Lost in Translation: are we meant to transcend language?

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What would humanity look like if humans did not use language to communicate? What if we possessed a more advanced, let’s say telepathic way to communicate information through images?

I recently watched  Lost in Translation again, one of my favourite films of all time. For those who have not seen it, Lost In Translation is a delightful journey through Japan’s urban culture and traditional imagery. But what makes the film truly great is the way it uses its spectacular photography to surpass dialogue.  In fact, the whole movie is a demonstration of how awkward,  inadequate and redundant verbal communication is compared to image. The sophistication of the vernacular is demystified and reduced to mere incoherent utterances and comical mishaps . Throughout the film there is a persistent communication fail that leads to the gradual deconstruction-the death- of language.

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Powerful images effortlessly replace words. Communication in Lost in Translation resembles telepathy, or if you prefer, a  soul connection than allows instant knowledge without employing words. The two protagonists do not connect so much with speech (which has the habit of bringing unwanted aspects of their personal lives into their present reality) but rather by surrendering to their surroundings, almost transcending time.

There is somehow the instant knowledge that their surroundings depend on their inner truth. The couple creates their own external reality, whose chaos is a reflexion of their own inner chaos.

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Undoubtedly, communication through image requires a new perception of reality, and a new purpose. Instant access to an image would mean instant access to the purpose and the intention behind it. This requires honesty and truth, both of which are obstructed by the formalities of language. An image is clear. “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

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An image is non linear. By this I mean that it encompasses information that is absorbed in  random order, and in diverse ways. Indeed, we use a different part of our brains to process an image than we do for speech and language. An image doesn’t require a  logical or moral response. Instead we “feel” or even experience the image’s message as a whole, and as a type of encoded hologram. (hologram: greek word holos (whole) and gramma (message).) We can have a psychological, mental or spiritual response instead of a logical response. But in order to achieve this, one would also need to develop a form of telepathy.

Lost in Translation is a great example of communicating through images, and accessing information through visual stimuli instead of a narrated storyline. Hyper-urbanised , futuristic Tokyo is the ideal backdrop, offering a glimpse of what communication will look like once humanity moves past the Age of Reason.

an immigrant’s embarrassing thought

When the day is starting to grow in the far north where i live, things look up immediately. Things that appeared dark, industrial and depressing now are not so bad. At the end of the day Scandinavian living spares you of all the little( and not so little) annoying things that invade your life and disrupt your peace back home. The lack of bugs and insects, general anarchy and loud annoying people in your face all the time: there is a lot to be thankful for when living in a perfectly organised, peaceful community.

At the same time there are things you desperately miss like urban vibe and some healthy chaos, spontaneity, variety, thrill, excitement.

Today while I was on the bus on my way home I had this strange thought that I would like to share with you: This is a great place for someone else. I can imagine that person sitting in my seat by the window,basking in the dim winter light of the growing day, perfectly content to have enjoyed a quiet day,undisturbed thoughts and feelings of security. She looks exactly like me, only she is taller and has a straighter, nicer nose.

For a moment I want to be that content person, more beautiful and less educated. In fact I have the sinful thought that I could swap my two largely useless in Sweden Master degrees for something more superficial. The first Masters in Culture I would swap for a perfectly shaped nose. The second one-the hot one-in International Relations I would swap for more centimeters of height, let’s say 10 centimeters taller.

So I would be left with my Bachelor degree in Communications, a straight nose and a hot bod. Not bad at all. I would be a happy immigrant.

I would be content to show off my skills on a daily basis.

(You might think: “What the hell are you thinking about on the freaking bus?”

…I hear you)

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know

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I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

thinking life as a sitcom

The Cooper Extraction

Life has taken me to very different places. When I was much younger I used to think that moving countries around the world would always be fun, challenging and exciting. I remember someone telling me before my last move “Yet another move, I wonder how you cope!”

At the time I thought the comment was funny. Lately I think I get what it implied. But the truth is that life is journey whether you decide to relocate or not. There are always times coming and going, things forgotten and things imprinted forever in your heart and mind. There is always people you meet, you connect and travel with. A human relationship reaches its climax and then subsides, transforms or fades.

In many ways other people are my personal journey as my life’s “setting” has been ever changing. The people I have met and shared moments with. And the people that have made a deep impression or impact on me, and of whom I think about almost daily even though I never see.

I think now I understand why people get so hooked with sit-coms like the Big Bang theory or Two and a Half Men. (just to mention two of my own favorites). Life happening in the same unchanged snug setting of a Malibu Beach House or in a book swamped PhD student apartment (with a surprisingly pleasant upmarket living room view), creates the most beautiful illusions for the human mind: the security of consistency and purpose. Personal conflicts, challenges and dilemmas all in the end resolve with a shared order in Thai meal and the company of the same gang in that same homely living room. There is nothing that can shake or challenge the existence of that ideal space: It is in fact the center of life itself: it feeds and keeps relationships alive.

“I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like…. It’s like Tiffany’s….” Holly Golightly says in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That vague ideal place that Holly dreams about is where you simply live. It is your aesthetically compatible microworld where life simply happens and you lose the desire to relocate or travel. In a certain way you are that place.

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This ideal permanent space serves as a point of reference. It might be difficult to understand this if you have not relocated a fair number of times. In our little rented furnished apartment in Sweden for example, (where the majority of things are not ours and where we listen to four languages throughout the day) I realized I used Peppa Pig as a point of reference for my daughter: Every morning while she eats her breakfast I put Peppa Pig on (the original British, no funny dubbing). Very often it is the same episodes where I already know all the dialogues. It can be very boring for me. But strangely enough I am rarely happy to change the show. I want it to be one of the things that do not change in her baby life, at least I can guarantee that as long as I am there and as long as an internet connection exists, Peppa Pig will be playing on the tablet in the mornings.

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Life is not a sitcom. But just as we allow our babies to immerse themselves in magic worlds where everyone is happy, loved and cherished (and who it return loves and cherishes everybody else) to delay the hard truths of adulthood, so we as adults need from time to time to allow ourselves some of this fleeting feeling of consistency. Consistent love, joy and magical transformation.

Life is not a sitcom, but it would be nice if it were.

If I don’t see you again before Christmas Merry Christmas everyone and have a magic holiday!

The Swedish dream: Hibernating in Gratitude

my neighborhood: an inspiration for poetry

my neighborhood: an inspiration for writing poetry

I was standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus the other day when it occurred to me how uncomplicated life in Sweden is. No fuss, no quarrel and no stress. Everyone will get on the bus calmly using the front door, and the baby strollers will also follow in an order of priority. Since the bus only has space for three strollers, I will be glad yet another time that there is space for baby and me. And that feeling of little gratitude sums up my experience as a foreigner in Sweden, a feeling that I suspect that other foreigners and immigrants share.

building the mall of Scandinavia, it has taken a few years but neither was Rome built in a day

building the mall of Scandinavia has taken a few years but Rome was not built in a day

It is the little gratitude you feel for getting a seat on the bus. Your little gratitude for living in this quiet and functional apartment, where nobody will try to break in if you don’t double lock the door or even knock your door to complain. Gratitude for getting an allowance from the state for being a parent.(even though you did not get the job). It is that half smile on your face, half relief and half resignation to all that is offered and all that is denied.

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Little Gratitude has the face of a white stingy old lady all dressed up-hat and everything- to go for her grocery shopping. She grants favors with a nonchalant,over-entitled grimace on her face; fuchsia lipstick sloppily applied around her wrinkled mouth.

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Legoland

If the American dream is about mobility and re-invention, the Swedish dream is about staying put, or rather redefining who you are by being molded to fit the one place reserved for you in the Swedish society. It is about little daily gratitudes, “stress free” compromises and staying unchallenged with what is being offered. It is more than anything a Nordic hibernation as you are being lulled to this deep lethargic winter dream.

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dots of red: hope

Whether the deal is worth taking depends on your circumstances, needs and priorities. It can be heaven on earth and it can be your prison. After all there is a lot of joy in small daily pleasures, if little pleasures, security and stillness is what you seek.

If your blood is boiling, however, there is risk that you might explode like an over pumped balloon and splutter your sanitized, dull, perfect surroundings with your deep red audacious guts.

Thoughts on Motherhood

Lately I have spotted on the news various opinion articles written by women who confess having no regrets about deciding to stay childless. They are usually accompanied by numerous congratulatory comments from other women who have felt the pressure to become mothers for years.

I feel like this leap in human evolution has been the elephant in the room for the last decades but finally women are free to speak out the truth behind desires of motherhood. For one thing, motherhood has been regarded as a natural purpose that is manifested for every woman at some point in her life. If it doesn’t, she is seen as a person “with issues”, someone who is lacking an intrinsic part of femininity and womanliness. Women who declare they do not want children are patronizingly being told that they will change their minds when they get older and then it is going to be too late. I too know women who have regretted their decision to stay childfree. Except that they faced this dilemma a good sixty years ago.

One cannot help noticing that in today’s highly competitive world with unstable economies and relationships as well as a plethora of choices and stimulants, staying childless is something that comes naturally to both men and women and not something they have to fight off. Today’s society after all, celebrates the individual and through the social media encourages self centered lifestyles. The things you do about yourself, in short, and your career achievements are the only things you will be really congratulated for, admired or respected. Sadly nobody will ever appreciate you for the years you spend in dirty sweatpants washing bottles and cleaning like a maniac while humming the tune of Peppa Pig.

There are those of course who use children as a way to enhance their own image. These are usually women who have enough money to pay nannies to raise their children while they pursuit their careers and continue their lives as usual. In that case, the “maternity halo” make them look better in society: they make them look less self-centered and less self-absorbed, more giving and more sacrificing. But these women who experience motherhood mainly through the impression they create on others are not the women I would like to talk about.

Instead I speak of the modern woman that has too many things on her plate. Pretending career and family is an easily manageable choice, like for example my parents’ generation did with the full time voluntary help of their hard working housewives mothers and mother-in -laws is no longer an option. The new grandmas are often either still working or newly retired with little patience and little desire to babysit.

I am a mom and I would not change my daughter for the world. She filled my life with hard meaningful work, sleepless nights and despair, strength, courage and truth. She has been my comrade in this physically and emotionally difficult journey and she has rewarded and punished me with hard all consuming absolute love.

I have however only respect for the modern woman who has also made a courageous choice and has proudly declared she wants to stay child free. As a woman and a mom I understand every single why she might want to challenge the hypocritical over-romanticized idea of motherhood as a life purpose or validation of self worth.

After all that’s the kind of pressure I would never want my daughter to face.

A foreign girl in Sweden confesses

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If you are a foreigner living in Sweden you might find a number of things unusual. Of course not all foreigners have the same experience: it depends where you come from and how exposed you were to other cultures prior to moving to Sweden, but also the city and neighborhood you live, your lifestyle etc. In any case, your list is likely to be different from the list of your other foreign friends.

Here are a few highlights that personally will always feel “alien” to me:

Where is everybody? We have been wondering this for the last two years and there is still no helpful explanation. We live in Solna, a relatively quiet area which however has a significant number of residents and it’s also quite popular among the Swedes. It’s early Friday evening for example and there is no city buzz. No pedestrians, no cars, no motorcycles, no noise. You can see every single apartment in the neighborhood illuminated with these small Ikea window lamps (no curtains usually and the blinds are up.) but almost never do you see people moving in the apartment. If we were back home you would see people coming and going, cooking, talking loudly on the phone and generally making their presence known. The only explanation that I have so far come up with and sounds logical (but it is completely bonkers) is that Sweden is like another version of the Truman Show or a poorly designed Matrix: Somebody neglected to place people in all the right places.

No Shoes Indoors. This is not only Swedish of course but in Sweden it is almost illegal to step into a person’s home with your shoes on. Swedes are generally very self-sufficient, they clean their own mess. Furthermore apartments (that to be fair can be very small) are treated like sacred havens of comfort and relaxation as people spend a lot of time indoors. So leave your dirty snow boots at the door.
I have completely embraced this habit and all the foreigners I know have embraced it as well. Bear in mind however that Swedes, socially, like to entertain others at home. Which means that you will be expected to remove your shoes at the door when going to parties. (Every time I remove my shoes at someone’s doorstep on my way to a social occasion I recall that scene from Sex and the City when Carrie is invited to a baby shower and she is asked to remove her Manolos at the door. Horrified, she points to her dress and shoes and gasps: “This is an outfit” )

Poor quality of ethnic food and foreign “chefs”. In Stockholm so far I have had decent ethnic cuisine only downtown. However, a bit further out the center, the food is notoriously bad. You can tell that the person who does the cooking was neither a chef nor took any cooking classes back in his native country. The other day for example I was served a dish that had pieces of chicken, tzatziki, rice, watermelon and avocado all together on the same plate. Another day I asked for a chicken salad and I got a combination of chicken, cheese, lettuce, tomato and strawberries-all in big chunks- in a mixture that frankly was inedible. The remarkable thing is that these businesses always seem to have customers and never go out of business. I can only imagine how short their existence would have been had they tried to sell food in some other countries.

No pizza or food delivery. That’s right. Swedes don’t order in. It is by far a “do it yourself” lifestyle.

All my observations relate to the Swedish society rules and culture. They are neither accidental nor a sign that the Swedish society “does not know any better”. Sweden has chosen this lifestyle that reflects its socialist structure and fits the idiosyncrasies of its people.

In that sense, foreigners that come to live in Sweden are quickly made to adapt or perish. If you are too much into an international lifestyle and crave the diversity and character of global cities, Sweden is not the place for you. Uniqueness and individuality are not celebrated concepts and it is highly recommended to follow the local way of sameness and try not to stand out.

Having said that there are other reasons why foreigners move here and these have to do with the three “S” that Sweden offers: stability, safety, and security. And it is certain that if a foreigner puts his heart into creating a home here, this will happen sooner or later and he/she will enjoy the security this country offers.

If you are a foreigner living in Sweden or Scandinavia and have a “list” of things you are welcome to contact me. I would love to hear what your experience is!

Cultural Talk: There can only be one Hong Kong

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Lately I have been following closely the debate surrounding the Hong Kong Occupy Central movement. Labeled as a struggle against China’s anti-democratic administration by the western media it has gained popular support in the western world as a fight for freedom.

It drew the attention not only of the media but of the international watchdogs, who quickly seized the opportunity to lecture the Chinese about democracy and begin to suggest various democracy monitoring mechanisms. I am not going to quote all the reasons why democracy is one of the most abused words masking western political hypocrisy or why permitting third parties to interfere and stick the democracy-meter in your mouth is a bad, bad idea. As a Greek and national of a country that in the last years has been shaken with tear gassed demonstrations, illegal taxation and vast unpunished political corruption and still this country is democratic, I feel like today’s sense of democracy leaves a lot to be desired.

But in any case the young Hong Kongnese have their cause and what motivates them night after night to take the streets is basically the desire to be free to denounce the alignment with China’s administration and policies. In every relationship, after all, a person has the right to voice their desires and intention and act upon them.

What however remains a question is after a hypothetical “divorce”, what would the new alignment be, since the UK has long now resigned from its former active role . To fully answer this question one must examine the identity of the Hong Kongnese people, who they are and who they identify with most.

To me the Hong Kongnese identity can be compared to that of an adopted child that is taken from its biological mother at a very young age and raised by a another mother. The child’s uniqueness, charisma and beauty is a combination of its upbringing (thanks to the foreign mother) and its natural charisma (thanks to the biological mother.) You cannot isolate either side to describe her. A grown up now, she is trying to get used to her birth mother’s ways and realizes that their newly found co-existence is much harder than she had expected.

Behind Hong Kong’s uniqueness there are some interesting facts . Here are few that culturally underlie the debate about Hong Kong:

Hong Kong was Chinese territory taken by the British
. Described as scattered fishing villages before its occupation by the imperialists, it was Chinese soil built and developed by the British. As a British crown colony needless to say it also did not enjoy democracy at a time where colonialism was still in effect.

Hong Kong was a gateway and entrepot to China before its opening up by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. The special interest the West had in Hong Kong was closely linked to its proximity to China and the trade potential attached to it.

After China’s opening up Shanghai has been gradually replacing Hong Kong’s role as an international port. The dynamics between the relationship of the mainlanders and the Hong Kongnese have rapidly changed. Now it is the mainlanders that are financially ahead and are calling the shots. This has been a huge blow on native Hong Kongers sense of self and pride.

Desired by both “mothers” Hong kong has been also neglected by both. When leaving in 1997, The British failed to supply the Hong Kongnese with full British citizenship as perhaps they ought to have done to support their growing feelings of identity loss. At the same time the Chinese have been gradually trying to rapidly integrate Hong Kong to what it has been interpreted as erosion of identity.

Hong Kong is a small place and China does not pretend to care about Hong Kong’s identity. Neither China was ever obliged to be oversensitive about an ex British colony.

However it should.

Hong Kong is a unique place built from scratch as a hybrid identity city state. It has been the ground for bold urban architectural experimentation: highrises and skyscrapers built on the steep and hilly topography of Hong Kong island, elevated roadways and a record of escalators, as well as sights skillfully integrating nature and hyper urbanism. Hong Kong’s international airport is one of the busiest airports in Asia built on large artificial land that was created by leveling two islands.

Even though the population is in majority ethnic Chinese, it has been home to different nationalities that prospered in different trades. It prides itself on a variety of authentic international cuisine available and high standard English speaking touristic services. It is a truly global city and a jewel to be carefully preserved by the Chinese.

But mostly for all the above it is a true piece of history. It is a reference to the past and a leap to the future. And for the Chinese who have invested millions in creating replica European cities like Venice or Paris, Hong Kong is the real thing. In fact there cannot be a second Hong Kong. But what will keep the flame alive is proudly declaring a Hong Kong identity that deserves to be voiced and preserved.

Hong Kong’s value as a unique historic global city and cultural investment will only increase with time if China allows it. It is loved by millions around the world, Chinese or not. It is a symbol, and just like everything precious there is a duty attached to it to protect and preserve.

The one that got away: advice for broken hearts

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We all have one that got away. Even the most happily married, the most seriously committed. We all have one person that did not succumb to our charms and did not fall in our trap.

There are those who have passionately condemned this person as a troubled commitmentphobe, an asexual loser, a victim of her/his own ignorance and thus have found peace in their own bitter verdict. And there are those who will endlessly wonder on a rainy night what really happened, what really went wrong and burden their minds with whys and what ifs.

If you belong in the second group a word of advice: Don’t waste more energy. It is a fact of life that we all have one that got away, and don’t flatter yourself that you should have been the exception. Yes, you liked that person and yes you felt a special way when you were together. But think of it this way, especially if you are a lady: Love is like an online buy. Imagine for example that you are web browsing on Zalando and while you browse, let’s say shoes, you find that perfect pair of Italian design heels, the perfect color, the best leather. Do you know what really makes it irresistible to buy?

It is not on sale and if it is there is a special warning attached to it that this item will soon sell out. The item oozes adrenaline and desirability. With sweaty trembling fingers you reach for your credit card, even if this item is a bit “out of your league” financially. You follow me so far? Just when you are about to click “buy” you change your mind and decide to wait a bit longer, your finances in mind making you have a bit of a guilty conscience. After having a few rounds around the house pretending to be busy you go back to the computer,credit hard in hand, determined. It’s now or never. In absolute horror you realize that your shoe size is sold out. You cannot believe how it slipped through your fingers just like that. No pair of shoes will ever look that perfect.

But please do realize. Just like shoes, the one that got away’s irresistible charm is his unavailability. It’s the missed opportunity and the non existent scenario. And in case you tell yourself it was you that “pushed the person away”, this is not true either. You don’t need to push a person away for them to want to stay away from you. It is perfectly normal and it happens every day.

All this might sound harsh and unfair but dear friend one thing is for sure: You are a million times better off tonight eating peanut butter off your tv remote, I can promise you that.

And if your hopeless romanticism still doesn’t allow you to find peace in your heart, don’t lose faith. You will always have Paris.

Confessions of a Facebookholic

Facebook-addictions

I vaguely remember these last few months before I opened a Facebook account. It was a particularly cold chinese Winter back in 2007 and I was a language student in Beijing. I did not have a soaring social life and I frequently spent the night in watching a movie or reading a book. These two activities were done always unobstructed, without me having to check on my laptop, a mobile device or an ipad to connect to others. Weirdly enough I never felt lonely too, despite spending most evenings alone in small 27th floor Beijing apartment. Every now and then there was always something to do with someone, who might not have been classified as a “Friend” but neither was there any pressure to become one. However nothing felt wrong.

There were of course established Facebookers around at the time. Usually they were younger girls around 18-20 years old that were too eager hang out with the “right” crowd (whatever that meant for them) and dismiss people who would not impress them in the first three minutes. I was watching them daily checking their Facebook accounts while browsing pictures of themselves posing and partying, and I thought what a waste of time narcissistic habit that was. (And imagine back then “selfies” were not even popular)

Six months later I got a Facebook account.

Seven years later and I feel I might be the last one of my generation that did not realize on time what an addiction Facebook is. Just like alcohol or smoking it depends how well you handle it. But it has not been inviting you to handle it well.

Facebook is a great marketing tool, especially if you are a creative artist, writer or self promoter and want to share work. It also artfully creates excuses through sharing to stay connected with people with whom you would otherwise might not stay in touch. Even if the latter might sound to some more like a curse than a blessing; we do live in times where self promoting and networking are essential for professional survival.

Recently I read this piece written by The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman which I found to be spot on on my own experience. Rothman argues that Facebook and social media in general have become our Kafkaesque “altruistic punishment”: This is how we “punish” ourselves when we are being asked to contribute to the good of the community by posting our life success but we fail to do so. When this happens viewing the posts of others can only make us feel like we are being judged for failing to contribute with a similar if not greater success story: a photo attached to an update on a job promotion, an exciting job offer, an international lifestyle.

In that sense Facebook’s hyperconnectivity does not make us feel better about ourselves. Staying in on a Friday night, for example, can only get worse if you decide to check what your Facebook Friends are doing. They are either connected or not, but both cases are likely to make you feel worse about yourself.

But above all it is the false sense that the virtual space you enter is a real space where people enter to have a common social experience for a defined period of time , like they would do for example if they went together in a pub to get a pint. The only person you really confront when you seek sociability on the web is your own lonely and insecure self.

I am still on Facebook and I am not planning to quit. But I can only imagine how lonely my Beijing winter might have felt if I had spent it on the web, and I am thus grateful for the “naivety” of those older times.