Connecting With Cara & Co
It was when I was running around the kitchen shrieking, with my family looking at me as if I were mad, that it hit me just how much I love social media. Author David Nicholls had just private-messaged me via Facebook to say a personal thank you for my online review of his latest brilliant book, Us.
I’d been a huge fan of Nicholls ever since I’d cried buckets over One Day… “This is like Beckham messaging you to say well done for saving that goal last Saturday,” I said to my perplexed 11-year-old son, “or Cara Delevingne complimenting you on your outfit,” I added, for the benefit of my faintly-embarrassed-for-me teenage daughter.
It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced fangirl glee. After hearing psychologist and TV personality Tanya Byron speak, I tweeted her to say I’d bought her book as a Christmas present for my close friends. “Thanks, my publisher reported a spike in sales,” she deadpanned. I was thrilled. Tanya Byron was bantering with little old me, and didn’t think at all that I was a crazy stalker.
In this age of unadulterated celebrity worship, how intoxicating is the idea that we can reach out to our idols in real time, how seductive the possibility that they might even respond to our post or tweet. No more writing long, heartfelt letters and sending them out to fan clubs in the forlorn hope that months later we might get a reply.
Teenagers have claimed this arena of instant interaction as their own. They have come-of-age alongside their idols, the YouTubers (omnipotent to anyone under 21), who actively ask for feedback every time they post their vlogs.
But it’s not just the illusion of hanging out with celebrities that’s attractive. There’s a great deal of genuine support out there.
Facebook was just a twinkle in a certain Harvard student’s eye when my children were small, but I know I’d have really appreciated the support of Top Tips for Mums, or any of the fantastic groups out there for frazzled parents. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and so for those who bemoan the isolation of modern parenting, take heart that the village of wise, maternal advice still exists – just on a virtual scale. All sorts of posts, from ‘which brand of nappies is best?’ to ‘how do I get my child to eat his greens?’ are met with a rush of genuinely warm, experienced help.
Similarly, I love the way you can find your tribe. My family might not have been impressed with my little exchange with David Nicholls, but when I posted onto my online book forum that he’d been in touch, it had over a hundred likes. When I was recently watching my favourite tv programme on my own, and felt the need to exclaim loudly about the plotline, I was able to share my frustration with the whole nation after searching the name of the programme and adding a hashtag. (This will unleash a voluminous series of posts and is a strangely addictive insight into the minds of people who are like you, but are also really not like you.)
The way I see it, Facebook could be viewed as the present-day equivalent of a genteel Edwardian lady’s diary or scrapbook. The desire to express ourselves within our personal space is timeless. Whereas in the past, I might have gathered together sketches of wild flowers or notes from suitors, now I have a lovingly collated hoard of family photos, Youtube videos of my favourite songs and links to blog posts that are relevant to my interests and hobbies. One minute I can be reading about plastic in the oceans and what Greenpeace want me to do about it – and the next I’m agreeing with my friends that yes, it must be about wine-o’clock.
And it’s not just your off-duty personality-twinned tribes out there. The potential for professional development is enormous.” I can network with journalists I admire by retweeting or commenting, and post on Facebook’s 9-5 suited-and-booted twin, LinkedIn, thereby raising my profile amongst my industry peers. There are groups for hairdressers, for engineers, for teachers or marine biologists. Woe betide you if you’re in the job market and your online profile isn’t up to scratch.
I’m not dismissing the complexities of social media (trolling, the dark web and much more)… but let’s celebrate all its many positives. If you’re being very cynical, you could draw upon the old adage: ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. Luckily, I have only had good experiences online, and by teaching my children to be internet-savvy, rather than internet-naïve, hopefully that will be the case for them too. They may even get a message from David Beckham or Cara Delevingne one day.