Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas time is here again...

Christmas is again only days away and as always I’ve left the shopping to the last minute. Unlike previous efforts, I’ve put some planning into this year’s gifts and, frankly, think I’ve got some good ideas.

Still, I haven’t actually shopped yet. That’ll probably leave me continuing the ritual of recent years where I enjoy a few drinks at my suburban workplace’s Christmas Eve lunch, then stumble a short distance down the road to the local mega-mall and sober up by finding last minute presents. Who said it’s the thought that counts.

I do kinda resent the commercialisation of Christmas, and not just because I can’t afford it. I don’t resent forking out money for my loved ones – well I do a little – I don’t have to buy many, but having to find presents for multiple people at once can be damned stressful. I’d happily receive nothing, and have asked for as much from my family in years past, but they insist on getting something and, really, if I’m spending I may as well receive what I’m otherwise not buying, right?

My brother loves it all – the unnecessary presents, the energy-guzzling lights, the wasteful decorations – and probably thinks I’m somewhat of a Grinch. Sure I bemoan the commercialisation and I still have vivid memories of my days in retail, seeing the madness of these last few days bring out some of the worst in people, fighting over who was first in line to make a purchase of a product that will be presented to a loved one as a symbol of appreciation and selflessness.

But really, I do love this time of year. I’m catching up with most of my friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in some time; and I’ve been in touch with others across the world.

In that sense, it’s a wonderful and unique time to celebrate friendship and community. It’s just a shame about Christmas Day itself – a drawn out, exhausting effort to make small talk with relatives I see less than a handful of times a year.

But let’s be honest, it’s moved far from a religious celebration. I was raised as a good Catholic boy, but even growing up in a fairly religious family it felt more about Santa than Jesus.

Despite that, and that I’m generally not a religious person anymore at all, I don’t agree with the so-called politically correct path of removing references to Christmas in the festive season. It’s long been hijacked, and I doubt there’s any turning back from the secularisation. But that might just be a positive thing, celebrating all-inclusively, while those that choose can still celebrate the birth of Jesus. We just don’t need it to be so damn commercial.

Seeing the decorations up around shopping centres in October just makes me ill. Really, we need a quarter of the year leading into Christmas? No. Maybe we can throw Jesus a surprise birthday party one year. Just get together on the day without the fatigue of the lead-up and really enjoy ourselves like we didn’t know it was coming!

But, shopping aside – which I hope will only take an hour or two… - I will thoroughly enjoy the next few days. I will spend time with my closest friends, I will catch up with a couple I haven’t seen in over a year, I will enjoy the excitement of my young niece and nephew, I will talk to my brother in America, and I will send and receive many text messages on Christmas Day while having a hearty lunch with those loved ones I didn’t choose but love anyway.

And I am actually enjoying putting together a couple of these gifts – because this year I have put a little thought into it.

I think Jesus would be happy with that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

If a tree falls in the woods, but doesn't update it's Facebook status...

I’m at the beach in Sorrento, immersed in glorious sunshine and refreshing bay water. It’s a serene, soulful, personal moment. Commitments, responsibilities, worries and all connections have been left on the shore. And then it hits – I should share this moment on Facebook.

It’s pure self-indulgence. Sure, some people may find it interesting enough to communicate their jealously – heck that’s the reason I’d post it, right – but, really, who cares? What value would it add to anyone’s day? More to the point, what focusing on other people’s reactions to this personal moment take away from my own experience of the moment.

It’s become so easy to share these little moments, that everyday occurrences that you’d usually (or should I say ‘previously’) only comment on to someone you were with at the time, or maybe saw later that day, are now broadcast to the Facebook world as if they are big news. Facebook has done to daily communication what the tabloid press did to the news – denigrated it to be about meaningless, but indulgent, lowest common denominator bites of information.

Smart phones put instant connection to this world at our fingertips 24/7. Great, but it makes for more restless shallow experiences, where the story is more important than the experience – like the camera has led many tourists to see a foreign city through a framed digital screen so they remember every element of a place they never really experienced. It almost leaves you lonely in the real world when you lose reception or just think enough’s enough. At that point, the benefit and beauty of personal reflection is lost.

Not everyone is on Facebook, and I admire those friends of mine who have resisted, though sometimes wish they could see my latest witty status update. And I do use it a fair bit, far more than I’d like. But I like to think my updates include – in their brief state – some meaning, wit or even food for thought. I’m generally not announcing my location, current activity or mood. I try to save that for conversation and if it doesn’t make it to conversation, it probably wasn’t that important.

My thinking is, if something I post isn’t ‘liked’ or commented on by any of my ‘friends’, then I shouldn’t have posted it. I like to engage with people and I want people to actually find my updates interesting, as someone who likes writing, being creative and making people laugh, think or just reflect. But when you get to the point of continually checking for comments, that’s also a sign it’s time to re-engage with the real world.

For some people it seems now that an experience isn’t real or tangible until Facebook knows about it.  If a tree falls in the woods and doesn’t update its Facebook status, did it really fall?

I also have a theory that people update less when they’re in a relationship. I haven’t really had the chance to test that myself, though I did recently have a very close friendship with a great girl who I could talk to in a way I haven’t really with anyone since my last girlfriend a few years ago. Until things went a little haywire I felt lowered urges to talk to Facebook. I had someone real to talk to. And since then I’ve wound back any vague or emotional status’. You know the ones that are just seeking questions for more information, as if the poster didn’t want to seem like they were revealing everything, but hey, since you asked… Things like ‘Karen is so angry at you’. Who Karen? Come on, we’re all wondering now and you damn well know it! But hell, I won’t give you the satisfaction of asking.

I did think once about posting that I was going to practice more self-containment from now on with my updates; until I quickly realised the irony. Telling people you are or will be a certain way is so less effective than doing it without saying anything – explicitly at least. So I’m trying.

That said, I have recently discovered Twitter, and have tried to take much of my self-indulgent rambling there; where people who don’t care about even my weird and wonderful ponderings don’t have to read them but I can still blurt them out. While I do find it a little ‘lonely’ at times, because only one of my friends follows me (the girl mentioned earlier stopped following me, I hope only temporarily as she got me on there and I liked writing things with her reading them in mind). Not that I want all my friends reading my tweets, I like to be able to just write anything that seems interesting or expresses thoughts I feel strongly about that I may not want to put on Facebook. I find Twitter a more adult forum – an information hub, a place to engage in mature discussion on just about any topic, a place for mindless banter and a sub-cultural feeding ground. If you want it to be, and use it that way anyway.

In the end, I need to continue to pull myself away from Facebook and engage in real things. Reading, writing, socialising, seeing things near and far, taking part in a range of activities, and meeting people (in person!). All the things life is about.

If I want to tell people about them, well it should make good conversation over a beer; and in the meantime I can focus on enjoying the moment.