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A Life Online

Zehra Cranmer

Zehra Cranmer

And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,

This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,

With all the numberless goings-on of life,

Inaudible as dreams!

The desk now brandishes a muslin square, a pacifier and on my lap, a baby whose arms & legs remain contentedly animated, but wait, she is now falling asleep to the rhythm of my desk clock and the tapping of my fingers across the keyboard. How life has changed. Every single aspect of our lives has changed thanks to a beautiful twelve week old. Like most mothers, I know I ought to be napping at the same time as her, but work and writing beckons. I now find myself in my study (shared with baby paraphernalia) and now, a sleeping child. I am instantly reminded of Coleridge‘s Frost at Midnight” in which Coleridge sits in the warmth of his cottage, and beside him, his sleeping babe. He is thankful that his child shall grow up in the countryside where life and nature will be his child’s teacher. This is all terribly romantic, which is why I fall for it and into it hook, line and sinker, but I digress, this has very little to do with what I’m writing about – technology and its nudging presence, guiding a multitude towards life online. Maybe the reason why that poem comes to mind will become clearer by the end of this little journey, and maybe it shan’t.

I’ve wondered for a while about the way technology and social media has infiltrated our minds and lives, more so now that I have a child and ponder for hours on end how I wish for her to be raised and educated. Let me ask you, how often do you find yourself exhausting yourself and bleeding away precious time by clicking between, facebook to twitter, then to instagram, a bit more of twitter, and now a blog, your emails and back again in a painfully wearisome, never ending cycle? I believe most of us are guilty of this, if guilt is the word. Although the loss of time is palpable from these vices, there can be a wonderful sense of connectivity. God knows I’ve received a vast amount of help from many lovely people on twitter, whether regarding gardening tips to anxious ridden pleas to other parents’ when my newborn graced us with her presence.  Many writers now ‘tweet’ away for all of their public, even allowing their followers to get closer to their current project, this at times allows people too near to the magic of creativity, but even the lonely writer desires to be closer to others. When they can find a moment to get any actual work done, I really don’t know, but they manage to tweet; meet deadlines and keep up with their blogs- are there more hours in the day? Where are these hours? And have people simply replaced sleep with screen light? I too have taken great comfort in that screen light in the early hours of the morning when the rest of the house is asleep, even the baby in my arms. I hold my husband’s Kindle- oh my! The Kindle, something I thought would never enter our lives. I was one of those people who refused DVD’s until it was forced upon me! My relationship with the kindle remains a complicated one. I still choose the physical book over an electronic gadget any day, but try reading a book in the pitch dark whilst your baby sleeps beside you, and try turning over a page with a trapped arm! Have you tried it yet? It’s near impossible, I don’t know what people did in a pre-kindle age but I’m sure they found a way, but now we don’t need to find a way, as most of us have the internet on our mobiles with a gazillion apps that mean we can and will always remain connected. Twitter, blogs, amazon, and online essays are truly a new mother's best friend.

None of this is new, so why has it taken my plunge into motherhood to broach the subject? I believe it’s a sense of denial and I’m painfully aware of how much overtime I've put into an online life. It seems at times to be the polar opposite to creativity, I encounter moments of phoniness as I decide which filter truly beautifies something I’ve snapped on instagram, although on its own, it’s probably beautiful enough. I find myself overcome by an overwhelming urge to share a still life moment with others who are a lot like me, is this for some form of validation? Maybe, but mainly because there's nothing more endearing than sharing something beauteous, after all, why should I be selfish and keep it all to myself. I do in fact keep a lot to myself, I only share a snippet. We're constantly finding new ways to portray our lives the way we truly wish for them to be viewed and digested. I have seen many illusions on instagram and blogs where people obsessively portray a perfect, attractive life, and a lot of these bloggers seem unable to experience anything without sharing every minute detail of it with the world. All of it. It’s as if they are acting out a role they have meticulously created for the world to see, because if they didn’t it’s as if there was no point, no target for achievement and real life magic can not exist if not filtered through a lens and bombarded with a thousand congratulations from strangers. I’ve watched people fall into the trap of believing in what they saw and what the people they followed religiously did and said in these seemingly perfect lives to be gospel and in turn, believe their own lives to be shallow, unimportant and uninspired. What is this obsession with documenting ones own life so intensely in such a public domain. And why are people so ruled by what is going on in the lives of others to the point they forget to live their own? Again, this is not new, it’s just gotten easier.

I once found myself about to tweet an inner thought, I was going to tweet it and not write it in my diary the way I once did. In fact, since blogging, my diary entries have fallen by the wayside, what is happening? As someone who adores reading the diaries and letters of prolific writers such as Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and more, I’ve often wondered what we will be reading in the future- blog posts and emails? That can’t be right, it’s so unromantic. Maybe I'm too fixated on romantic gestures, maybe I have fallen out of time, but in fact, like many, I think I've found myself being squashed in between the two. I long for a solitude that involves others. It's not easy living in such a juxtaposed world, it's rather confusing.

A lot of technology has seemed to have hushed life itself. Yet, that cant be altogether true- I still put my phone down in the middle of reading an article or review at four in the morning to listen to the morning chorus, I cant identify these birds but they put so much joy into each cavity of my being, and it doesn’t matter that it’s pouring with rain with an unrelenting force, they are still singing. I can’t wait for my baby to recognise these sounds and really enjoy them the way I do, I whole-heartedly wish and hope beyond hope that she’d rather come out for a walk with me and enjoy the sky above us and the earth we trudge upon than spend too many fleeting hours submerged in social media, subscribing to something that may not really be there. I hope intensely that she is able to strike the perfect balance between the two, that they can both be her teacher. There are many, wonderful, interesting, warm and enlightening people to meet online, I've made some wonderful friends who, like me, can log off and plunge back into life. I’ve finally understood why the Coleridge poem was so very important; he was right when he wrote;

so shalt thou see and hear

The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible

Of that eternal language, which thy God

Utters, who from eternity doth teach

Himself in all, and all things in himself.

Great universal Teacher! he shall mould

Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.

 

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