I have recently been through some big, beautiful, life-changing milestones. It’s been an incredible year. I got married, went on a honeymoon, purchased and moved onto a narrowboat and cut my lovely long locks off to donate to Little Princess Trust. Some of these Big Events I chose to share with my 450 close, personal Facebook friends, others, not as much.
(It’s worth noting that all the people below, had, without doubt, only the best intentions, it’s that our ‘sharing culture’ seems to have developed into somewhat of an obligation.)
The Big Day.
During the wedding, we were, perhaps not unsurprisingly, a little pre-occupied and so didn’t take many photos. However, it didn’t stop people, just hours after the wedding, requesting images of me, the dress, the cake…. We were exhausted and had already shifted into full honeymoon mode, so people had to wait. And boy did it drive them nuts. “Where are the pictures?” “Still haven’t seen any of the bride…” “What about one with the dress..?” We weren’t even in control of who uploaded what, and yet people seemed almost accusatory that we hadn’t given them what they wanted: a window through which they could access the special day too. A lovely sentiment, but slightly aggressively expressed.
Then came the honeymoon and we took LOADS of photos! Hundreds. We wanted to capture every magical minute, and so we did. And, to help manage our storage, we decided to dump some online for safe keeping so we could free up the memory cards. In pinged the next helpful message. We were advised, in no uncertain terms, that a honeymoon was no place to be ‘worried about’ taking and uploading pictures, it was a private time where we should be focussed on each other. (We couldn’t win!) The person that sent us this message missed the fact that this process was one we were enjoying together, posing, spotting photo opportunities, selecting which ones to upload… they had assumed, wrongly, that this was not a fun, bonding, part of our honeymoon. However, after a few firm messages, we stopped. Then, of course, came the comments asking where the pics had gone. The internet assumed the worst. Did you get bored? Had you run out of things to photograph? Did you run out of time? Eventually, upon our return, I ended up uploading every single picture we took, because going through them and selecting the faves had become a big chore, and much less fun with my partner now back at work.
Next, we got our beautiful narrowboat and it was time to celebrate! Except that it wasn’t, we had a huge number of engine and overheating problems. “Where are the pictures?” I had broken down and been stranded on a number of occasions. “Come on, we want to see it!” Several people, some friends, some paid professionals, had had a go at fixing it, we’d got our hopes up and then it had overheated / gone bang again, “When are you going to share a pic?” We, myself in particular, were left feeling deflated, defeated and more than a little distressed. “Let’s see it then!” People had no idea the stress our little floating home was causing, every day I had my head in the engine, getting greasy, slowly soaking in bilge water and tears, willing the engine to listen to my pleas and magically fix itself. I hadn’t shared a status explaining all this, justifying the absence of images. I didn’t have to. For now, I was busy trying to sort it all out, not focussed on documenting the experience. I didn’t have the time, energy, or inclination to show off our new home, yet.
And finally, the big haircut. The event of the year, nay the century, eclipsing all three of the previous milestones. Or at least that’s what your would have thought given the online reaction. I posted a pic of my long locks, waving in the wind, about to be chopped. Then mum and I took loads of photos of the process, the cut, the colour, the plait ready for donation. BUT, we decided on a ‘no Facebook upload’ agreement. BUT WHY?! Where are the pictures? Give us pictures!!! Because this was a fairly dramatic change for me, I’d lost 12 inches and gained five colours, I wanted people to see it in the flesh and get a chance to react in ‘real time’. I didn’t want some family members to see it online before they saw it in person. Apparently this was a selfish decision. The onslaught of comments actually ended up causing a fair bit of stress and anxiety. I’m prone to these things anyway, but the barrage of comments, requests, and demands, for pictures went on and on. When in the olden days we would have satisfied our curiosity with an ‘incidental visit’ to our neighbours (I’m looking at you Rachel Lynde and Mrs Bennet) we now could end up, completely unwittingly, contributing to what feels like the internet equivalent of pitchforks and torches, outraged at being kept from what we see as rightfully ours.
More than one person actually contacted my mum. Did she not like it? Did it go wrong? Is it terrible? With what came across as almost titillated glee, people had concluded that, as I chose not to share images immediately, I must hate the cut and be ashamed. And they wanted their share in the disaster. For why else would I not immediately update my profile with a selfie?
In the end I just chose flat out not to upload a proud shiny selfie of the new ‘do’, it was for me, not for them. I was happy and loved seeing people seeing it for the first time.
Once we choose to share a bit, the assumption is that we are not only happy to expose all the details of our lives, but in some way are obliged to do so. It’s not the fault of the people asking for images. We’re just curious. But give a little, and we expect it all. And, we can end up quite offended if you ‘withhold’ picture updates of significant events. We assume we have a right to access any part of someone’s life, after all, that is what Facebook’s for…
I know, I’m complaining about how intensely my loved ones are showing interest in me. But the anxiety and stress were real. I felt conflicted, like I was betraying people, a little harassed and, in the end, quite indignant that people felt they had a right to so much of my life.
Maybe, we can all think twice before we request evidence of people’s life events, haircuts, and breakfasts. Maybe we can assume that, if they want to, they’ll upload an image when they’re good and ready.