What we talk about when we talk about people

We know more about each other than ever before. 

Facebook, twitter and blog posts mean we can keep up with what we’re all thinking with minimal effort. Indeed, we can keep up with what friends of colleagues of acquaintances are thinking with no effort at all. Or strangers, or ‘celebrities’ (or as I shall be referring to them henceforth, ‘people in the public eye’). 

The wealth of information available about us all on the internet is terrifying, and amazing, and wondrous, in equal measure. But what do we do with that information?

As Ashley Judd pointed out in the essay she wrote for the Daily Beast, the ease with which we can compare images of people in the public eye from one moment to the next seem to inspire endless speculation about their health, or if they ‘have had work done’. Maybe, like Ashley Judd, they were affected by very regular flu medication, or, heaven forbid, having a bad day.

A woman in the States (I read in the Metro on the bus the other day) had her bum enhanced to look like Pippa Middleton. She credits her new curves with snagging her new man. Long may it last. (Though I would take bets on it not). 

Brad Jones had to come on against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday as Liverpool’s third choice goalkeeper, and suddenly we (or those of us who watch football), know that his son died of leukemia last November, his girlfriend gave birth last week, and he dedicated the win to his late son.

But why do we need to know any of this? Does it add value to our appreciation of the football game? To Ashley Judd’s acting talent? To a stranger’s bum?

Aren’t there better things we could be talking about?

Like why some random woman feels it necessary to have her bum re-shaped. Or why it would be so calamitous if Ashley Judd put on weight. Or why Victoria Beckham feels the need to be so thin in the first place. Or what kind of pressure sportspeople are under at every game, not just the first competitive call up after the death of a loved one. Or why we take such interest in the lives of strangers and people in the public eye, but don’t notice when a neighbour falls ill, or a colleague is stressed, or a friend’s marriage is in trouble. Or if we do notice, because the answer isn’t on the internet, we just move on. 

Rather, perhaps we need to remember to take much of what is on the internet as filler. And the substance of life is not what other people think about us, or about people in the public eye, but is about how we behave with each other. And that can be wirelessly or in the real world, but the whole story isn’t always obvious from the beginning, or indeed evident from the 140 characters or the paparazzi snapshot, or the snippet in the Metro. 

I guess I’m thinking that just because we have more information at our disposal about each other, it doesn’t mean that is quality information, accurate information, or, most importantly information we should be using to make a judgement. (Like I just did about the woman with the new bum and her paramour). 

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2 thoughts on “What we talk about when we talk about people

  1. Thought-provoking piece, lovely Juliet.

    We certainly know more about each other than ever before, but so little of it is meaningful, so little takes us or the conversation further forward.

    I remember thinking a few years back that we can communicate faster than ever before but that it isn’t any easier to say the things that we really want or need to say to each other.

    I like to think that conversations still need time to develop with some silences along the way.

    One of the things I noticed about Ashley Judd’s excellent article was the tone of some of the things that were said about her. I doubt that many people would say these things to her face. It’s all too easy to hide behind technology. Face to face communication is still unrivaled.

    Sometimes I wonder where the kindness has gone. There’s a book I haven’t read called ‘Am I being Kind’ and although I haven’t read it, I’ve asked myself the question from time to time and found it really useful. Guess that means I’m due a trip to the library…

    Thanks for your post, Juliet. Food for thought. x

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