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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘socialising’

I like your idea of fun

Or, doing things in your own way

So, we’re coming to the end of a strange and challenging year. And I know it’s been a strange and challenging year, because at the office we’re in the middle of our end-of-year staff reviews and the phrase “this has been a strange and challenging year for all of us” features prominantly when summing up what’s been going on.

One aspect of this strange and challenging December, though, is something I’m actually quite enjoying. The death of the Office Christmas Party, where you and all your colleagues squeeze in to a cramped and busy restaurant for some mediocre food and the chance to pull a cracker. They do vary, of course: some are better than others. The year we went to allegedly the biggest all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant in Europe was a particular low point: at any time of the year, eating there involves so much queuing and slowly shuffling around under neon signs holding a plate that by the end of the evening you feel like an extra in a cyberpunk remake of Oliver! Wherever you end up, though, the food is never great, the music is always awful, and there are far too many people around who are very, very drunk. This was even the case a few years back when due to a double-booking mix-up we ended up having to have our Christmas Party in early November, way before anybody had even had a mince pie.

This year, though, no cramming into a crowded restaurant! Hurrah! Instead, we’re having a Remote Christmas Meal—order from wherever you like and expense it—and various other events spread through the month organised by different departments and teams. I’ve ended up booked into about four pub quizzes because quite a few teams have gone for that as a default option,*, but there’s plenty of variety and choice, and, more importantly, it’s all optional. There are enough different Christmas activities going on that I can dip into a mince pie eating session one day, a pub quiz the next and help judge a tree-decorating competition the day after. Because it’s all optional, none of it seems at all forced.

I know a lot of you don’t really feel like remote socialising is real socialising at all; find it more stressful than the pre-2020 in-person kind of socialising. For someone like me, though, it’s a comfort to know I can just switch Zoom off and I’m back in my own room again. Even in-person, though, I’d always have much preferred this idea of a slate of smaller Christmas events that you don’t have to go to if you don’t want to, than the traditional standard Everyone Goes Out office party. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat a mince pie and tomorrow watch someone try to disguise their cat as a reindeer. Cheers!

* In fact I’ve already won one of them at the time of writing.

Monetising Friendship

In which I'm going to sell you all something you don’t really need

I’m inviting a few friends round one night. We’ll have a few drinks, a bit of a laugh, and I’ll show them a pile of stuff that I’m trying to sell. Hopefully, they’ll buy some, and I’ll make a tidy profit.

NB: the above paragraph is not actually true. I am not going to do this, and I don’t have anything to sell.* As a scenario, though, it’s a pretty common one. People all over the place are handing out Avon catalogues, Christmas hamper brochures, and organising parties for Foreverware storage; or cheap-looking expensively-priced nylon lingerie and sex toys. It makes me wonder: do some people really value money that much over friendship, that they see their friends as a source of income?

On the face of it, evidently so. I hope that maybe I’m just being pessimistic in my analysis. Maybe the people organising these events really do mostly believe that they’re doing their friends a favour, giving them the opportunity to buy Impressive Things at almost-bargain prices; and the money they make back for themselves doesn’t really make any difference to them. Certainly, in the true “multi-level marketing” organisations that are scarcely different to pyramid schemes, most of the bottom-rung salesforce are unlikely to come out of it in profit. On the other hand: I have known people, setting up these events, to excitedly say: “and it means that I can buy them for myself, cheap!” It makes me slightly uncomfortable, seeing people trying to use their friends in this way: it’s more than a little manipulative.

In one way, this is the root of the current fashionable trends in marketing: using the social network to save the marketeers the hard work. Viral marketing, for example, where you, J. Random Netuser, sends the latest cool advert you’ve seen on to all your friends: you receive a frisson of group-bonding pleasure in return for doing an ad agency’s work for free, just as if you’d invited them all round to your house to sell them the product. Facebook games are also similar: little money-churning devices that you, game player, spread awareness of among your social network. Maybe it’s going to become a long-term trend: I suspect the reason it’s so popular is that, after all, it’s cheap; or, at least, the costs are passed on to other people and other companies. It’s slightly different, too, to selling things directly to your friends through a catalogue or at a party: if you’re playing Farmville, your Facebook friends might have to put up with being told how your farm’s doing every few hours, but that’s as far as it goes. You’re not expected to buy things, yourself, until after you’ve been sucked in. You’re not expected to make your friends money, directly.

Maybe that’s the reason I feel so uncomfortable about this technique of monetising friendship: it is about directly turning your social relationships into monetary ones. It probably works best in social networks with a clear or semi-open hierarchy, because it’s potential very much about reinforcing that social hierarchy with money. I know such hierarchical social networks exist — I see them everywhere — but I do tend to feel that the world would be a nicer place if they didn’t.

* Although, if I was going to do that, I suppose we could always knock up some “I visited Symbolic Towers and all I could buy was this beautiful high-quality clothing product” t-shirts.

Good friends

In which we think suicide clusters are overhyped; and try not to be a drama llama

There’s been a lot in the news recently about young people killing themselves, allegedly to draw attention to themselves online. The whole story seems slightly odd, with little evidence for it, but it’s been raised by an MP so it got itself in the news. Most of the people in the alleged suicide cluster are young men, the highest-risk suicide group. I fully support raising suicide awareness and suicide prevention, but it seems rather like fear-mongering to try to place blame on social networking. There were teen suicides and “suicide clusters” years ago, long before social networking was invented.

I know from experience that suicidal feelings are something which people should always take seriously, and that internet messaging, by both its speed and lack of emotion, could easily make worse. But nevertheless – and because it is that serious – I don’t like the feel of people jumping on the exaggeration bandwagon without evidence, or trying to use the threat of others’ suicide to gallop off on their own over-dramatic high horse.* I’ve been on the internet for a while now,** I was a chatroom user quite a lot when I was a student, and I’ve seen people come into chatrooms and make darkly deniable threats like: “you shouldn’t be so nasty to X. If you keep being nasty to people in here and people end up dying, how would you feel?” Whether X is in the pits of depression, or just mildly irked, and whatever your intentions are, that’s a childish and nasty thing to do.

If you’re a friend to someone, and you think they’re being upset because of people on the internet, then the only thing to do is get them offline. Get them to put down the keyboard, go outside, and get some fresh air. Go and take away their network cable yourself if you really have to. But don’t just go around telling other people what they’re about to do. Don’t go around trying to amplify the drama, because people are only going to think that at heart you’re trying to make yourself the centre of attention. If you’re a real friend, go and help them, quietly and without fuss. Because help is what friends are for.

* or “drama llama”, as one internet friend memorably said.

** I can’t believe it’s over ten years since I first got online. The internet was in black and white back in those days – no, really: this was on a Macintosh Classic II, one of the last black and white only Apple models.

Tagged (part one)

In which we are descriptive

I’ve been tagged, by Dimitra. The idea being, I write eight things you don’t know about me. Which is hard. I mean, there are a few people reading this; and moreover there are different sets of people reading this. Some of you know things, some don’t. I’ll have to think of eight things you might know, might not. I never know who I’ve told what to.

Today, you get four things. The rest: to come. Maybe it will turn into a sort of manifesto.

One: there’s only one of me. Lots of you probably know that: I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I’ve always liked my own company, to an extent. Although I’m a social person, I have to be able to retreat somewhere, on my own, to get away from distraction and obligation. And it has to be on my own terms. Maybe it comes from being a solo person to start with. There’s only one of me, but I’m under no illusions that I’m unique in any one individual trait.

Two: I believe in second chances; but I don’t believe in third chances.

Three: I’m a heavily rational person. I believe in what I can touch, what can be proven, what other people can show from logic. I’m enquiring, and sceptical. But I’m not skeptical.* I believe in the third eye, in seeing things that aren’t yet there, that are going to happen. Or rather: I don’t believe in it, I know it can happen. When I was a teenager I used to dream things that hadn’t happened yet. Whether this means some things are unavoidable, I don’t know.

Four: I have an extremely bad memory. I can remember useless things with a worrying ease, but useful information never sticks in my head. I get by, by remembering how to find things out. Knowing where to find information can often be far more useful that knowing the information itself. Sometimes, though, it’s just a nuisance.

* yes, there is a difference.

Start as you mean to go on

In which we plan for the year ahead

…because in a year’s time, so many more moments will have passed. And I don’t want to have wasted any of them.

This year, I am going to:

  • update this site every day (well, you never know)
  • meet new people
  • make friends with them
  • try not to lose any more friends from the ones I already have
  • do something about my career.

The first and fifth are practical, but the other three are the important ones.

Memories of the year (part three)

In which we remember a social event

This one is from back in April. I’m sat in the back of a car, with some people I don’t really know that well, travelling off to somewhere I’ve never been before. I didn’t really know where we were going, either. I mean, I knew what it was – a Social Club – what it was called, and vaguely where it was, but not exactly where. I’ve always been closely attached to maps, and not knowing where I was going made me feel a little disconnected and wary.

I was very nervous, and the other people in the back of the car could tell: knuckles clenched, quietly staring out of the window. We galloped along the motorway, and I tried to enjoy the scenery, trying to overlook my nervousness. It only got worse when I spotted the signs for the exit I guessed we’d be taking: “Netherthong, Wooldale A648″.

Sociability

In which we don’t talk to strangers

I am my own worst enemy.

I’ve never been good at socialising, and I’ve never been good at meeting new people. This means that when I’m in a crowded place, with few people I know, lots that I don’t, I panic. I shut down. I sit in a corner on my own, feeling awful, assuming that everybody else there knows everybody else, that I’m the only lonely person there, that I may as well just go home because noone else would want to talk to me anyway. No doubt this is all nonsense, but it’s what I convince myself.

I should learn that none of it is true, that I could go up to strangers and talk to them, if I wanted. Because once I do start having conversations, interacting, doing stuff, I end up having a wonderful time. The only problem is that I’m rarely able to make that first step for myself. That’s what I need to learn to be able to do.