Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

There was a brilliant scene in the recent satirical show, The Revolution Will be Televised, (BBC3) in which the programme creators, Joylon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse, walked separately around a park asking people what at first appeared to be very unusual and risqué questions. Do you want to be my friend? Can I poke you? Is it OK if I show you some photos of my latest holiday? You might know a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend’s; is that enough for us to become friends? Passers-by who were confronted with this line of innocent interrogation had various reactions. Some told the pair to get lost (remember that they were acting their roles separately, so that was a lot of getting told to get lost), some saw the funny side of Rubinstein and Prowse’s questions but were still reluctant to swallow the bait and welcome them in their group. Others (a very small amount) were more trusting and engaged in conversation with the comedians.

What was obvious to anyone watching the show was that the only thing the pair were doing was bringing to life the ways in which people interact on Facebook. By using phrases such “Can you like me?”, “Let me poke you/can you poke me back?” and “Can I be your friend/can you be mine?” they were demonstrating the absurd dichotomy that exists between our real life selves and the personas we create online.

As a Facebook, Twitter and, of course, blogger user myself, Rubinstein and Prowse’s stunt had me in stitches. I not only laughed at the mixed reactions they faced (some members of the public were very irate) but also at the way most of us are unintentionally partly responsible for this discrepancy between actual and virtual self.

We have disassociated ourselves so much from reality that we have ended up empowering corporations to build our personalities for us. It is an unbelievable state of affairs and one that gets brushed under the “innovations and technological advances we can’t do without” carpet.

To be clear, if we talk about inventions that changed the world and without which we wouldn’t be able to operate in the efficient way we do nowadays, the steam engine, the telephone and the aeroplane must be at the top of the list. LinkedIn would come a distant 528th (if). In fact, I would consider the internet itself as one of those indispensable inventions that’s proved its value many times over. However, what we’re seeing nowadays is the infantalisation of adults under the pretext of personalisation. Especially online. This personalisation is a marketing trick, a ruse to make grown-ups believe that what they’re buying into is the freedom to express themselves. The irony is that in the process many of us relinquish the very freedom we think we’re acquiring. Google nowadays looks more like a Stasi agent from the former German Democratic Republic than the cutting-edge company it once shaped up to be. Its Google maps function was never truly embraced by many of its devotees and the web search engine giant has been accused of snooping into people's private lives. In another episode of The Revolution Will Be Televised, Joylon Rubinstein and Heydon Prowse visit people in their homes and ask them to allow them in in order to film them. Like the Facebook stunt, their request is simple: Can I turn my camera on you whilst you have a snooze in the middle of the day and then show it to your prospective boss? Again, the responses were varied but it never crossed these people’s minds that many of them were already doing that online.

Some of us have fallen for this personalisation trick so often that we’ve accepted social networking websites, smartphones and state-of-the-art e-readers as “essential inventions”. We’ve forgotten that more than thirty years elapsed between the first telephone and the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight. Not even two years went by before we started texting LOLs and OMGs to each other on our mobile phones.

That it’s taken one of the better satirical shows to have aired on the BBC in recent years to highlight this phenomenon should not be surprising. Comedy is in the unique position of making some serious points without coming across as too po-faced or prescriptive. Saying that, though, the pranks carried out by Rubinstein and Prowse pack some fair punches and could, if we wish, become part of a manifesto for a more equal society: the GUBOFMYC campaign against the bankers (please, do look up the acronym online and ROTFFL. I can’t bring myself to spell it on my blog as I don’t normally include swearwords in my posts) is hilarious, if sadly true and the issue of tax avoidance makes one want to cry. Not out of laughter, though.

So, now you know. Next time you see a bloke with a giant cardboard hand cutout trying to poke you in public, don’t freak out. Just ask yourself: wasn’t that exactly what I was doing last night?

© 2012

Next Post: “Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana”, to be published on Wednesday 17th October at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Wonderful post! I must agree that you got a point there. Social Networks are transforming our lives.
    Although it's all about marketing, many people find the opportunity to make friends and socialize. Things they aren't able to do in real life. That's one of the positive sides of social networks.
    I'll have look at that Tv programm you're talking about. I think I'm going like it.

  2. Yes and yes again! Big brother is getting ever closer and we're complicit in allowing his control over us (and our own emotional and intellectual infantalisation) by our dependence on FB & other social media. The attraction is that these do have their uses - it's a wonderful way to keep in touch with my overseas family - but it's all to easy for that attraction to become an obsession (or an addiction!)

    Judy, Johannesburg, South Africa

  3. I find the differences between online and offline interactions quite fascinating. But I've never really been one for poking... :-)

  4. I wish I'd seen the show. I'd have laughed my head off! It's all so true.

    Facebook is THE MAN as far as I'm concerned. I'm still not on it and that's out of concerted effort on my part. Even being on blogger seems like a betrayal of my beliefs, what with Google turning into the evil corporation it always professed to shun. When I get my own website up and running I'll move my blog there but for now I'm stuck with blogger.


  5. Great post! I went to see a local theater production of Rocky Horror last night, with my grandson and a family friend. It was general seating, so we had to get there early to ensure a good seat. We talked some, but all three of us spent most of our time on our smartphones.

  6. they're smart..wonderful idea to hold us a mirror into the face...sometimes we just don't see things..

  7. Many thanks for your comments. Here's the Facebook sketch

    And here's the Google homeview one


    Greetings from London.

  8. Yes, the subject mater at hand here is very thought provoking.
    One of the things that come to my mind is (no intention of insulting anyone here, but it might be unavoidable) is that saying about separating the chaff from the grain?

  9. this is great...i had not heard of the documentary but will check it out now....i dropped out of FB 2 years ago now...ugh....i do tweet but it is somewhat rare....i will say blogging by far is m social media of choice and have made some great friends....many of which i have met in real life as well....i think there are some benefits but def a very scary side of social media as well....

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  11. i re-write: i always love the bits of your sunday mornings along with great music. thanks.

    and i wish i had seen that sounds so hilarious.

    hope your day is going well!

  12. I didn't know about this satirical stunt, but I think it a brilliant one. I must confess that I use no other social network than Blogger. I have not yet been snared by either Facebook or twitter, but I see the day dawning... if only to keep up with my grandsons and see what they are up to. You hit most of the worrying nails on the head, I think. I read through your post uttering a series of "Yes!"es.

  13. Fraud Scam Alert

    I have been the subject of an internet scam/fraud attempt, ongoing, which was facilitated by the About Me information I had posted and the Contact Me button on my blog. A friend from university, who has since gone to the dark side, contacted me through that email info and I fell for it. He used to be one of my best friends at university, but as the Alumnae Office told me, there are plenty of my colleagues from my otherwise illustrious alma mater who are now in jail, etc. Indeed, they contacted him and he shrugged off the attempt. I have since removed all About Me details and have removed the Contact Me button. The nightmare, though, continues. It has become a full-time job to head off the identity and financial threat.



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