My kids have grown up and are usually somewhere else. I’m aware of the stereotypes: my son sends photographs and news of things that happen out of the blue, like fabulous sunsets and motorbike crashes; my daughter and I fill cyberspace with the minutiae of daily life, privately via this, that and Whatsap and in public where everyone else does. And as I was brushing my teeth this evening I had a bit of an epiphany.
My daughter is here for a while, with my grandaughter, and life is full of the nitty gritty of teething and tables with sharp corners. Evening meals punctuate uncertain reprieves, when my daughter and I do what we otherwise do on Whatsap, face to face. But as I was brushing my teeth I had an epiphany.
I have always despised the idea that I might metamorphose, get out of my arm-chair and unleash ‘Ernest Me’ – banning children from watching television and allowing a moustache to flourish along with a love of board games and general knowledge. As a child, I was terrified by others’ pushy parents, who tested visitors’ children on the names of the composers playing from the new stereo, lifting their G&Ts. They were the sort who had complicated conversations about geography and politics over cheese and coffee. They knew where everything came from. Some families had a ‘topic of the week’. But someone was always in charge, especially in the homes of the Doctors and Dentists (all I knew were men then), the men were in charge and they’d choose the questions and topics, as far as I could see. I didn’t realise then. It’s something teachers understand. It’s easy to feel comfortable with something you know about so it stands to reason that if you are in charge of choosing the music, you’ll know the name of the composer. I grew up thinking I was a bit dumb. I can choose the questions now. I had a bit of an epiphany while I was brushing my teeth.
I thought: perhaps my daughter and I should choose something that we are gripped by that has nothing to do with our usual menu of natter and, on alternate days, take it in turns to do the after dinner spot. Then of course I thought of those families that play board games (and of the newsfeeds on which she, the rest of the world and I debate and argue about stuff we are interested in) and I had a bit of an epiphany. Even though we are currently in the same country, the extended virtual networks, however virtual or imaginary, are now part of a social community that does not move, even when individuals move. So the conversations that are public and private continue online whether or not they feature as our ‘topic of the week’ after supper. It may simply be that the discourse, created by and creating the users of social media, enters the room silently as two people decide against coffee. It’s neither visible nor tangible. And it may have just the same impact as the discourse created by and creating individuals’ and groups’ sensed, shared experience.
If asked to choose a ‘topic of the week’ I might sift through the causes and statements I’ve ‘liked’ or ‘favourited’ on facebook and twitter to remind myself what’s moved me. I realise I wouldn’t ‘like’ many entries if ‘like’ meant ‘I am going to make this my topic of the week’ and I had to research whatever for a week. In truth I am more likely to discuss the things I do not like and grow increasingly gloomy in the process. In many ways it’s a blessing that, increasingly, the weightier matters my virtual friends and I discuss occupy cyberspace more often than they do the kitchen table. Coincidentally, unless perhaps a form of desocialisation derives from hyper-cyber-actvity – move over AD-HD – in which case, consequently, I usually find it easier to ‘like’ the albums showing parties I’ve attended than I do the events themselves.
And as epiphanys go, it’s gone and I can’t remember how far I’d got along the tooth brushing process and I can’t decide whether I should brush once more. But I do know, I’d like parties to stay in cyberspace and conversation to take up residence in everybody’s home.