There is a special thrilling moment in the blogging. After you tie off the final thoughts together and put the full stop to the last paragraph or sentence, you give your post the final review and then you hit the publish button and relish the excitement of setting your words free to the world. It often happens that you discover one stray typo after the post goes live, or an awkward phrasing. Most of the time, however, the integrity of your post survives and it is unlikely that the slip will cause major embarrassment. This is because a blog post normally follows a certain structure. It is a piece of writing that evolves from an idea, into an outline, then a coherent piece. Each blogger is different, but I find that I have to start from a central theme, that I might develop as I write, but it is still a slow-brewing process. The most important part for me is to find the idea or theme of a post. I sift through dozens of online articles, or blog posts. I mine my own daily experiences or observations, in a hunt for one suitable subject. So regardless of how effortless posts look, they normally are a product of a relatively lengthy process. Of course, there are the odd exceptions like the Hello World page, or the re-posts from You-tube.
Things are a little different in the world of social networking. Technology has made it so easy for us to connect to our social networks. Whether our portable device of choice is an iPhone, iPad, or any other Andoid tablet or photon, there are endless options to use them for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr among many others. So I can connect at any place and time, to interact with my cyber-friends. I can read posts, re-post them and post photos at the flick of one finger. And while commenting or tweeting may take a little bit more effort, the platforms themselves do not encourage verbosity, or limit my thoughts to a few characters, which makes a touch screen keyboard sufficient. I feel that blogging -with the notable exception perhaps of photo-blogging- cannot benefit much from the technology of portable devices. Because although the applications for tablet and iPhone exist, the limitation of keyboard and display size require at least an investment into portable keyboards, or extra-ordinary manual dexterity that I do not possess. For me, blogging involves many stages of careful thought and reflection, while posting on my social network is much more impulsive. As the connection to social apps becomes so much easier, the act of thumbing up other people’s thoughts or pictures; re-posting jokes or articles; and writing that quick comment, turn into something like a nervous reflexes with little or no thought at all.
The danger of this instant reflex lurks closer than you think. A few times I gave thumbs up to a story, when I actually wanted to flip it off my screen, because I found it silly or distasteful. At least once I wrote a comment or a whinge that I later thought will be misunderstood. Most of the time I caught these things within minutes, but since these actions are “out there” immediately after I click on them, there is always a chance that one of my friends would bear witness to them, maybe even the very same one who would get offended. It is a peril that one has to live with; a means of culling that friend perhaps.
Predictive text is particularly damning in this area, as I found out recently while posting on my tablet a message to Nelson Mandela for his birthday. My “Happy Birthday Tata Madiba” came out as Happy Birthday Tara Marina. I was horrified when I spotted this a few minutes later. I quickly discarded my tablet for my trusted laptop and typed it correctly. Barely a minute later a friend commented that I was a day early… mistakes are caught quickly in cyberspace.
Of course it is perfectly okay, people can make stupid mistakes on social networks as they do in the live social sphere. It is a bit more public, that’s all. So, the moral of the story: Treat your status update as a blog post. Respect it and give it some extra thought, it saves you unnecessary embarrassment.
One of the first culture shocks I suffered after coming from South Africa, was the monster of American food markets. Mind you, I spent ten years in South Africa, so my palette was not too demanding, and since I did not visit any fancy restaurants in the past year, I still have very primitive taste when it comes to food. Soon after my first frustrating visit to a New York supermarket, or food retailer, I found out that Americans do not make simple straightforward foods.
The first thing I wanted to buy was cereal. For years in South Africa, my breakfast consisted of Weetbix, topped with the fruit of the season and milk. Such a simple thing is extremely hard to find here. Instead there are the Corn Flakes, the Crispies and various other types with more than necessary sugar content. Things get much worse when we are talking children cereals, because they are mainly chunks, or nodules in violently brilliant color that cannot possibly be natural. I have resigned myself to giving Robert occasionally some candy in those awful colors because there are no other kinds, but I am not about to give him breakfast disguised as candy. I have enough trouble as it is with his sweet tooth. The candy of course is a completely different story, in South Africa we had Smarties with natural food coloring, here they insist on electric greens and blues for their m&ms. Everything else has the same hideous colors, so I take refuge in the imported brands. The local -much advertised- brand of chocolate is beyond awful, I would take Beacons (our local and by no way best brand in South Africa) any day instead. Even Robert, who is hardly discerning when it comes to candy, does not like that local brand.
The next horrific discovery for me was the bread. Why do they bake every type of bread with really noticeable amounts of sugar? For the first time in my life I found myself carefully reading the ingredients of bread, which is supposed to be the simplest recipe humans ever made. It is not that simple here. There is bread with High Fructose Corn Syrup (more about this in a minute), and bread without it, but they all taste sweet. After four months of reading bread packages, I was complaining to a colleague that this terrible place (I could not stand New York in the beginning) did not even have plain simple bread. He told me to look for bread alone, which turned out to be the name of the brand. I finally can eat bread without tasting sugar.
The issue with High Fructose Corn Syrup is another strange phenomenon of America. This type of “sugar” is used for almost all beverages, and like anything else in America, the effects of its heavy usage, good or bad, will be upon us in a generation or two. Regardless of whether this is a natural or a synthetic sugar, there is a problem with the American diet and its dependence on sugar. I rarely use sugar for anything other than baking, but I still feel that my consumption of it has increased.
One of the things I miss most about South Africa is the abundance of local fruit and vegetables. I also miss the local South African meat; the excellent beef, ostrich, fish and chicken I used to enjoy. Perhaps things have deteriorated in the year I was away, especially in terms of prices, but the quality is still the same, I think. The fruit I had back in April was wonderful. I ate my fill of mango, pawpaw and avocado and many others. I cannot do the same here. Who knows what types of industrial pesticides are used on the produce here. In South Africa I never bothered with organic. Here, for the privilege of eating organic food and produce, I easily pay double the regular prices for groceries, but I cannot bring myself to eat anything else. The thought of handling mass-produced meet makes me cringe.
Of course there is no escaping normal non-organic food when I eat out or buy my lunch from one of the mobile vendors so common to Midtown Manhattan. And sometimes it is simply too expensive to buy organic, so I go one step down, to kosher for example. I sometimes even wonder whether this whole organic food is not just a ploy to make us paranoid consumers fork out more money. I questioned this today as I was choosing some peaches from the “organic” basket. Nothing but some stickers distinguished its peaches from the regular peaches across the aisle at half the price.
Most people invest a lot of time and effort in social networking. Virtual socializing has almost replaced actual socializing. For people who are shy and introverted like myself, it is much easier to share stories and news on my wall. The social networks make it also very easy to wish people well on their birthday (rather than diarise and try to remember it ahead of time), it is also no effort at all to congratulate social network friends on their successes or send them well-meaning words when they advertise a failure or difficulty. I know many people who have sworn off social networking because they feel it infringes on their privacy. They think, and rightly so, that they have no control over the information they share with the world. Once you write a word or a statement it will be out there, whether you delete it, or close your whole social network account, it will remain accessible to someone out there, and is therefore bound to haunt you for the rest of your life. If you think conspiracy theory and big brother, you are going to have a huge problem with this idea. However, if you think human accountability, responsibility, and standing up for consequences, you will be able to breathe a little easier.
Personally, I find social networks hugely useful. They connect me to members of my family whom I am unlikely to meet anywhere else. The last time I visited my birth country was ten years ago, and I am unlikely to visit anytime soon. My other friends in South Africa, I see once I year at most and it is wonderful to be able to see the events of their lives on a daily basis. I see the pictures of their growing children and follow them on their vacations, when the great distance prevents me from keeping closely with them. I have no qualms about posting my own pictures, comments and ideas on a social network either. I feel it is one way of communicating with friends across great distances. The great success of social networking shows that it has filled a great need to communicate between people. This came of course with some disadvantages, I hinted at earlier. They are a poor substitute for actual face-to-face socializing, they perversely encourage people to become anti-social, for example it is easier to write a message on friend’s wall (and I mean here a friend in the old-fashioned sense) instead of picking up the phone and talking to them. They have also diluted the old-fashioned meaning of the word friend until it became synonymous with somebody you met once at a cocktail party. Finally, they simply produce too much information, which places pressure on our time. Once you are aware of these negative aspects, however, you can target them specifically with remedies. For example, give actual, not virtual, time to your real friends. Regularly cull friends with whom you are unlikely to cross path with ever again. Exercise your own rules in your own personal space to limit the amount of time wasted on social networks, and limit your interests to things you really want to know about, and to as little products and services (advertising) as possible.
Social Networks are in the end a business, and the members are potential capital, so the more time you spend interacting with them the more likely you are to buy something from them or from one of their partners or advertisers. You have to balance the benefits you get from them against the time and effort you invest. It is no surprise that in their quest for larger chunks of your time these networks make it increasingly easier to share, connect and communicate with other. The most famous social network is constantly evolving and upgrading. Giving users more and more ways to build a profile, that is now almost indistinguishable from a blog. I cannot think of anything I can do on this blog that I cannot do on my social networking “site”. With the added advantage that on the social network I already have a built-in audience in the form of my social network friends. During the past year, as I experienced a hiatus in my blogging enthusiasm I wondered whether sharing through social networking had something to do with it, and until now I am not clear on this in my own mind.
What is your view of this phenomenon? Do you think the blurred boundaries between social networking and blogging are positive or negative? Will blogging survive and evolve through this, or will it be in the end one application or function of social networking? I am curious to find out.
I have been living in New York now for over a year, and time has once more flown and there are many things I failed to catch up with.
Last year, against all odds I had a very close brush with falling in love. It was not pretty. I had the anxiety, the heartache, I was worried, and I was jealous. Mostly though I felt guilty and uncomfortable. When this happened, it came out of nowhere, and after all the tears and the self-blame and the fear, it suddenly died down to nothing. When I finally put an end to it, I felt nothing but absolute relief.
This puts a new spin on my life. Now I have entered the realm of villains. I broke up, without thinking twice or giving any reason, with someone who has perhaps learned to love me. I am ashamed of this, a little, but I could not pretend love once it was gone. It is over, I face it, and live with the consequences. Now there is an awkward silence between two people who perhaps could have been friends, if it was not for a period of insanity when I allowed emotion to triumph over reason.
Last March Robert and I flew to South Africa, and shortly after that trip I decided to pull the plug on my ailing project of a relationship. Since April I have vowed to devote myself to my work, and to my son. I scarcely have time for myself, let alone the energy to nurture a relationship or heaven forbid a late second marriage. Besides, now that I am past forty I think it makes sense to play it cool. I am almost certainly past bearing another child, so why should I try to find a mate? Unfortunately, unlike my mother, I find myself often swayed from the kingdom of reason, especially that there is no lack of single men in the workplace. In all the years following my divorce I was always surrounded by married men, seriously involved men, or gay men. These are my kind of men, they are safe to flirt and joke with, and they are certainly off limits. I am immune to married men. Ironically, I was also safe when I was caught in the emotional wasteland of my marriage. I only started noticing other men when I broke away from it.
If it was not for my spectacular failure in my latest attempt at sharing my life with another person, I would have perhaps thrown caution to the wind, and got to know this new man that I noticed recently. But the memory and shame of that failure haunt me. I have come to suspect that, indeed, I am not fit to share with anyone.
My ex husband used to tell me that I was way too independent. He is right somewhat. I cannot bear being questioned and second guessed by a man. I would rather live with a man who did not care much, who left me some freedom, than succumb to someone who would censor my behavior with a boyfriend’s or husband’s authority. Needless to say that this train of thought and these developments in my life are starting to worry me. Therefore I will try to write about them again. Writing helped me very much through a divorce. Maybe it will protect me from setting myself up to fall in love again, because I know in advance that any romantic project I enter into will be certainly doomed to failure. Married life is not for me. Kudos to my ex who is busy trying it for the 3rd time.