I remember back home when I talked to one of the neighbours over the hedge outside our house, because we do that sometimes. When you live in the neighbourhood where your husband has lived all his life, and where the neighbours have seen him grow up from being a toddler in preschool to the handsome man who share my address now, you have to get to know the neighbours.
The reason for the talk was our joint rolling out of the wheelie bin to the street, so that the garbage men could have easy access to it.
At this time we did it at the same time, and after the hellos we had a little chat about this and that. The talk turned to the neighbour that lives three doors down from us.
The day before he had taken home a new car, and it stood shiny and nice not in the little parking space next to the house and the garage, but in the street where everyone could see it.
Of the houses in the street, his is also very meticulously groomed, and that fuels the gardening and self repair arms race among the neighbours. Nobody likes to be at a disadvantage here. And if you are put at a disadvantage, you can voice your frustration over a hedge on wheelie bin day.
Wasn’t he flashing like a peacock about his fancy new car, the neighbour said. The puffed up pride about being, somehow, higher on the material food chain made the man, of course it was a man, take an extra slow route to the car so that everyone would see that it was indeed he that drove off in it.
Such is the life in our middle class area where the hedge trimmer in your garden shed and the car in your parking space and the school you send your children to decide the value and worth of your humanity. God forbid that you fall behind. That will make the chins wag. And few people want those chins wagging, because most people want others to think well of them. It is even better if those others are a bit envious. That should validate the bragger.
Quite ironically, this neighbour with the new car has, on occasion when we have seen him down at the pub, been critical of the careless young that preen and expose themselves. He reserves a particular amount of scorn for youth membership of the social networks, and in particular those who are members of Facebook.
That was how we talked to him the first time, when he commented on mine and Mark’s focus on our social networks on our laptops. I can hear the neighbour now go on about how he, when he was young, played football with the lads instead of sitting inside in front of the computer all day. My sarcastic thought was, and often is: Has he never heard of smartphones or iPods? Geesh.
A certain level of hell has to exist, he reasons, for the sheer narcissism of those that post selfies on Facebook. “Look at me, look at me”, he mocks and scoff. And then he goes home in his fancy car, and I remember the time when it was a new car, and took those extra slow steps so that entire street could watch him climb into it.
A post on the Freshly Pressed today (a post I found via Meeka’s blog) about Facebook inspired this post because I remember this neighbour, and I remember the struggle in being both human and being unique.
This conflict between the lofty ambition of being no man’s sheep against the naked hairless monkey’s innate urge to be at the top of the pack hierarchy amuse me. It amuses me because I am very likely every bit the narcissist the neighbour accuses me of.
What is this blog if not my attempt to show the world how clever and special I am? Really? Do I not feel pride about the regulars here? Do I not sift and censor mercilessly between what will make me look good, and what will make me look silly and immature?
I do have a private Facebook account where mum, dad, Mark, Stephen and the few people I know in real life can see me. I do not think I’ve logged in for over two months, and I doubt if I have any pictures on it.
I do not use Facebook because of the simple fact that I do not agree to the terms of service. I allow Google, since they have more utility for me, to shamelessly dig through my carefully selected search history. I do not need another American multinational to replicate that.
However, if I were active on Facebook, I am certain that I, like everyone there, would be meticulously careful in crafting the public persona I want others to see. And I would be ruthless in purging those sides of me that I think would make me seem less.
So, I am not going to pretend that I’m ignore Facebook, and I will admit that being non-active there has little to do with a lofty ambition to avoid the mainstream bourgeoisie. It also has nothing to do with being anything but a preening peacock. I have no illusions that I, like most naked hairless monkeys, want to present myself in the best light to place myself near the top of the human hierarchy. Or at least in the acceptable middle. Nobody likes a loser, right?
And what is a loser if not someone who stands apart from the herd without ambition or drive to climb up that monkey hierarchy so that women or men will take an extra interest and give us a second look. Like Lord of the Flies taught us, if you scratch a human, the animal is lurking beneath a very shallow surface.
Even among the outcasts and the rejected, are there no cliques? Of course there are. And in those cliques, do not the main impulses of humanity quickly form a hierarchy of who is important and who is not? And like the neighbour with the car, what Facebook is all about is not networking or marketing, but displaying. What other reason could there be for the prominent display of how many friends one has, or what people think of the selfies, or how people receive a status update.
We are, after all, social monkeys, whether we try to improve our status with a new house or a car, or Facebook likes. Everyone wants to be liked, right? Why does everyone wants to be liked? We are all but preening hairless social monkeys, in the end. Even the most antisocial amongst us, relate their lack of sociality to the herd.