I don’t quite know, now, how I ever had a baby without the Internet. I don’t mean the mechanics of making one; convent school biology notwithstanding, I had pieced together the basics by my late twenties. More the sheer having of information, company and reassurance at hand, in the digital nose bag of my iPhone.
When I was first pregnant, eight years ago, the Internet lived upstairs in the back bedroom, delivered via a whirr-clunk dial-up connection that snapped instantly whenever anyone rang the house. Going online was a bit of a mission, rather than an reflexive twitch. Then, a few months in, I stumbled quite by chance across an antenatal forum.
I’ve never really got into soap operas, but there was something about the online forums which I think met the same need they satisfy. They were like books that never ended, drama and fiction woven into the everyday humdrum and mundane. There were the trolls, of course, playing hatefully for whatever reasons of their own on the fears and heightened emotions of women who were pregnant or new-made mothers. All of us, though, were painting pictures, telling tales: angles chosen, characters exaggerated, stories enhanced and improved in the writing. Not outright lying, very rarely that, but crafting an image nonetheless.
Over time, defeated by tickers and trolls, the group moved to Facebook, dragging me with it. I use Facebook more now to see photos and as a kind of eleventh-hour aide-memoire for whatever essential piece of rubbish I need to send into school the next day. I am me, on Facebook, but I am a go-to-church sort of me: scrubbed and presentable and wearing my metaphorical Sunday best. I don’t whinge on Facebook. I don’t gossip. I gnaw my fingernails in an agony of indecision twice a year at parents’ evening, torn between desire to crow my pride in my offspring and cringeing at everyone else doing the same. I “like” the cute, “share” the practical and “(((hug)))” pretty much all the remainder (and it is amazing how much remainder seems to need hugging on a regular basis).
If Facebook is me in the pew, Twitter is me having a fag behind the bike shed. Grumbling and sniggering; trying to find witty things to say about those in authority and revelling in being in on an in-joke. Twitter is the people in my phone who make me think there’s still a ghost of me left when I haven’t really talked to another grown up in days. I adore Twitter, but I find myself at a crossroads. I find myself wanting to hug some of those on my timeline. I find myself, frankly, sometimes wanting a hug. But the Twitter me, unlike the Facebook me, is not really a hugger or huggee, and hugging at all sits ill with the snarky stream of politically-minded tweets that make up most of my feed.
Then, of course, there’s my blog. I blog to write, really; to get down the voices in my head that chatter and yell at the radio. I blog, a little bit now, to be read: tiny as my stats are, the knowledge that I’ve shared those thoughts, with someone who may share them, is a small daily drug of pleasure.
I started writing this post in mid September, a few days before my cousin was killed. I’ve been mulling it over ever since, in light of that very personal tragedy; most recently in the horrific aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines and whether or what to tweet about it when words feel futile and trite. They have nothing in common, of course, but they have made me think even more about who I am online. There’s a lot of talk about how to behave on social media, but I also wonder a lot about just how to be.
Sometimes, sighing, I look with feelings of inadequacy at those whose online personas are resolutely coherent and purposeful. I look resentfully at those who detail their every minor malaise or mishap, and grudgingly offer sympathy while thinking of those whose greater needs are never expressed. I do the same, hating myself just a bit, when I am grumpy and want some comfort or validation. I look at other blogs, and I wish, often, that mine was the beautiful record they are of life with my children and my journey as a parent. I tried, but it is just not within my gift to do that, though I still envy those who can and even manage to make a living doing so.
I’ve realised that something can be filling my heart and my mind, but I will never mention it in a post or a tweet. That I can be sad or lonely; in pain or frightened; happy, or ecstatic, or grateful beyond measure, but that the me who pops up on others’ screens will seem, to them, fixated on who’s being voted off X Factor or the foibles of some annoying politician. And I’ve realised that that’s quite probably the same for everyone else too. We’re all choosing how to be online, but that can never be more than a snapshot of who we really are, and we judge others by what we see at our peril.