The clocks have gone forward, it’s time for spring cleaning – and I know just where to start: your social feed.
Our friend A was visiting us from the UK a few weeks ago. I couldn’t have imagined the path the conversation would take when I casually asked her if she had given anything up for Lent.
The answer was yes; but instead of chocolate, or gin, or swearing, she was forsaking Facebook instead.
Specifically, she’d had enough of endless posts from people of their stage-managed, genetically modified, Photoshopped lives (I may be paraphrasing, but you get the gist.)
And you know what? I think she’s onto something.
The old joke runs that FB is where you tell lies to people you know, while Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers. After all, it’s known as Fakebook for a reason.
But behind some easy puns is a harsh reality: these people are out there. Many of them are expats, and we are all guilty of encouraging them.
A like or a follow may not mean much in isolation, but taken together, they validate and enable the wrong kind of behaviour – sometimes with very serious, real world consequences. (“It’s not real life.”)
Shaking our hips
Real life is messy, disorganised, chaotic, funny, random, cruel, and often – whisper it, mums and dads – repetitive, bordering on dull. It’s useless to try and pretend otherwise, but try some of them do.
I really miss my family and friends and am struggling to cope without a support network, their hashtags scream …but check out this artisan mocktail! #nofilter
There is a piece of writing so relevant to expat life that every time I think about using it, I convince myself I must have already done so half a dozen times already and talk myself out of it. But I haven’t, and if ever there was a time to use it, it’s now.
It’s George Clooney’s opening monologue from The Descendants. His character is talking about living in Hawaii, but it applies equally to being an expat anywhere:
“My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation – we’re all just out here drinking mai tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves.
Are they nuts?
How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our heart attacks and cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating? Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in fifteen years.”
This isn’t a rant against FB – although, as this article admits, “it’s hard to dig yourself out of Facebook, which may be why studies show it’s better not to use it.” – but the way some people use it, and Instagram to distort reality.
So by way of balance, I’m here to even things out.
I could post a picture of the palm trees in my garden to make you wish you lived here, too. Doesn’t change the fact that inside my house, Kid A is currently testing the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable behaviour the same way the raptors test the fences in Jurassic Park.
(This from the child who gave me a hard time the other week because I loudly and, I thought quite inventively, called the man who stole my spot in the petrol station queue a “sh*tweasel”.
Cue some tweenage outrage: “You think it’s OK because I’m getting older, but it’s not, it’s really not!” tears)
All the Instagrammed brunches in the world aren’t going to change the fact that my kids are mourning their first pet.
Yes, you might recall the rescue cat we adopted just before Christmas, and how I joked that I was doing so to teach the kids that the Circle of Life isn’t just a song from The Lion King?
I was thinking maybe a two-year timeframe on that particular life lesson; I didn’t anticipate her just…disappearing one afternoon, barely two months later. (We don’t have a domestic postal service here in the UAE, so at least we know this wasn’t her fate.)
Social media encourages us to post the stuff that’s different – not just to our daily life, but to the lives we once lead.
Whatever our medium of choice, as expats we are all a little guilty of editing our lives for consumption by others. We leave out the bits about the commuting, the deadlines, the bills, the school runs. The homework, the dental appointments. Ferrying the kids to after school clubs, birthday parties and sports practice.
You know, our real lives.
I’m sure for some expats the carefully curated narrative of their online existences is partly a way of justifying their decision to undertake the exhilarating but exhausting challenge of starting a new life in another country.
But in the end, they’re only kidding themselves.
I checked in with my wife on A’s social media presence now that Easter has been and gone. Much to the delight of Mrs LC, she is back on FB, but presumably has spring cleaning ahead at some point to weed out the fakers. We could all improve our mental health by doing the same.
All of us are still learning as we go with regards to social media. It feels like it’s been around forever, but it really hasn’t.
For us as parents, having a daughter who is growing up in an era when social media is just how life is gives us an extra responsibility to equip her with the skills to mentally sift through the barrage of data and help her spot who’s faking it; to help her understand why some people are motivated to behave in certain ways, and to teach her that the best filter she’ll ever need is her own instinct, as to what’s real, and what’s just grinning and bearing it.