I’ve got a million thoughts in my head as I’m walking to the cafe this morning. I have 4 or 5 dialogues across social media going on. I’m working out how to use my realestate agency’s maintenance app to describe plumbing issues I don’t have the vocabulary for and I’ve been reading forums to try and work out if the issue needs a plumber or me turning the tap clockwise. Which way is it again?
I get to the cafe, order and sit down. This is my morning ritual, to go get breakfast after having some medication with awful side effects and then quietly enjoying my tea and toast as I put my phone away. The cafe is busy, and then we segue three ways. The first time, it’s an elderly gentleman from somewhere more exotic than Radelaide and he wants to sit down. The cafe is busy and with no tables free, I smile weakly and offer him some of the table when asked. He wants to sit right beside me, close, and I find that uncomfortable, my first nope red flag. I definitely don’t want him in my personal space. I suggest he sits the other side and then he starts trying to engage me in conversation and interrupting my meal to the point where I want to move – I see another table is free. I have to move the entire tea set and myself and get dirty looks from my unwanted companion.
I thought we were just sharing a table and I used enough soft no indications before noping across the cafe to indicate that I was not wanting contact. I am perturbed as I drink my drink, because hot tea is required while I try to silence my thoughts and I find I automatically pull out my phone. Why doesn’t life have a do not disturb function?
The second and third time at the cafe are identical- two older women come in alone. I’m alone too. I quietly go about my ritual of my three cups of a pot of tea- too milky and sweet for some but it’s just what I need on a stomach full of prescribed sanity. The morning medication hasn’t kicked in yet despite my breakfast veering into lunch territory because I slept late again- the new drug for my fibromyalgia is making me very drowsy at night when I take it and it rolls heavily into the burden of waking after slow release antipsychotics. In the morning they take a few hours to clear my head so I sleep late and then start fretting for the day and go to breakfast where I’m one with the caffeine. Jittery and unsettled despite trying to find peace of mind with my phone in my bag. In easy reach.
The women aren’t getting much attention as the cafe owner is busy though he tries to be personable with every customer (what a good public face game he has cultivated as the caring local cafe owner of Glenelg) and they seem to need the human contact ordering something meagre at a cafe brings. They make some remark to no one in particular and I find myself replying to the hanging remark inadvertently. This empty space where the comment hovers precariously is almost where these women seem to be socially. It’s meagre words.
I’m also a single woman dining alone and I reach across the space and make small talk even though I’m an introvert today. The strangest bit of the encounters for me though, is the end, where the women thank me for actually talking to them. It wasn’t that hard to step across and make a place for her in my day. I hope someone will do it for me when I’m older and then remember the SBS post I made on social media about saying hello (that I forgot to read). I try to post about mental health yet sometimes I get distracted…
It’s another day and ruminating over my tea, I think about the first encounter with Mr Not-My-Surgeon and what was my discomfort with the first man. Initially I thought he was my surgeon for my upcoming brain transplant and was only there to pick something up as it’s close to his surgery (which I can see from my flat if we are creepy and all Rear Window) then I worry that if it is my surgeon to be, that I’ve jeopardised my chances of getting all the help I can within my price range. I call my mother and fret because the truth is, I find faces hard to remember.
I find it extremely hard outside my cultural group though it isn’t kosher to admit that in the humanities and I spent a good ten minutes comparing the nosy man to the photon of the surgeon. I think they are different in the ears and my mother assures me that the surgeon would have ethical boundaries and if he had sat down, it wouldn’t have been beside me. I realise that he is intruding on my time away from being constantly accessible online and disconnecting so I can mindfully eat my breakfast.
Breakfast. It’s my space away from social media: it’s called privacy and a lesson I learned from a stark genius that it’s alright to be accountable in your public face but your privacy is a space to guard. Yet with face to face contact there is no block feature or a mute button…The second and third encounters in my musing make me realise there’s a generational gap into the idea of social spaces we occupy and how people who have spent a lot of time online socially seem to (not unreasonably) want to disconnect after the furious dance of eyes and fingers duelling, waltzing across the touch screen with 23 tabs open in the browser and 3 different apps to manage banking, bills and how you’ll get the tram to Victoria Square in time for poetry in the pub and the featured poet is Calamity, who is he again? Checks Facebook. We are friends, when did this happen again?
Over my tea, I think I’ve sent enough social cues I don’t want to engage every morning and that’s why the first encounter unsettled me. The man was demanding my attention, acting entitled to my personal space quite literally when he wanted to sit close to me, maybe share my tea?! I read about an SMS sent by some of Yes marriage equality campaigners and how many people feel it’s a violation of their personal space. I understand this sensation my space has been violated in a way I can’t articulate, despite the sharpest mind I know telling people that it’s just an SMS that took a few seconds to read and delete it.
Pragmatic me knows she’s absolutely right but another part of me recognises that social media – texts, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and messenger apps just to pose a few for my definition of what it is to occupy e-space – has become an extension of their actual self identifying space in reality (or meatspace!) And when I think about how I rely on my phone probably too much but it has become an extension I use to enable my dis/Abilities. I’m so invested in my technological microcosm, that my e-space occupation is an unavoidable consequence of communicating mostly by social media, I understand why we can’t articulate that sense of being violated because the definition of contact has changed.
It’s why I was bothered by my *gentleman friend* because he couldn’t read my body language. It’s a cultural shift in symbols like headphones but no music or a news paper to peruse. And because we spend so much time connected, we want to disconnect and don’t give this desire for peace of mind it’s own physical embodiment.
Sadly this doesn’t go well when people occupying small parts of society want to connect. In another Clara-needs-more-therapy story that probably should be in Thought Catalogue: last year, I was cyber stalked by another student wanting me to do her work. A lot of her work. I reported it, I was told I responded appropriately but if she was told to back off, it was confidential so it felt like she’d gotten away something at my expense. I just couldn’t put my finger on it exactly it my body reacted as if she was an imminent threat.
The problem was that she creeped out of e-space in my mind and creeped into my meatspace & started to set off ptsd reactions despite there being no physical danger. And this is how I imagine a ‘vote yes text’ feels to someone very caught up without the sensible divide between ‘online’ you using social media and meatspace you that occupies a distinct physical and social space. Reality isn’t the lens you are looking through when you react like that to a veiled threat, you aren’t responding with a considered approach. Instead there are overwhelming feelings that create a cognitive dissonance so reality and your reaction aren’t congruent.
The text probably felt like some stranger had walked into your bedroom and sat on your bed and started preaching the Yes campaign. I once had two old women come into my house when I first was living alone and forgot to lock the door; I remember then making themselves at home while I was in a daze and I still doubt the memory but it was a real event and they were there in my house and I don’t know why. I honestly don’t remember inviting them in but I definitely remember asking them to leave. I suppose unsolicited texts leave you with the same vague anxiety, but thing about anxiety is that it’s not logical or rational. My cyber stalker elicited the same hypervigilance and anxiety as her physical presence would have if she’d shown up in my home.
I was asked to work with the cyber stalker on an assignment and with her persistent demands on me, I couldn’t do the group work and so she sought to punish me when I wouldn’t hand over my material I’d gathered for my own essay. The lecturer insisted on my participation in the group work (despite her asking me to do her work for her) as it was a vital part of his teaching pedagogy; despite him being advised to let me present alone as an accomodation. Later when discussing my participation (or non), he called me arrogant when I was confident in my abilities (after 15 years of university I bloody better well be) when a male student trying to occupy the space I’m taking would not have been criticised. The equal opportunity officer was the one to write my fee remission and retrospective withdrawal letter so I definitely had a case. I told The cyberstalker never to contact me again and unfortunately I probably won’t be able to take that class again. I don’t fit into the teaching space.
So people reacting to the Yes vote text are stressed out and instead of responding to it like Yes literature in the mail, as their sane reaction to simply throwing it out, the SMS has become a spectre and the objection is that the Yes campaign felt entitled to invade their social space. If this had been the No for marriage equality campaign, it would have been a scandal and no voters would be further demonised. What ever way you choose to vote, you should feel that you have privacy and dignity over your choice. The Yes vote SMS violated that autonomy we expect in an individualistic society and this is why reasonable people are reacting unreasonably. They are worried by the access to their e-space identity in a way that they can’t control and fear nefarious purposes or exploitation. Some of this is about fear, some of it is about saving face, with yourself for having an illogical visceral reaction to an unwanted text message. I get that anxiety when I get phone calls from blocked or unidentifiable numbers.
We live in a world of privacy settings, networking, trigger and content warnings. Our social space has neat labels and functions defined with a purpose or commonality, we create perfect bubbles and cultivate our echo chambers, we get comfortable and share how lonely we are waiting for Cthulhu. Meatspace however and living in society are dissonant and is not congruent with e-spaces. It doesn’t have privacy settings that translate into a unanimous culturally recognised language because we live in the era of multitasking (badly) and read a paper and chat, do 5 things on the phone at once, talk on the phone in the toilet. So I guess we react mentally to that perception of a vague threat to the extended self in the virtual reality of social media and people we haven’t granted access to our self. To friend has become an adverb as well as an adjectives showing how we control and grant access to ourself – friend and it’s opposite. So when people try to reach across the social divide (like the Yes vote encouraging people speak beyond their bubble as the unfortunate text demonstrates a poor attempt at) and/or invade our autonomy, we will react as if attacked because the other, unknown, hasn’t been or become labeled a friendly.