Today I joined Twitter (@oddfeatheredit), purely to celebrate (and validate? Expediate? Mediate? Deviate? Satiate?) the moment I started editing my NaNoWriMo manuscript. The mojito was intentional, the cat incidental, but that’s how life is sometimes. I have not, as you may think, digressed; I spent all afternoon thinking about an article I read by Scarlett Harris on Junkee – On Taylor Swift, Mean Girls, Feminism And The Bittersweet Year Of #SquadGoals – which led me to a fascinating and somewhat comforting article by Anne Helen Peterson about Taylor Swift’s carefully curated group of girlfriends. Thousands of Instagram and Twitter photos document these friendships, showcasing her seemingly endless “squad” of successful model, singer, actress friends of varying fame and largely unvarying skin tone and body type. This had led to many thoughts on female friendship, the notion of celebrity, the juxtaposition of social media image and real life, but most prominently it led to a long chugging train of thought about friendship, validation and the strange hell that is Fear of Missing Out (which is a real and diagnosable component of anxiety, particularly in young people).
First of all I gotta say: Taylor Swift is capitalising in a big way on FoMO in my generation, and that pisses me off. I first heard of FoMO when Essena O’Neill deleted thousands of photos off her Instagram account and re-captioned the remaining ones to demonstrate the time and effort (and $$$) that dictated her life as a social media-ite. Many people said she only quit Instagram to increase her popularity (which it certainly has), but I like to believe that she really realised what was happening: she was in a trap and was perpetuating a negative cycle. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has such a strong platform to have her voice heard and has made huge amounts of money at such a young age (she was 16 when she became really popular). But, like all popularity based on looks, it exploited elements of anxiety, particularly Fear of Missing Out. Photos of her at the beach, doing pilates, lounging in the sun, all while wearing amazing clothes and looking like a dream. People of my generation look at those photos and feel slightly devastated, with a thin veneer of aesthetic enjoyment… like reading a women’s magazine. But it’s there, in your hand, every moment of every day, and it’s slowly and painfully shattering.
I am currently twenty-four years old and I am of the last generation that remembers a time before everyone had their own mobile phone. Heck, my family didn’t get reliable internet until I was nearly thirteen, but that’s a different story, involving alpacas, tawny frog-mouth owls, ibis, black swans, and a forest so beautiful it would make you weep.
I remember the first Nokia phones, the ones that were unbreakable with barely any reception, one game (Snake), and that existed as phones and nothing else. I got my first smart phone when I was twenty-one (although I’ve had Facebook since I was seventeen). I joined Instagram about six months ago so I could see my parent’s photos when they were travelling. I signed up for Twitter less than an hour ago purely to validate the fact that I’ve started editing my novel manuscript, which I actually haven’t started because I’ve been writing this blog post.
Why did it take me so long to ‘connect’ with ‘social’ media?
Two reasons: 1) I prefer paper. I have pen pals. They’re wonderful.
2) This is the important one; I’m not very social. In the high school play of life I am cast as the one to be excluded from friend groups. If there’s a group of friends that wants to exclude someone, it’s being done to me. It took me a long time to be ok with this and now I am, and I’m not writing about this for any kind of sympathy or, dare I say it, validation. I’m writing about it because after being excluded for much of primary school, high school and uni I now pre-empt it; I exclude myself before I am excluded. In a previous post I talk about friend groups and how I’ve been through a lot of them, and this is mainly why. Sometimes on bad days I think of certain times when I was excluded and all I wanted was to be wanted. Validation: it’s a poison.
Which brings me back to Taylor Swift and #SquadGoals. When I first read about T-Swizzle’s girlfriendship with Lorde and Lena Dunham I actually got a lump in my throat. I wanted that, so badly. I wanted a group of bad-ass femmes that I could call up and chill with whenever. We’d have in-jokes, a long Facebook/Insta feed of friend activities, shared viewing, reading, eating, laughing habits, and I would finally feel a part of something wonderful. This is classic Fear of Missing Out and I had it bad. There’s other things I can do without, like being super-skinny or having life-defying hair (I don’t have body-image issues, somehow that curse missed me. Thanks Mum!), but awesome friendships with awesome girls having awesome times and sitting around talking about our awesomeness (I’m paraphrasing Janis from Mean Girls here) is something I thought I wanted. Turns out: nope!
Surprisingly, it was the illustrious and ridiculous Lena Dunham herself who helped me get over this FoMO. I read her memoir Not That Kind of Girl (every young person should read this book. It will be equally loved and hated, and that is the point) and realised that taking a twisty path to where you’re going is kind of the point, particularly when you’re a writer. I studied at Cambridge, I’ve been to America, Europe and New Zealand, I’ve survived break-ups, I have a first-class Honours degree and own a bazillion sweet-ass books, I moved across the country to achieve my dream and I haven’t given up. I ride a f***ing motorbike. I have wicked rider and writer friends who I only see occasionally, and that’s how we all like it. I have friends who are glamorous, inter-generational, international, learned, creative, humorous and fascinating. I have a friend who’s a f***ing taxidermist. I have caches of captivating introverts spread all over the world, and that’s how I like it. Ultimately, I don’t need a squad of vanilla glamazons to validate me on “social” media. (Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with vanilla glamazons, I’m just making a social and cultural point here). So I will be suffering from FoMO no more.
And if I ever meet T-Swizzle I will probably fall at her feet under the spell of her power, fame and riches because I’m too culturally conditioned to do otherwise.
But I won’t enjoy it, and I won’t Tweet about it.