When Facebook has started to celebrate my friendships in weird slideshows causing retina seizures, I opened the bottom drawer to grab an old ugly postcard with singing kittens. Maximum noise out of a little loudspeaker, the melody of Happy Birthday, no words, only meows, in a never ending loop until I’d fold it up. When Facebook has started to celebrate my friendship anniversaries, I began to love this acoustically torturing piece of paper, containing a handwritten example of contemporary history. At the same time it was a caesura of becoming old enough to receive lovely meant evidence of being too old to receive rubbish like this anymore. How can social network algorithms ever create a sense of doing something stupid with a deeper meaning? How can we ever feel well and honoured by a website counting and connecting events instead of describing and remember feelings? We don’t get closer to someone by watching their travel pictures. That doesn’t create nearness. We share fantasies of what is there and happening, yet at the same time struggle to seize what is missing or absent.
Stop following updates, trust your back ups!
If someone asked me about the Dark Age of my life in social networks, I’d mention my time abroad working in tourism and entertainment business around the sunny side of Europe. No need to say: I mean the weather and not the economic circumstances of the countries where we hold up our ass cheeks towards blue skies and kiss the feet of short term climate advantages. Blinded by the sun.
One of Germanys greatest satirists, Volker Pispers, once mentioned:
“The (German) tourist doesn’t like misery in the rain. We know about the misery, but collateral rain is unpleasant.”Volker Pispers
My type of work was an undercover cache in this system, a useful program to keep the users occupied and workers employed. A “world” within the world, not parallel but included. And isolated. A cell surrounded by a semi-permeable membrane. Under highest pressure, but lively, propulsive and feeding all psychologic drives with desire while letting them hunger at the same time. Up to 20 hours per day, 15 hours in average, home for sleep or doze in a club, surrounded by a team substituting more than a family could ever be. And a lot of people, guests, peripheral companions, part time mates, local acquaintances.
Honestly, I loved this job so much that I happily decomposed with every minute straight into atmosphere, my body into air and ocean, my mind into creation, my heart into coffee grounds. Muddy, pure pleasure.
The Dark Age
Days off were rare and wasted. Most who were new to the job walked down the street to sit and chat in a little Wifi Café for a whole day in shady rooms with air-condition. Instead of sitting and chatting with each other, they sat next to each other, staring at screens and mostly dangling in e-mails and social networks. Some have posted the only taken picture at the local overcrowded beach and distilled the tears from sweat in short messages home.
I would have done the same in my first season, but this episode of sharing impressions by failing with expressions never really happened. Maybe because I started the job just to get away from everything. I wanted a bed and food and something to do. With the first withdrawal I realized that I got paid additionally. Additionally? Of course, You might think. But in my case I gave a damn on what was burning, including money. In my second season I shut down my Facebook Profile for the first time. A heavy and angry reaction to what I missed. Five birthdays in one week, but not just the congratulations in time. These friends had invited me to parties, I was linked in several groups to explore what kind of surprises we could prepare and in the end they decided to come up with something I should have been the head of business. Didn’t they know I was gone? Didn’t they notice I changed my residence two months ago? I was tired, tense and maybe simply in a bad mood.
But this feeling like a ghost watching the alive going on with their needy tritenesses was sustaining and real. The problem was not the distance and not the time. It was exactly the opposite: The connection and the present. I got to face that. I was included in something people have constructed without substance, attendance, inventory. I imagined a tea party of little princes and princesses filling air into cups and cheering first, then suddenly start crying because the taste is gone. Right in that moment, I dropped into an idea of bringing Dinner for one on stage, with smartphones on the plates of the guests, showing what they did on the last day of their lives. On a screen in the background we’d show selfies from our heavy drinking sessions, whenever butler James has to represent one of the passed. A perfect concept for the farewell show at seasons closing. But for this moment there was nothing really catchy I could write. Every try started with: Didn’t you know… ?
Separated but not broken
Of course they didn’t know. Because they couldn’t know, not really, not comprehensibly, not empathic. In a short moment of true resignation I accepted that no media, no timeline, no picture album and not even a kind of online diary could keep up a relationship that pretends to be close but is divided by distance. I remembered a friend who had left his girlfriend in Tokyo, skyping every night, sleeping next to a running call screen glowing in the darkness like the observation camera of a storage depot for furniture. After having a beer, we often sat in the car and he was mentally split in two about splitting up. He described this feeling of a long distance love like aging double without evolving at all. His daily condition told him: End this. His emotion told him: Invest.
In German we use a word that signifies more a separation than a break up. Or better said: we implicate that two individuals go on living their lives apart from each other – as a matter of course. I never had a feeling to the words and their meanings we use. There was always: You and me and the big deal in the middle that comes to an end, or ideally works very well. When my friend talked about his wish to „separate“, I insisted. They were already separated. This distance was already existing. No doubt about their feelings, love and jealousy, as real as the little window on their desk showing this parallel universe they were draining emotions in. Ironic fact: They broke up when he returned to Tokyo.
Back on the island I took my skateboard and sat down at a lonesome rocky land tongue. I had erased my profile. And now? Nothing. The essence of nothing. Another topic worthy of discussion could be: are nothing and emptiness the same or a matter of attitude? But I didn’t want to let this act happen without a clear result, something to learn, something to change, something to understand. Yes, my social network dark age began. Maybe right in this moment some colleagues felt offended, deleted the friendship itself because they thought they could be a reason. Everyone individually, because not one of them would call one of the others and say: “Oh, Maurice has blocked me, deleted his FB, died, forgot his password, died or whatever. Let’s talk about this. This is strange! What could be the reason? I mean: He should buy the birthday present! Maybe he is pissed…” And so on.
Every single element of this big network would realize and accept my absence. Or could I merely know or imagine what was going on? I knew some guys who entered a room at a house party shouting “I am not on Facebook anymore!“ A positive paradox when your mates are around.
The 5 allies and the No-Revolution-Story
Sitting on the shore I came to a conclusion: My most romantic idea of friendship and relationship is the circumstance that I deeply trust in the presence and independence of someone I call my ally. I had to say farewell to some people that I loved so deeply and sisterly that I didn’t shed a tear at the moment we parted. I knew they were moving on. I admired them in a way that my world lighted up, even when they disappeared beyond the horizon.
I realised that I cried in the moments when I happily remembered. What was the reason for this great spirit of feeling connected? Was it communication, a sum of all worlds we have spoken? No. Here’s an analogy: a group of 5 best friends visits a festival and shortly after entering the fields, they separate without a word of information or mission, like birds who leave a tree in safe directions. After two hours they find each other next to a stage. One brought drinks for the others, one brought interesting food, one found a nice girl for every man, one has stolen backstage passes, one has a great story to tell. Not one worried about the others, no one checked their messages. No one desperately searched his mates, no one got into heavy trouble and no one felt lonely or lost for two hours. And something they all got the same now: the perfect orientation for the festival court.
They fill a map that was never meant to be drawn. A map not only showing the area and quality of terrain, because they know the secrets and hidden quests as well. Because they explored the same world in five different ways of assessment. This is not an instinct, not a kind of collective intelligence. It’s something essentially human: they trusted each other, especially and double the amount in moments of separation. There was a kind of higher aim that they only could reach when going separate paths. Success was not the question. Success was the product of the combination of choices. An act of freedom used for the sake of others. This is my first definition of Alliance.
You could ask: Weren’t they just lucky? What if they couldn’t find each other? Now we’ve come to the second part of the title of this article: Monument. It’s not only that 5 friends know what the others are up to. It’s also about what makes us allied. A common aim or enemy.
Sitting on my rock watching the coastline, I thought about the real enemy of my allied local workmates. The hotel staff for beverage, room service and logistics is usually locally employed, by locally unprivileged contracts of the globally unprivileged countries subordinated to our first world problem: where to spend our free time.
On the Balearic islands one of the world’s biggest Tourism Companies (RIU) has subsidised cars, to replace the donkey carts used by farmers. What started in the early 70s is still continuing to this day, and popular with the younger generation. Being lucky to have a job for more than one season, the first choice is a car. Starting work at 7 in the morning, the rush hour already happens between 4 and 5 pm, because one car transports a whole family to their destinations in different resorts all over the island.
After work the car might be the key to join the night life for a short visit before bed time – if locals would be welcome in the tourist industry… In fact, the clubs don’t let them in. Back at work, the second trap is going to spring. An employment for two years forces the employer to guarantee a permanent contract. It won’t surprise you that 5 out of 7 bar team members got fired in late September. The locals become outsiders of their own society.
Hell, I was sick of it. And it was hard to be friendly to the local bosses. But this is not a story to frustrate you, because my frustration is enough. How could we create a chance to change something within a system? Within a system that won’t be ever willing to start a revolution, just because this system creates the opposite feeling of what is needed for revolting: Convenience. We, the foreign staff, worked unattached to the locals, not even with the same uniform or a same branded flag that shows a bit of a union. What started to unite us was something far away from everyday reality, a bit like a drama series on premium cable. It’s a profound alliance described in three sentences:
Jealous ex-girlfriend kicks off a wing mirror because my teammate lost her nail varnish in a bar tenders’ car. My team collects money to buy a new mirror and provides an official Entertainer ID card for every staff member. Effect: Free entrance in the clubs, lovely new GF (met at the club), everlasting memories of locals and expatriates, German lessons for the hotel staff, Spanish lessons for us and a map that was never meant to be drawn, but showing a place where revolution happens without a riot. And this is my second definition of Alliance.
The Monument List
How can we cherish something that is mainly available when not accessible? I give you a list of things that internet friends can not do or at least not do through a wire:
- Create spontaneous events
- Set a mood lasting for longer than a day
- Cry of laughter, laugh despite sadness
- Paint a wall
- Open a door
- Enjoy the forecast
- Be typical
- Be disgusting for the sake of disgust (Pineapple pizza)
- Be sympathically nasty (porn doesn’t count)
- Inspiration via eye contact
- Rip jeans
- Fall off a tree and be caught
- Break in, ignore fences (ever heard a Virus giggling while climbing a firewall?)
- Steal and share not causing a victim (apple trees don’t count)
- Music next to a bonfire
- Smoke signals as a statement
- Moss on statues
- Hoist a flag that others fear or welcome
- Follow you through a waterfall
- Scratching trees, form statues
- Coding headlines or newspaper articles that only you or Hannibal Lecter can understand
- Giving items a meaning that has nothing to do with their real function
- A wing mirror for brotherhood
- An ID card that provides benefits for the one who doesn’t own it
The quintessence of this list is what I understand as a monument in daily life: not using a plasma screen to create a feeling of being necessarily connected. Instead, we need to find a way of being naturally connected again, apart from coughing into Twitter or Liking what was created only to be liked. Not to shock, not to surprise, not to make someone else feel part of it.
In my dark age of social network, I told crying children leaving the Kids Club always the same thing:
“Go home with your family and do something that is worth to be in newspapers. I have a subscription for every newspaper in this world. Whatever you do: Paint a sheep flock, save some monkeys from being sold into pethood, build a volcano in your garden, run a marathon for local cancer charity, establish a record in fishing the biggest bogy, whatever. Set us a monument and I will read it and celebrate.“
Since my dark age of social network, I started to rely on my alliances in all matters of abilities, aims, devices, desires, fears and and fights. With every gathering we are a monument. With every parting we take it with us. Invisible, incorporeal, independent. Like we are in the internet. But truly and trusty connected. To have friends we can only reach by a donkey cart, who write some lovely stories using our IDs. No matter whose name is used for something good. It is a monument of connection that is higher than two individuals. Distances vanish. And somehow I start to like the interpretation of breaking up that we use in my language, a word sung by kittens in ugly postcards. Dear beloved allied: Farewell and welfare.
Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash.
Maurice, Du hast recht. Man sieht sich!