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The internet has a lot to answer for

It occurs to me that a feature of the internet and its attendant modern social media phenomenon is that most people over the age of fifty have a difficulty to some degree or another in understanding what on earth is going on and why. I know I do. Furthermore, anyone who claims different is being economical with the truth.

It was towards the end of the 20th Century that I joined a media-connected company as its chairman and not long afterwards sat in on a meeting about the future of its website. By general agreement, including mine, it lacked ‘sparkle’ and the session was graced by a marketing man who patently knew a lot more about these things than the rest of us – which, if you think about it in the round, was a significant plus because we were paying him an obscenely large fee.

As human beings we all like spending time with people we feel comfortable with, and that includes when we’re in the workplace. That is why employees or colleagues who are easy-going and relaxed in social situations – who can come across as open, friendly, charismatic and genuine … and, most particularly, have a photographic memory for names, faces and related personal information – are worth their weight in gold. And not just in the fields of sales and marketing, I’m talking about any discipline at all, because (for example) even in scientific laboratories people-skills do count, they do matter.

Our ‘website marketing’ consultant certainly had the gift of the gab. I’m not saying that he had an Einstein-like facility for coming up with amazingly perceptive ideas or insights – thinking about it afterwards, most of his comments amounted to little more than (admittedly well-thought-out) persuasively-presented common sense and at the end of the day I suppose you could say that this is what we were paying for – but much of it seemed impressive and seemed eminently logical.

His first point was a negative one and it’s funny how often in business situations, especially when you’ve brought someone in to give you ideas as to how to go forward, how effective being hit with a negative comment, or a potentially-telling ‘home truth’, right at the beginning can be.

Firstly, it makes you sit up and take notice. Secondly, having been metaphorically ‘kicked in the teeth’ early on, it inevitably makes you much more susceptible to going along with any later, and positive, recommendations –  as anyone making a pitch well knows.

Our consultant was a master at simultaneously appearing to be dispensing arms-length pearls of wisdom (‘for what’s it’s worth’) as if he cared not whether we accepted or rejected his comments, but also selling himself and his organisation hard as being the perfect prospective partner to provide us with the solution to our problems.

Anyway, back to my story.

websitesOur consultants’ first (and negative) comment was that, of course, when the company I had just joined originally created its website it had done so for all the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. Putting it in simple language, like many corporates before them, those responsible had obviously noticed that the world-wide web existed and that commercial organisations were putting websites up on the internet and decided that they didn’t want to be left behind.

Ergo – a company website.

Wrong move! We had to understand that the internet – and commerce on the internet – worked in a new and different way. By definition, just bunging your company brochure online was a complete waste of time and money. In fact, worse – it might even have a negative PR effect, because static, never-changing, never-updated, websites were a complete turn-off to the average internet user.

In a similar vein, about seven years ago I registered myself as a Twitter user, no doubt seduced in part by reports that the actor/writer/television presenter Stephen Fry had over 1,000,000 followers. I figured that if he could amass such popularity on Twitter, maybe I had also at last found my route to public success and glory.

Sadly, I and Twitter were not a happy marriage. I didn’t ‘follow’ anybody (why would I be interested in what other people were tweeting?) and – perhaps in retaliation – very few followed me.

Thinking about it now, I can see why. Me standing on a railway platform and telling my 17 followers that my train from Victoria was now eight minutes late, or broadcasting the latest score in the football match I was at, scarcely constituted ‘news’ calculated to change the world. About eight months later I duly ‘signed off’ from Twitter, primarily because it was taking up far too much of my precious time and adding nothing at all to my life, this being a decision I have never regretted or even given a second thought since.

Earlier this week I saw this piece by Saira Mueller on the subject of a ‘cuddling’ website (or is it app?) which I read with interest – see here – THE INDEPENDENT

On a personal level, dating websites have never interested me – I just don’t see the point of them and instinctively regard them as potentially dangerous.

No doubt that’s partly because I’m old.

My daughter tells me that I just don’t ‘get it’ – she, in common with many of her friends, met her current boyfriend on a dating website and apparently this is a perfectly normal aspect of modern life.

Apparently we [by which is meant young people still looking for prospective partners] are all so busy and time-pressured these days that ‘meeting’ on the internet (putting up your characteristics and interests, and possibly a picture that [you think] shows you in a half-decent light) – and others doing the same – at least gives everyone the opportunity to ‘look over the goods – sorry potential opposition, new partner or even casual boyfriend’ – before ‘buying’ … and indeed vice versa.

If my readers think that I’m rambling somewhat, they may well be right, but I’m now reaching the purpose of my post.

Which is the strange and annoying fact of life that everyone who is in a relationship – and probably quite a few singletons as well – regard those of us who are not in a relationship as being lonely, sad, definitely missing something from our existence and therefore in need of help.

This was, of course, famously covered in Jane Austen’s famous dictum from Pride and Prejudice that ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune is in want of a wife.’

I say that because earlier this week, by chance, whilst in my local high street I bumped into a lady who in the past had been a good friend but whom in recent times had somewhat fallen off my radar. She had been a colleague at work and married one of my best mates there, who had subsequently died. Now, five years or so later, she was in a new relationship.

We chatted and caught up with each other’s lives. She told me some sad news – another mutual colleague had died recently (at our age, this sort of thing tends to be an occupational hazard) and then mentioned that my name had recently come up in conversation when she’d met up a female that we both knew.

Apparently they’d agreed that they were going to begin a quest to find me ‘a good woman’.

irritatedThe conceit and arrogance of it!

As I said, it’s all based upon the general world view that being in a settled relationship is the only natural state for a human being.

Because – I suppose – most humans have a fear of being lonely. Indeed there was a piece in the media in the past two or three days reporting that that older people who are lonely tend to die sooner because of it.

I’m more than happy to confess that when I’ve been in relationships in the past I’ve been extremely content in them. However – and this is the point – I have also been, in the past as I am now, extremely happy not being in a relationship. I positively enjoy my own company and have a very full life existing ‘on my own’. I’d certainly rather be solo than be with someone I don’t want to be with, or be with someone who makes me unhappy, just because I’m scared of the alternative of being left on my own.

All this leads me to the conclusion that the internet has a lot to answer for.

About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts