THE BLOG

In Defence of the Screen-Fixated

15/10/2015 17:45 BST | Updated 15/10/2016 10:12 BST

With the perennial consistency of inaccurate 'Happy Back to the Future Day' smatterings across my newsfeed, comes one of these:

This might not be its first airing, but it has recently made a mild-mannered dent in my otherwise smug-free Facebook viewing/reading, and it is certainly not the first of its ilk. I am not saying for one minute that Mr P Ea and my friends who have shared it don't have the best of intentions, or indeed a valid point. However, it does elicit in me a certain, 'oh, do fuck off' knee-jerk reaction.

Hardly a divisive issue, I grant you, but the loudest voices tend to be heard - as is often the case - from the extremes. On one hand you have the 'Log Off brigade', mainly made up of R'n'B artists/poets, who seem - if accompanying videos are to be held up as evidence - to spend their time at cocktail parties, playing guitars on beaches, walking in picturesque woodlands, or, I dunno, hang-gliding... probably. And on the other hand you have the 'Stay Online brigade', whose collective silence is deafened only by the tippy-tapping of keyboards.

Those who do feel the need to vocally defend their excessive use of social media tend to cite such reasons as: disability, remoteness, shyness, something about cats. Not that anyone should be bullied enough to feel the need to justify what they do in their free time, in my opinion.

But in my experience, social media has done nothing but enhance my life.

I am fortunate enough to have 'real life' friends, from when I was growing up ('Village Friends'), school friends, university friends, college friends, work friends, friends of friends and now, since emigrating, Swedish friends. But thrown into that heady mix are online friends, online friends who have become 'real life' friends and 'real life' friends who are now just online friends. Stick all that in your smug pipe and smoke it!

And are conversations with my online chums confined to niche subjects such as bizarre sexual preferences, fantasy comics, hentai porn and.... cats? No, not at all, or rather certainly not as often as those subjects arise in regular 'offline' conversations, anyway.

I have been excessively using social media ever since a Friendster invite came clattering onto my cyber doormat, but there is no doubt that my usage spiked alarmingly when I was incapacitated by broken bones and failing vital organs - a period which carved a hefty swathe through my thirties.

During that time I formed a close-knit cabal of pals. Jayne is one of them. She was then a journalist in Scotland. When a 'real life' reporter friend of mine had to relocate from the south of England to Aberdeen due to his partner's academic career, I asked Jayne if she knew of any work. She did, and my friend got a job on a news desk in a place where he had no other contacts.

As it happened, Jayne relocated to London, she found a centrally-located house, thanks to an online friend of mine.

There is Nick, he fancied a change of career and wanted to move into photography. He asked me if I knew anyone who could give him some advice and a leg-up. I put him into contact with a press photographer friend of mine, and the advice and leg-up were given. Through more than that initial contact for sure, Nick is now a photographer.

That same Nick had a friend who worked at a prestigious London literary agency at a time I was looking to pitch a book idea. Juliet went above and beyond the call of duty as a 'real life friend of a cyber friend' with reams of advice and contacts.

The list of friendships forged from this time does not go and on, but it does go on. Spanning continents, from Russia to America, fully-functioning adults with spouses, children, jobs, lives and, what sets them apart, time to be there for someone they had never met.

A chance comment on a random blog sparked a conversation with a Swedish woman. Four years later we got married.

Having relocated, and now suitably recovered enough from my illness to consider work, I wrote my location and field of industry into LinkedIn. 'Malmö media' led me to meet an Irish expat journalist called Patrick. Together we battled, both jointly and alone, to prise our way into Swedish employment. Two years later he had beaten me to it, but a recommendation from him led me to find a perfectly suited job. Through Patrick I was introduced to a new social circle, one of my closest friends has come of that introduction.

So Prince Ea et al., don't assume that just because we are glued to screens that we are shallow, self-obsessed egotists pulling duck faces to Snapchat to our equally vacuous cyber friends. Many of us are glued to those screens to cement the bonds which blur the on/offline divide.

Telling me not to log on? Oh, do fuck off.