One of the by-products of blogging I hadn’t anticipated, is the level of interaction and commentary between bloggers. Which seems daft now given the congestion when making my way towards a few favourites.
Before taking the leap into the virtual wilderness with WordPress, I got off on trading banter on a couple of message-boards of varying purpose and personality. I still do. The chat deviates from what it says on the tin (music, matrimony, cheese appreciation etc.). Topics are flung up at random, and the discussion belongs to all in common without the original poster’s work coming under heightened scrutiny. At some stage, everyone will unite against perceived injustices carried out by an invisible board administrator. Lyrical will be capital-lettered on the benefits of free speech and fears over grave threats to the ‘community’. However off-beam and barmy that speech can deteriorate into. Conversation is less about responding to the person who makes the point that kicks it off, than all grabbing the topic to play tug o’ war with it until they knock themselves out after 50 pages. We’ve all been there. The dynamic differs. Sensitivities wither more rapidly.
In the fifteen years (yikes) since dipping my toe in on-line chat, social media continues to thrive as a much lauded instrument of democracy; a civic forum transcending officialdom providing unfettered access to channels for the creation of public ‘opinion’ from the comfort of our kitchens. A challenge to consensus. Mostly by people who comment on-line. Its status as an apparatus of the people comes into sharper focus with the centrality of citizen reporting in contemporary front-line news packages. An integral component of modern life in which everyone has an e-print of their own. Even Daily Mail readers.
But is it inclusive of everyone? The opportunity to swap chat with folk scattered across time-zones suggests a compendium of the world has never been more reachable than through a keypad. It’s hard to argue with that when you’re busy arguing with someone else 10,000 miles away over the merits of U2’s output since Achtung Baby. The lack of a consensus on that topic is on-going and set to intensify with each successive album release.
As a relatively busy person with the concentration span of a bubble (so busy I get to sit down and tell you), and an allergy to discussions on U2 exceeding five minutes, I can’t devote myself to making the case for their overdue break-up. Hopefully some youths will fly the skull ‘n’ bones flag for me. They have a toolbox of acronyms to speed things up, IYKWIM.
Most of us are contending with busy lives, so it is not possible to fly the flag for every conceivable injustice or inequality all of the time. We can’t diversity-proof our life’s experiences and posts. Nor should we have the desire to do so. Our powers of inclusion and empathy are not limitless. Most of the time I come on here to blog top five cheeses, which I must get round to doing soon.
Even so, I get instinctively jittery when walking into what feels like on-line cosy consensus at times. On parenting matters, for example, particularly the challenges to women, and all the attendant anxieties of inhabiting that role. A singular narrative creeps in and a new consensus threatens to dominate. From the risk of glass-ceiling concussion, to best ways to hide butternut squash in a veg-resistant child’s meal. Certainly, these topics are as worthy of a chin-stroke as the umpteen other common denominators that divide and console our daily difficulties.
Still, I wonder how much of the prevalent views on social media are representative of women’s experiences as a whole. Women for whom the term glass ceiling means something entirely different. For whom the challenges of balancing childcare and career fling insurmountable barriers in the way of their hopes rarely discussed, let alone realised. A diversity of women, whose lives don’t fit with a prevailing commentary often alien to them. The women that trickle-down feminism doesn’t ever seem to reach.
Which is where I think message-boards have a slight edge over blogging. The neutrality of a public space dissolves consensus and social niceties more readily; whereas crossing the threshold of someone’s virtual living room helps keep them intact. Being surrounded by another’s carefully chosen décor and family portraits will naturally influence conduct and contributions. It does mine, at times. The ugly side of anonymity on message-boards needs no defending, but the benefits of anonymity cannot be dismissed either. Assumptions and generalisations are exposed to a more rigorous kicking from size 10 steel-toe caps than a less threatening pair of pumps.
That’s not to suggest blogging is free from fisticuffs, or that message-boards provide a utopian level of interaction for all. Participation in social media hinges on a number of factors. Exclusion is part and parcel of the privilege, but that doesn’t mean those with access are required to apologise for making full use of it.
It’s just that in 2014, women in Ireland have never been more diverse in terms of ethnicity, class divide, income, and the configuration of their families. I’m not convinced they’re represented on-line, or that a lot of potential consensus on parenting and family life represents their experiences entirely. Because, it can’t though, can it?
And there goes the question mark it has taken me 832 words to reach. Far from a desire to issue sanctimonious full-stops, it’s just something I occasionally wonder about in the context of the web’s reputation as the great leveller. Something to bear in mind.
But not nearly as important as top five cheeses, which are as follows:
1. Cashel Blue
4. Richard Curtis films
5. Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits
Feel free to add your own.