crave.

I've written before about how social media is changing the way we deal with life by giving us a responsive locale where we can find the support we need to get by. Because it is always on, and because we can participate in it in meaningful ways, social media can play a role in alleviating isolation and giving us the sense of community that we need to survive. Humans are social animals, after all. I think that social media can help people to be more fully themselves at the same time as it gives us the opportunity to engage in online communities. By distancing sorrow, social media can help us in unique ways. Everyone has a burden to carry, and it reminds us that we can transcend those restraints by getting in touch with others in a public space.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Reveries during my quotidian walk

This morning for a change I went on my usual walk through Chinatown and up Harris Street. On the approaches to Darling Harbour the crowd-control fences had been put up leaving gaps so people could pass through. On the evening of 31 December those gaps will be closed off to limit the number of people who can go onto the Pyrmont Bridge and into the pedestrian area of Darling Harbour.

I saw a fat middle-aged man standing by the wayside and smoking, further down, past the Western Distributor, and he made me think of the way we fetishise longevity, as if living a long life were always the best thing. Having seem mum in her last five years of life I tend to wonder, myself. But the medical ethos means to strive to preserve life at all costs, so the medical profession goes all gung-ho about longevity, and getting people to live healthy lifestyles regardless of the cost emotionally.

The death of Carrie Fisher, and even more the death of George Michael, puts paid somewhat to those qualms. Who wants to live forever if it means going without the substances that we need to get through every day. I intend to read Fisher's memoir, in which she talks about self medication to deal with her mental illness. I've been living with mental illness for 17 years now, and I'm still struggling with the demons associated with it. It doesn't really help to know that you can "get help" because those people are just going to try to get you to stop the self-medication, which is not what I want. Why should I do something that I don't want to do just so that I can live 15 years longer?

So here's to George Michael, dead at 53. He was born in the year after me. By the time he came around musically however I was in my 20s, and well past the peak music-listening years, so he never had that much influence on me. And anyway I'm not gay. I think. Some people become gay in their later life. Hmm.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

It's Christmas Day

Well here we are again at Christmas time on a hot day in Sydney. The sun is out and the air is quiet as everything living takes shelter; all I can hear is the occasional cry from a group of revellers down in the park or in one of the highrises around here. Even the birds are mainly still and mute; an occasional trill reminds me of the presence somewhere out there of something living.

But I feel alive. I know I am alive because of this special feeling in my heart, a mixture of happiness and loneliness. It must have been this kind of feeling that motivated my father to put Christmas carols on the record player in the morning for Christmas Day, so that we kids could hear them as we made our way upstairs to where the Christmas tree had earlier been erected. A feeling like this must have motivated my mother even in her final years to always make sure we had some sort of bird cooked in the oven for Christmas Day. Her preparations on days earlier still a memory for me when I came over to celebrate the day with her in her small apartment in Queensland.

A strange mixture of happiness and loneliness, one inspired by closeness to all the things we love in the world, and by a separation from those same things that we know is equally eternal.

Later today I will be going off to celebrate the day with a friend at his brother's house. I will catch the train and then walk; it's not a long way. Long enough but not too long.

And I will walk through the quiet streets from which most people have been emptied by the nature of the day, as people spend time with those who are close to them. And I will think again with regret of the people left behind in the other country, people whose lives are now separate from mine. I made my choices and they made theirs and now here we are living ten thousand kilometres apart, separated by such distances as used to drive people insane. But at least we are still linked by that feeling, that strange mixture of happiness and loneliness that comes over us on Christmas Day and on other days like it in the calendar. Days of general slumber and relaxation, days of tender devotion and rarer joy.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Boys dressed as girls

When I was walking down to Darling Harbour I saw a group of boys dressed as girls. Well, in fact one of the boys was dressed as a box of beer, but that's just the way it turned out. In the main, the boys were dressed as girls. One of them was walking along in high heels and a skirt, waving at people on the opposite side of the road with his mouth fixed in a grin. It was funny, I suppose, although you wonder when a group of boys decides to bend the rules as far as this, what else are they willing to do?

This is just me talking as an old guy. Actually, I welcomed the young men walking down the street as young women. Aping the targets of their quotidian desire. That's the way it was.

In Chinatown everything was as normal. I crossed the street where the light rail goes and walked around Paddys Markets, which were closed. Then I walked up Harris Street and around Mary Ann Street it smelled. The birds nest in the trees and do their droppings on the pavement. I've been shat on once myself.

Looking back it was the young men dressed as young women who stole the show. If it had been the other way around - young women dressed as young men - it would have been a bit of comedy. But the way it was - young men dressed as young women - it was a bit of burlesque. Nothing else to compare it to. It was burlesque. 

Friday, 2 December 2016

A new television

Yesterday morning after extracting some cash from the ATM at the convenience store I headed up the hill to go on my usual walk around Chinatown but the thought of the diminishing sound quality on my TV brought me back home, where I measured the old TV with a tape measure. I left the building this time via the fourth floor, which has a door that lets you out onto the park at the back of the building. I walked down the scrubby hill with its stairs to Saunders Street, around the Fish Market and across Pyrmont Bridge Road to go up Wattle Street toward Broadway Shopping Centre.

At Harvey Norman I told the salesman that I had a 2006 TV that needed to be replaced and it has a screen of 93 cm in size. He pointed me to three models of similar size and I chose another Samsung - the first one had done good service for 10 years so why not? - and paid before leaving the store. They told me the new TV would be delivered the next day. On the way home I stopped off at the Fish Market and bought some lunch.

This morning the TV delivery guy called me - as promised - about an hour before dropping the unit off at the lift. (He couldn't get the lift to go to my floor.) And the scaffolding guys were busy disassembling the scaffolding outside my front windows. Today for the first time in I can't remember how many months I was able to open the windows that give onto the balcony. I sit here with a glass of wine and listen to the world outside humming along as it used to do back before they started putting up the scaffolding - it has been more than a year now - including cars and trucks, fire engines and aeroplanes, dogs and young men shouting into the endless afternoon. (We have daylight saving every summer.)

I calculate how likely it is that it will rain. I love the rain. Just the sound of it on the balcony fills me with a weird happiness, as though the world were about - finally! - to come to an end, and I was to be an observer of the event. Going by this afternoon's hum it seems likely that it won'r rain. But it's hot enough for a good summer shower. There are dark clouds in the sky. Perhaps it will rain this afternoon after all?