Paranoia, old pals and Pokemon Go


Last week I said goodbye to one of my best friends in the world. It wasn’t goodbye forever. Don’t panic, no one has died. But Goodbye physically, for probably quite a while. We live on opposite sides of the world and have 5 kids between us. It’s amazing we could even spend a week together, really. But we did, and it was magical. Not fakey, stupid glitter-princess Disney magical. But the real shit. The kind of contentment and coming home feeling you get from spending actual quality time with a true friend.

My friend is one of the cleverest people I know and does not suffer fools. She is frightening, powerful, wickedly funny and capable of extreme good. We talked a bit about our respective struggles with anxiety, workloads, kids, mothers and all that. Maybe unloaded a bit of baggage. We didn’t talk about everything ever, that would have taken another lifetime. But we got through a fair bit and, well. I don’t even know how to talk about how great it felt seeing her every day without just sounding hokey and ridiculous.

Our friendship always felt important. It was one of those where it seemed like we knew something – even many things – that others didn’t (and isn’t that the hallmark of all great love affairs?). As someone who struggles a lot with self-doubt, occasionally tipping over into self-loathing, I think having my friend here helped make me feel important. Like I mattered.

It got me thinking about real connections versus the internet. Then Pokemon Go happened and I feel kind of disturbed by it. I’m not much into video games myself and I’ll readily admit I’m paranoid about these opiate-for-the-masses type things. Hey: don’t sit still and quiet and think of things, don’t have real conversations, don’t make trouble – just play this inane game that will take up All. Your. Time. It would be horrible to be bored or unoccupied for even one moment, right? Or to just walk around the world without being plugged into a super-reality, or music or a portal to your mates’ current statuses? In a time when we’re all gnashing and screaming about gun violence and rape culture, how is anyone not making the connection between that and an augmented reality game where it’s fine to capture and/or battle any random creature you come across on the street? I can only shudder to think how this will escalate once the Grand Theft Auto augmented reality version comes out. Maybe I’m living in the past, but isn’t GTA the one where you can steal cars, bash hookers and waste passers by? As long as they’re the superimposed game characters, not people in real life of course… because no one will ever confuse the two. Ever.

Oh and then there’s the thing I heard that all the photos and videos you take with your phone in PokeGo are sent back to Google / internets HQ. So now they’ve got Google Maps and images and video of inside your house and all your stuff, and a nice little record of your daily routes as you go about your usual business as well. I’ve got friends saying they’ll ban other friends from playing it in their home. But my mate visited me in Zurich recently and played Ingress (basically the same game, but with aliens) almost constantly so I guess our place is already on the servers. Whachagonnado?

It terrifies me though, and makes me sad. I worry that, as a society, we’ve all cashed in our warm, living, breathing life-giving cows for handfuls of magic smartphone beans. Sure the beans might give us access to a fantasy world in the clouds of unimagined wonders. But it’s a dangerous place up there and, ultimately, does it help us live well when we spend all that time out of the real world, listening to magical harps on Spotify and hoping to steal a goose that lays golden Pokeballs?

I just finished an excellent book, Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko.  It was set in and around the eponymous town near Byron Bay on the north east coast of New South Wales. My brother, his wife and their kids live there so I know the area reasonably well. The book was from a modern aboriginal woman’s perspective and I loved the connection to the land, this idea of sitting still – meditating in a way —  to really hear what nature and the universe is telling you. Pretty much the opposite of Pokemon Go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to my smartphone. But I do yearn for a less connected/more connected life. And that Byron Bay hinterland area is so special – last time I was there, I sat by the Brunswick River and cried and cried all over my wonderful sister in law. She helped me feel better, but so did just being there on that sandy, scrubby ground by the water. I’m not aboriginal but, even for me, that feels like a sacred place. And I think that can be found almost everywhere if you pay attention to really observe and absorb – probably not via the medium of a little glowing screen.

Back to spending time with real people and hanging out with old mates visiting Zurich (two so far this summer…) . Spending time with them was wonderful and soul-satisfying in a way I don’t really get from social media. Seeing my friends in the flesh, it’s obvious to me that physically being with someone must light up a bazillion more brain synapses than just talking on Skype, Facebook interactions, letters or emails does. Don’t get me wrong. I totally rate these methods of communication and would be all the more lonely without them. But it’s not the same. It’s. Not. The. Same. Just feeling the breeze on your face, then seeing it touch your friend’s hair… feeling the same air temperature… even subconsciously, this must say “we’re here, we’re experiencing the same things” and that’s so important. Humans’ ability to quickly travel so far from (and back to) their childhood home, friends and family has surely evolved far faster than our lizard brains’ capacity to have relationships with people. I guess that’s why we invented social media in the first place: to somehow bridge that yawning gap.

I feel like I need a grand conclusion to this but I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to preach to anyone. I don’t have any answers. I’m a smartphone-addicted sad old goth who wants to feel connected to my friends and is miffed by Pokemon Go. Tomorrow we welcome another old friend to visit us Zurich. Can’t wait.

Does not compute

Does not compute

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I really hope I’m not writing about mountain-top jacuzzis when the Apocalypse comes.

The revolution will not be televised, but it will make for damn tasty clickbait.

Content, content, content, content, content, discontent, disconnect me… please?


What a headache. What a ‘mare. What a palaver. What a faff


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Reasons to be Cautious…

Me in pre-Facebook days

Since moving here, I’ve joined an online English-Speaking Parents in Switzerland group that hosts some interesting discussions. Most stuff is child-related, obviously, but child-related is life-related after all.

There was a recent thread about posting pictures of your children online, kicked off by someone saying a childless friend had posted pictures of her kids online without permission, which generated much food for thought for me. I have a few different, conflicting issues with posting pics of my kids (and others posting, and posting pics of other’s kids) online. And because I had unexpectedly lots to say on the matter, I decided to turn it into a blog post.

Reasons to be cautious about posting pictures of children online:

1. Consent – the children have no say in it.

2. Safety – there’s a lot of whacky types online. I hate to check into paedo paranoia, but there are some sickos out there. I don’t know what they look for. Shudder to think. So you want to be careful. That said, however, I would also suggest that this falls into the “critical mass” category of safety. Eg: in UK you probably wouldn’t let your kids walk to school cos no one else does and so if the unthinkable were to happen, your one child walking alone would be an obvious target. Here in Switzerland, mostly all kids walk to school and there’s safety in numbers. Pics of kids online has reached critical mass IMO so you’d be unlucky (as opposed to shame on you) if something dodgy happened.

3. Privacy – a bit like consent, we grew up with pretty much just our close friends and family seeing a few select photos of us. How weird will it be for our kids and their friends to go online and see their whole lives documented? However,  I’m a bit torn here because with family and friends across the world, Facebook is an excellent way to share pics and info. However, I do have privacy settings on photos so they’re only seen by people I actually know well, eg: friends I’d invite to my house for cake.

4. Cyber bullying and identify theft are real and do happen. If I was an ID thief I reckon a great source would be all the “Belinda Mary Reynolds born 18.11.2013* mum and bub doing well” announcements!  I have no idea if my fears are valid and maybe I’m too paranoid. This is not just an online issue. When I edited my local NCT magazine in London, I would only put the month but not the actual date for birth announcements. Again, I have no idea if this was warranted, but it seemed better to err on the side of caution. Cyber bullying is more of an issue for tweens and teens where I think the 3. Privacy issues are relevant, plus see 6. Setting an Example, below.

5. Ownership – FB might own the crunched down version of pics on its site but if you hold the original, it’s still yours too, right? Is this a statutory rights thing? I’m not a lawyer… Also there’d be an uproar and lawsuits if people’s pics did start appearing in ads or unsolicited places so I don’t think one should panic. Then again, FB is a free service which means as users we don’t really have much power or any binding contract with the company re: our data, so that’s something to consider. Come to think of it, so is this blog… maybe I should start paying a bit of money to (hopefully) ensure I own some rights to my content here!

6. Setting an example – our kids are going to grow up in a very different world than we did in terms of social media and “connectedness”. I’d like to think that my online behaviour sets a reasonable example for what is appropriate for them to do. Of course, they will end up doing whatever the f&ck they want and/or what their silly friends are doing anyway – for a while… but eventually I’d hope they’d be sensible. I guess it’s a bit like drug taking. I hope they’d talk to me about the consequences and would take my experience (ahem) and advice on board. At least a little bit!

In conclusion, I don’t know what is right. I try to limit the amount of pics I put in the public domain and I have a bunch of privacy settings on my Facebook as I mentioned above. I may be overly cautious but I see this as a better safe than sorry situation. For the record, I should also state that all this is just my opinion. I don’t write this to preach to anyone or suggest you should do what I do. Then again, when I read stories like this one, I wonder if perhaps I am not careful enough! And then there’s this father making arty pics of his naked daughter. Hmm. What do you think?

*a made-up name and date – any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.