I regularly peek into different worlds online – the blogs I follow, Instagram, Facebook (not so much) and all the social media platforms that teenage girls and relevant organisations use. We keep an eye on these in an attempt to raise Agnes’s profile. It is essential to have an active online presence if you’re attempting to get anything off the ground these days. It could take up all day, every day if we let it. It is mostly hugely disheartening (Agnes is too tiny and independent to be noticed) and sometimes terrifically cheering (when people do notice and use the site). We put in so much work to create this fabulous resource and we believe in it, so we persevere.
It’s curious, isn’t it – what people present in little photo squares, in 280-character tweets, or longer, more considered blog posts, and the stuff that’s picked up by the wider media that becomes A Thing. There are gazillions of people and organisations out there, all waving, some frantically, many trying to be different and get noticed, many focused on promoting themselves, their wares, their opinions, their ideas, some just trying to connect. It’s a chaotic human zoo – inspiring, funny, heartwarming and often downright bemusing. We are all tiny specks in a whirlwind of dust.
Checking the number of likes and comments, though, chasing those hearts, can lead you down the rabbit hole. Being absorbed in it is not a good thing. I know I need to take regular breaks away from the online world to engage in real life and with nature outdoors to stop it from getting me down and eating up my time. Crikey, if I find it hard to get the balance right, goodness knows how kids are meant to learn self-restraint and moderation. My three seem to be constantly connected, headphones in, oblivious to my calls for someone to come and empty the dishwasher.
While there are many positives, I am absolutely sure that not one of us is actually any happier than if we were still living lives with old-fashioned dialling telephones and pen-and-paper letters, books and libraries. Yes, we can view the world and find information instantly, and feel connected and uplifted, but the online world can also make us feel isolated and dissatisfied. People have probably always compared themselves to their neighbours, but now we can compare our lives and ourselves to complete strangers, forgetting that people mostly only show their best bits, forgetting to be content with what we have. It is possible to lose sight of what’s really important.
Where was I going with this..? Oh yes, people. People and publicity. I have never been one to push myself forward. I have a memory from my childhood: I was quite small and was in the audience at a sea lion show (or it may have been dolphins). The person running the show asked for a child to come to the water’s edge (I can’t remember why). They pointed to me and asked me to come down. I sat rigid and refused to move. I can’t remember whether both my parents were there or what they said. I just remember the awful embarrassment of being singled out and then the burning shame that I had somehow not measured up, that being shy was a bad thing.
While I didn’t want to be singled out, I didn’t hide under a stone. As a teenager, I joined Greenpeace and Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth. I wrote letters and fundraised. It felt like you could make a difference back then. And still, although this bold, brazen world of selfies and self-promotion baffles me, I will stand up and be counted.
Listening to the news lately I’ve had that feeling of vertigo, where it seems that the world is becoming more chaotic, where worse things are happening, more horror, more injustice, more tragedy. Myanmar, Florida, Syria. If my daughter is in the room, she’ll ask to switch channels as she is horrified by everything she hears. I understand. I was moved to tears the other evening watching the news. A Syrian mother, covered in bomb debris, standing in a hospital next to her dying 12-year-old son, was pleading to the camera. There was nothing anyone could do. She was traumatised. The doctor was traumatised. Everyone was traumatised. It was heartbreaking.
The UK is not perfect, but it is at peace. Our children go to school, there is charity and health care, there is a robust legal system, there are strict gun laws, there are human rights, there generally is equality, and women can wear what they want and be totally independent. I am just an average, middle-class, middle-aged woman, a wife and mother of three. I am ordinary and average in every way and I lead an ordinary and average life. But being ordinary doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. I will keep on plugging Agnes, I will keep wittering on about stuff on my blog. Give me a cause, show me an injustice and I will help if I can.
Unlike that mother in Syria, and unlike millions of people in war-torn countries or living under oppressive regimes, I have the option of whether to lead a quiet private life, a showy-offy public life or something in between. There may be a cacophony out there but I have my freedom and I have my voice.