A Friend Pops Up 24 Years Later

Have you received an email, text message, Facebook request or card in the letterbox which made you wince?  Me too.  And it was today.  I guess I should be grateful that the sender did not phone me.  I would have spluttered my way through the conversation and tried to weasel out of giving this person any information about myself since I last saw them 24 years ago.

Do I feel annoyed, upset or beguiled by their surprise appearance on Facebook?  I’m not sure.  First, I wondered what prompted this bolt-from-the-blue contact.  Second, I wrote down our backstory to get my head straight:

We worked together before our children were born, she was going into a new marriage and I was leaving an old one.  This woman’s role was administration manager or something like that, she did a lot of accounts and moaned about the way forms were filled incorrectly.  She had a corner office with a big desk and spent a lot of time talking to staff in an over-friendly, mocking way that unpopular people have when they are trying to be popular.Wedding 13

As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I became part of her bridal party.  I succumbed to pressure and involuntarily became a bridesmaid.  Her friend or her sister was matron-of-honour and I think there may have been another bridesmaid but maybe I replaced someone who wasn’t up to task.  Anyhow, I remember the gown fittings, the diamanté jewellery, the shoes, the bouquets, the whole rigmarole was exhausting.  On the Big Day I had professional make-up applied (trowelled on) and I thought it looked hideous.  My hair was whooshed back and I felt as stiff as a Barbie doll.  A close-up photograph of me doesn’t look too bad – gosh, I was young.

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Now, dear reader, I was in a relationship with an army sergeant at the time and the wedding photographer was an ex-boyfriend.  I don’t remember feeling tense about them being in the same ballroom.  Maybe I blotted out that part of the evening.  I do remember my ex-boyfriend wilfully snapping a photo of me dancing with my new partner.  I’m not a dancer.  It was an okay wedding ceremony with theme colours of pink and maroon which were quite tastefully done.  As befits the centre of attention, the bride played her part but the groom was a bit quiet, e.g. rather inanimate character.  Predictably over the intervening years, the cake, food, groomsmen and speeches left no impression.

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Not long after the Big Day, I resigned from the corporation where we both worked and I started another life.  I briefly met the woman in question about two years later outside a local video store (remember videos, overnight rental, tape jams?) and she was with her husband and six months pregnant.  From what Facebook will let me see, she has a couple of children now.  With no family news or information, she perceptively called me ‘Stranger’, asked me if I was still living in the same place and did I want to meet up?  Why, and why now?  Truth must be told; I was uncomfortable around the woman.  She had the knack of grating on me, especially when she initiated ‘jokes’ with co-workers.

A long-time friend, a dear person who lives in the countryside, says he has been contacted by various ‘friends’ he hasn’t seen in years and feels they are freeloading in their desire to drop in on his rural idyll, taking advantage of a convenient escape to the country.  I, too, have had similar occurrences in suburbia but I tell people that I do not entertain at home and we don’t have a spare bed.  And that is true enough, depending on the visitor.  With this mystery reappearance of a workmate (as opposed to friend) who made no contact with me after the wedding, much to my relief, and now wants to buddy up as if 24 years is no time at all – I don’t get it.

Is she divorced?  Is she retiring?  Is she thinking kind thoughts about me?  Or is she bored with her life and Facebooking randoms from her past?  Another truthful moment; I don’t think we would have one single thing in common.  Possibly she has changed, possibly I’m anti-social, possibly infinite variables.

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Am I tempted?  Sure, I’m tempted.  I could click Accept or Decline on that Messenger button.  Click Accept and, hey presto, all will be revealed.  Also, it would expose a lot of stuff I don’t want to remember very closely.  Then there’s the difficulty of worming my way out of it.  I don’t want an added extra to my social life right now.  As previously posted, I am cutting back on my social media.  I want to move forward…write and relax…my way…I guess I could just say ‘hello’ and not get involved…I guess…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

N.B. Apologies to friends and followers who would like a Comment box.

Like or Not to Like

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Liked

Launch yourself from an author platform!  Get yourself out there!

Emerging writers are advised to expand their author platform by widening their online presence, broadening their social media and linking websites.  Recommended tips are video highlights and engaging with other writers on blogs and internet discussion groups.  No doubt new writers mull over the difficulties of going from guts to glory.  Or, in 21st century terms, Likes to glory.  That’s it, isn’t it?  The biggest number of Likes, page views or virtual friends you can get will make you the winner.  Or does it?

I have read well-written books and I have read badly written books and sometimes those badly written books make it to the top.  Why?  Marketing the brand, the buddy system, freebies?  Or is it because it’s fantastically easy to Like someone even if a reader forgets they tapped Like because they were texting, drinking coffee, looking for food in the refrigerator?  Once you’ve reached published paradise via internet or bookshop, sales still remain a genuine way to gauge popularity.  It’s a longer process to engage the reader and it involves thinking about the purchase.  Tacky as it sounds, when money is exchanged you’re heading in the right direction.

Millionaire writers at the top of their literary game probably don’t put in the same internet hours the novice does.  A rookie writer spends a lot of time staring at a screen, tapping away at a keyboard to keep the “me” momentum going.  Only to find that if they neglect an area of connectivity for more than a day, they are already stale news.  Their post and avatar moves on, drops out and someone else steps into the gap, glowing with instant recognition.  Instant, that’s a tricky word, online presence needs to be instantaneous.  But it’s usually not permanent, it does not equate to stardom, it just means that they hover in the pack of thousands for an instant.

It’s difficult to know how much networking is too much.  Creativity can suffer.  Another driving force for the evolving author is the ever-present fear that an editor from a prestigious publishing house will scorn their week-old post and think they are not up to the job.  This raises an online conundrum; content versus frequency.  The pressure is on.

So that my thoughts can become words, I am using a good media platform right now.  However, I’m under no illusions that suddenly it will make me readable, bankable and popular.  Personally, I think perpetual loyalty to the internet crushes originality.  Ah, a lightbulb moment!  As long as you feel fulfilled as a writer, you will write and you will love what you write.  Don’t be too concerned about the initial lack of Likes.  To gain any sort of recognition, I think we should remain steady and plod along and work hard yet with a happy heart.  Stay true to that inner core, that part of our soul which says “Do it, you know you want to, you know you can” and accept the outcome.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Stephen Fry Lets Fly

“Facebook and other platforms should be classed as publishers”

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

British actor and author Stephen Fry, speaking at Hay Literary Festival, accuses “aggregating news agencies” of not taking responsibility for their content.  Fry has called for Facebook and other “aggregating news agencies” to be reclassified as publishers in order to stop fake news and online abuse spreading by making social media subject to the same legal responsibilities as traditional news websites.

Outlining his “reformation” for the internet, as part of the Hay literary festival’s programme to mark the quincentenary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, Fry accused social media platforms of refusing to “take responsibility for those dangerous, defamatory, inflammatory and fake items whose effects will have legal consequences for traditional printed or broadcast media, but which they can escape”.  Facebook is flooded with “sextortion” and revenge porn, files reveal leaked documents which show the site struggles with the mammoth task of policing content.

One thesis I could immediately nail up to the tent flag is to call for aggregating news agencies like Facebook to be immediately classified as publishers. At the moment, they are evading responsibility for their content as they can claim to be platforms, rather than publishers. Given that they are now a major source of news for 80% of the population, that is clearly an absurd anomaly,” Fry said.

“If they, and Twitter and like platforms recognised their responsibilities as publishers, it would certainly help them better police their content for unacceptable libels, defamations, threats and other horrors, that a free belief in the value of the press would, as a matter of course, be expected to control.”

Last week, it was announced that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were facing tough new pan-European laws, forcing them to remove hate speech and sexually explicit videos or face steep fines.  Fry said he also believed they would soon be forced into new legal responsibilities, and deemed the issue “frankly small potatoes” compared with “some huge potatoes [that] are looming.”

Citing the failure at British Airways IT system on Saturday that led to BA flights being grounded at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Fry cautioned that the world’s reliance on digital systems would also inevitably prompt a cataclysmic cyber-attack and bring on a “digital winter for humankind”.  He went on to say “An extinction-level event … will obliterate our title deeds, eliminate our personal records, annul our bank accounts and life savings, delete all the archives and accumulated data of our existences and create a kind of digital winter for humankind,” Fry warned.

During the talk, Fry also addressed the rise of big data, which has seen private companies competing for and using the personal data of millions for corporate gain, the gig economy of Uber and Deliveroo; the inability of governments worldwide to keep up with technological progress; and live-streaming services like Facebook Live allowing people to broadcast acts of violence and self-harm.  Using the myth of Pandora’s Box – where opening a container unleashed evils on the world but left hope trapped inside – as an analogy for the development of online abuse and trolling, Fry said the speed of technological development meant that problems associated with technology were now irreversible.

“The dark side of the rise of machines and the sudden obsolescence of so many careers and jobs; the potential for crime, exploitation, extortion; suppression and surveillance; and even newer forms of cyber-terrorism, give us the collywobbles and are challenges for certain. But we must understand that it is going to happen, collywobbles or not, because the lid is already off the jar. So the best we can do is keep the lid of the jar and let hope fly out.”

Acknowledgement: The Guardian Monday 29 May 2017 04.38 AEST Last modified on Thursday 1 June 2017 01.50 AEST Reporter: Sian Cain@siancain, Photograph: Anna Goldberg.

Note: Having bought his first computer in 1982, Stephen Fry is considered an enthusiast of computer technology, being an early adopter of the internet and social media.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Anatole France…

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…the famous French poet, journalist and novelist said “If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.”  I guess social media has compounded that figure.

Anatole certainly looks worried about the situation…

Philosophy Anatole France

Gretchen Bernet-Ward