I remember a golden age; a pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-Instagram age. Actually, not so much golden as grey. A wonderful, misty age with fewer binaries and more scope for human choice. An age where sitting-on-the-fence was possible. For some reason, sitting-on-the-fence has become a highly scorned thing. Of course, people need to be opinionated, the world would not work if they weren’t. But sometimes I like the fence.
The fence is comfy and requires passive, or even non-existent, thought processes. The fence is a place to sit and admire the myriad views, opinions and theories heaving in unfathomable numbers upon the fields of society. The fence allows an escape from the overwhelming clamour of battling viewpoints that bombard us everyday. Granted, a seat on the fence won’t get you marks in an essay, or provide a dinner table with interesting conversation – but sometimes it’s nice to sit in silence up there and let everything wash over you as the world roars on by.
But in an age where being online constitutes being alive, this blessed fence of opinionless serenity no longer exists. Taking Facebook as our example, one can either actively ‘like’ something or remain silent on the matter, leaving a default implied dislike. What happens if I find the video of that cat playing the piano mildly amusing? Perhaps I like the scenery in photo 37 from ‘Magaluf 2k13’ but think the guy in the foreground looks like a complete spanner. What then? My cocktail of emotions has to be distilled into a purified ‘like’ or the implied ‘dislike’ of remaining silent. I have to pare down my thoughts into simplified, sterile black or white conclusions.
Although, in all honesty, I don’t think I’ll lose too much sleep fretting over my inability to express my complicated array of thoughts provoked by a 30 second video of a parrot feeding a dog (something I genuinely just came across).
What does begin to make me ever so slightly fretful is the more complex issue of friends, or perhaps I should say ‘friends’. My unease surrounding this issue stems from my recent discovery that I fell victim to an ex-friend’s Facebook cull *sniff sniff*. The fact I can say ‘ex-friend’ and it have such a literal meaning sums up the issue succinctly.
There is no longer such a thing as an acquaintance of whom you are averagely fond or a school friend who you begrudgingly like in spite of his becoming an intolerable dickhead. According to Facebook, people are either your friends, or they are not. Unfortunately, it is now impossible to avoid the superficial and unhealthy evaluation of whether someone really is your friend as one brief click of a button decides that for you.
The strangest thing is that from my vast collection of friends on Facebook (I don’t even come close to having one tenth the number of real life friends), the majority of them I probably wouldn’t even recognise in the street. The majority of the cluttered mass of people, who according to FB are my friends, I have met once in my life. Most likely at a party to which I probably wore two A+F polo shirts (both collars popped) and played spin the bottle so as to avoid having to actually make painfully awkward conversation with any girls (‘So what GCSE’s are you doing?’). This would all be OK if Facebook didn’t make it so damn difficult to delete the buggers. So, unfortunately, as of yet, I simply haven’t been bothered to spend hours and hours trawling through and deleting every Tom, Dick and Harriet (Harriet did Latin, Biology, Chemistry and Art) purporting to be my nearest and dearest.
So now I’m left with over a thousand ‘friends’, most of whom I can’t even say I dislike because I don’t even know who the hell most of them are. I’m left without the option to place someone in the cool grey mists of indecision. I’m left having to either wholly commit my seal of complete approval to videos of dogs being fed by parrots or remain stonily silent on the baffling affair. I’m left with a bleak online life of binaries to which I do not wish to subscribe. Luckily, for now, people still occasionally venture outside and talk with other people, face to face! Luckily, I can avoid this online mass of forced decisions and log off. I can read a newspaper or hear a story and draw absolutely zero conclusions from it. Luckily, I can still clamber onto that fence of non-thinking sanctuary and remain blissfully silent, avoiding the black or white, like or dislike of the online world. Praise be to the grey.