Monday, 11 October 2010

In which I'm the apple of their news feed

To be printed 14/07/10.

A lesson in parental love for the 21st century: I got a text from my Dad the other day that read, "Mum noticed you hadn't been tweeting much recently, and we wondered if you were ok?"

I tell this story not to shame my parents for neglect - indeed, I think it shows extraordinary sensitivity on their part that my social networking is monitored for irregularities, rather than just waiting for me to burst into tears over the Easter dinner table and throw a positive pregnancy test/court summons down in front of the Vienetta. No, I'm mentioning it partly because it's hilarious, and partly because it's an interesting comment on our tendencies for chronic oversharing (mainly because it's hilarious.)

I know I write a lot about the internet. I do. It's not like I'm trying to be Ms Totally Facebook '10, but a column on the intricacies of online communication just seems to fall out of my head every six weeks or so as a matter of course. Like Dickens with street urchins or Jane Austen with coquettish husband-chasing, I am just writing what I know*.
And think about it - back in the days of the coquettish husband-chasing, if anything had been wrong with me (gout, let's say, or prolonged swooning), it would probably have taken days for the tear-stained letter to reach my parents, with all the usual threats of highwaymen, diphtheria and road obstruction by peasant folk to stand in its way. Now all that's needed is a regular log-in to check that the words "Checked myself into rehab for nail varnish remover abuse, fml :(" haven't appeared on the screen, and they can rest assured for another day that their eldest offspring is safe and well in the world.

It could be a bit miff-making, that my parents don't see my online absence and think "oh good, eldest child must be off having a fulfilling career and social life," but instead "cripes, maybe she's in a gutter somewhere." But actually, I'm flattered that my Mum considers online silence as a sign that something's wrong with me. It means that I haven't yet become an Chronic Online Oversharer (or COO for short, as in "coo, looks like Susan and Barry are totally breaking up again…").

Oversharing is probably, notwithstanding identity theft, paedophilia and Chat Roulette, the worst thing about the internet.  They're the new bane of society, COOs, to join the list beneath croc-wearers, close-talkers and people who start every sentence with "I'm not being funny, but" (as sure a sign as ever there was that no, they're not being funny).

In the olden days if you got bad news, you'd probably go and shout it off a hill, or quietly bite on a leather strap until you felt a bit better. Now the magnitude of your misery can be measured in slightly awkward comments from people you occasionally bump into in the Guildbourne Centre. Like the old adage about the tree in the forest - if you have a brutal break up or crippling case of cystitis and nobody reads about it on Facebook, do you actually suffer? The answer is yes, but you're saving us from suffering too. Just something to think about.

And while we're here, I'll take this opportunity to say - Mum, Dad? I'm fine thanks. But don't worry - if I lose a leg or anything, you'll read it here first.

*And I'll cheerfully admit that if there's a class full of teenagers in a century's time writing an essay entitled 'Compare and contrast Bravo's views on self-indulgent status updates with the following passage from More magazine, 2010', my work will be done.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

In which Bros had a point.

To be printed 7/10/10.

"I want to be famous," my flatmate Rose has just announced. "Then I want to be less famous, then I want to go on Strictly Come Dancing."

It's as viable a career plan as any these days, where 'judges houses' is more or less akin to 'secretarial college' thirty years ago as a stepping stone to professional success. When I was young, we had three real options for quick and easy fame: 1. Become a Newsround Presspacker (boring, and you had to like news), 2. Go to stage school like the kids from The Biz (expensive, and involved a lot of dancing in canteens) or 3. Settle for getting your picture in the local paper, and bask in the resulting attention from your Grandmother (no comment).

Nowadays though, the tricky part of the plan isn't the fame (when all other avenues have been exhausted, we have a camera and a YouTube account) but the 'getting less famous' bit. There's an art to procuring exactly the right amount of fame. Most of you readers, being sensible, educated people who only use 'at the end of the day' to denote things happening in the evening, would never say that you wanted to be famous. It's tacky and over-obvious, like saying you like white bread better than brown, or that Cheryl's your favourite Girls Aloud.

But if pushed, you might admit that you'd like to be 'well known'. Or 'eminent'. Or 'respected in your field'*. Think of it as Good-Famous and Bad-Famous, if you like. Basically you want to be famous enough to go on Desert Island Discs, but not so famous you get doorstepped by paparazzi.

Famous enough to get to go to the gifting tent awards ceremonies, but not famous enough to have people slagging off your outfit in Heat. Famous enough that maybe, just maybe, they'll put a blue plaque up on your parents' house one day. But not so famous that you ever need to have David Guest at your wedding.

Maintaining your chosen level of fame is like trying to keep two milk pails balanced on your shoulders while dancing a frantic jig. After years of observing celebrity careers the way other people watch birds, I've come to have a special kind of respect for those personalities who manage to go years and years without becoming any more or less famous. Terry Wogan, say, or Linda Bellingham, or Uncle Ben from the rice adverts.

Should you achieve this elusive, cosy, lower rung of fame, that's when the good stuff starts rolling in. You'll get to go to book launches, and charity things in the back of Hello, maybe a little interview in a Sunday supplement from time to time. And if you're super lucky, you get to tan up and shimmy your way through three months of Bruce Forsyth gags, safe in the knowledge that even if you win, you won't really be any more famous at the end of it.

So when Rose reaches the ballroom, which no doubt she absolutely will, I plan to be the token person in the 'YAY ROSE' t-shirt who they interview about her amazing journey. Which is a different brand of fame altogether.

*The natural option for fame-hungry farmers.