The Contagion of the Social Media Virus

The Contagion of the Social Media Virus

I remember swearing to myself I wouldn’t join this parallel universe which seemed to me to be all about getting noticed, instead of noticing others. 

And then life changes. Times move on. I want to help a national charity get its feet on the ground in my area. I need a platform. I need people to notice me. And so dutifully I create my page, without photos or names or any personal details. The charity flounders. Fails, I should say. People don’t trust my Facebook because I don’t have my name, age, job details, what I like to eat for breakfast and one hundred thousand pictures of me and my little boy

on there. There are only some daffodils in the park. A photo with ducks. The bridge. Obviously, I am a paedophile in disguise using the charity to access unsuspecting young children and their siblings. 

Facebook failed me, but I didn’t use it so well. I used it to try to help others, anonymously. It doesn’t really work that way.

Then I move to a new country. People tell me I need Facebook. I need a way to show people who I am. I need a way to connect with people. I am cynical, but I start all over again. No personal photos, but some posts, some writing, some detail to show I am a decent, I think, human being. I don’t spend too much time on it. In a new country I need to meet people outside, not in a parallel cyber universe. I want to make friends. I want to see people’s reaction to me and to know my reaction to them. I need to feel the energy from people and connect with them in the real world as I understand it.

And then this virus hits us. A sudden cave in the hillside where we are herded in by our leaders, to keep us safe from the predator. It’s dark. I cannot see anyone. But everyone else is also here. So I do what everyone else is doing to light up the darkness. I turn on my phone, my computer, and see what Facebook is showing me. What videos. What speeches. What wise, wise words from unknown people who are suddenly, in one viral moment, famous, across the world. 

And these thoughts and feelings and the NEED to be heard spreads across WhatsApp too, and each day I am inundated with messages. From everywhere. 65 WhatsApps. Who knows how many Facebook messages. Messenger messages. Texts too. Zoom meetings. All in the desperate attempt for people to say: LOOK at ME. I am lonely. I am still here. Though there is no point me wearing my perfume or getting my nails done or getting dressed or even getting out of bed, here I am and this is me and this is what is keeping me going and this is what I am finding funny and I am reaching out

to you because without you I am not human. I am nothing.

Without my coffees and my hairdresser and my weekly clothes’ shop, restaurants or cinema or my walks in the park. Without communication, social media is saying, humans can’t trust who they are.

I know who I am when I hold a yellow rose to my face and the aroma encapsulates me in a soft bubble of warmth. Then my little boy says: “Hmmm. Delicious.” And I laugh and say, “Yes. yes, it is,” and we go off into our garden together. I know who I am when riding down the hill, and he sees a little cat, and he says ‘Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh’ and he has to get off his bike and stroke it, gently, ever so gently, so much more gently than he strokes his own cat, and I watch and join in and I too can feel the cat’s softness and hear its contented purrs. We are lucky, yes, so lucky; we have the sun on our backs and we have each other.

My boyfriend is sat at home, his phone beeping every fifteen minutes or so. Another WhatsApp. Another Facebook update. He is helping people. He spends more than an hour a day catching up, being caught up, catching other people up. Sometimes he posts pictures too.

I have pictures too, don’t get me wrong. I take photos each day and when this is all over we shall print them out and put them into a little journal and call it ‘The Corona Virus days’. And I will try to resist the temptation to publish it, as others no doubt will, because we are making history right now, by living it right now.

Only, that’s not enough for people. To live and breathe history. They are already thinking about their status. They are already thinking about how posterity will see them. They need to be seen and valued and recognised.

I think my son sees me and values me and recognises me every day. I think we see and value and recognise the beauty of the earth each day. 

I’m not sure exactly but there’s something telling me it’s our globalisation that’s caused all this damage. The fact we always have to connect, via screen, via a massive commodified, digital world. 

Now we have to slow down and really live in the moment, are we doing it the right way? Are we only defined by other people? Perhaps we are. Perhaps I am lucky my son defines me fully and wholly and although I love to be with other people, tangibly, actually, physically, to be with them, to be ‘with’ them on the internet does not interest me.

It never really did.

Natalie White

Natalie White enjoys being an English literature teacher and loves to run in the hills. Her first novel was longlisted for the Bridport prize last year, and this year she has already had two short stories published; ‘Clear as Glass’ in ‘Songs for the Elephant Man’ by Mantle Lane Press, and ‘The Wall Around you’ in ‘Birmingham’ by Dostoyevsky Press. A third, ‘Left Hanging’ is coming out in Momaya Press later this year. Being a member of the wonderful Tindal Street Fiction Group inspires her and has given her the courage to be the writer she wants to be. Spending time with her magical little boy reminds her every day to be grateful for everything.