14/07/2014 13:18 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 06:59 BST

How PR Ruined My Life, and Yours Too, Probably


A few days ago, after perusing the Glastonbury album a minor acquaintance had posted on Facebook (gleeful selfies, tented debauchery, cans of red-stripe, face-paint etc.), I switched apps, thumbing the screen of my iPhone so that I could browse some celebrity profile or another ('dressed casually, in jeans and with her shirt unbuttoned, she really could be the girl next door...'), when I felt a twinge of envy, and a tight scream building at the base of my throat.

I resisted the urge to throw my phone at the wall, and switched apps again - Twitter this time, where I read a quotation, apparently by George Orwell, photo-shopped over the image of a butterfly: 'Journalism,' he wrote, 'is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.' A small spark of realisation ignited in my brain, and I sighed a sigh of relief. Orwell was, obviously, correct, and decades after he wrote this truism, public relations - or 'PR' to give its corporate contemporary contraction - has destroyed journalism, and much else besides.

The impulse to spin, to polish the turd, to present our experiences as ceaseless cycles of unparalleled joy, has seeped, like carbon monoxide, silently and undetected, into all aspects of our lives. Everything's a marketing opportunity. Our existence is only a chance to prove how brilliant we are, and to congratulate our mates for their brilliance too. We're becoming like Americans, who, I once read, are so overfed trite representations of positivity that they struggle to identify emotions that aren't happiness.

Remember back in the day, when your friends were people who you saw regularly in depressing venues (pubs, chain restaurants, their drug dealer's council flat in Woolwich), moaned about your problems to, got drunk with and occasionally slagged off to other friends, when conversation was drying up? Now, 'friends' are people you see only for joyful 'photo-ops' (music festivals, weddings, baby-showers), whom you resent, quietly, from the safety of your computer screen, as you scroll through the digital documentation of their lives - relentless positivity which you should, probably, read as desperate and pitiful (who do these happy people think they're fooling, other than themselves?). But, of course, you don't, because PR's effective. That's why sloaney girls with 2:1s from reasonable universities pursue it as career. PR makes you believe the spin. PR is why we buy £7,000 watches, why we cry at our ex-boyfriends holiday snaps on Instagram, why we type 'aww, can't wait to see you babe' on the Facebook walls of our best friends rather than texting them, to tell them how depressed we are.

We know it's all bullshit. We know the girl-next-door movie star is going to free-base methamphetamine, fuck an aging CEO and probably die of a heroin overdose at some point after the interview - but we don't quite believe it. We envy her constructed life and we construct ours in her image.

It's terrible, really. Tragic, in a first world way, that it's become taboo to share our sadness (unless, that is, we're a famous person with a diagnosed mental illness).

On my blue days, when I'm eating cheese and onion crisps, watching the rain fall in glittering sideways lines outside my window and wondering why nobody loves me, it seems as though everyone else is whooping it up in comedy wigs at after-work drinks, or picnicking under an umbrella, their faces in profile, heads thrown back, a half-eaten strawberry, positioned photo-perfectly in their left hands.

I miss the days when I knew nothing about what my friends and acquaintances had been up to, apart from if they'd shagged someone new and it was terrible enough to have borne an anecdote. The culture of relentless PR has morphed me into a green-eyed internet demon, consumed with envy and anxiety, locked into a compulsive facebook-twitter-email cycle of resentment.

The fact is, the more we PR our lives online, the more isolated we become. With every 'Ibiza. Done' status update we move further and further away from meaningful relationships with our families, friends and lovers.

Unlike celebrities, we are not commodities. We are not a product that needs 'positive feedback' from market-research focus groups. The great freedom of not being a commodity is that we get to be miserable and mediocre, bitchy and irritable, mean and occasionally violent, and the only people who care are the people who love us.

Misery, failure, not being groomed and upbeat and on form all the time - that's what gives us balance. It's what makes fleeting moments of joy sacred, special, worth recording. And in this mediatised world, where lifestyle PR reigns supreme, where positivity is the only thing we dare to share, we risk losing the nuances of human experience that make life worth living. I'd urge you to remember, if you have resentful, blue moments too, that existence is, mostly, struggling through what's difficult to bear: anything that suggests otherwise is just PR.

*Image "Young People Outdoor" by graur codrin, from