News in brief

The other day, I was at one of those interminable press gatherings where people make small talk and big mistakes.

I cannot help people-watching at these junkets – but this time I got more than I bargained for, when I flopped down in an armchair right in front of a divider screen, hoping to remain unobserved.

Right behind me, an argument between (as I gathered) a newly-married couple was frothing over. The wife was accusing then husband of continuing with his singlehood habits; he was counter-attacking using words such as old-fashioned, interfering and henpecking.

I was enthralled – and flabbergasted. What had set this off had been the man’s obsession with checking his social sites and e-mail boxes for new correspondence “all the time”. The woman said that he only opened the home letter-box once, so why should an e-box be any different?

He countered that whereas he only received one letter a day at the most, he received “hundreds” of mails a day “most of which were connected with his work”. I was torn between getting up and leaving, (which might have thrown my silhouette on the screen, and embarrassed them) or sinking further down into the armchair, hoping they would not see me when – if – they rejoined the party. I was spared the decision when she flounced off, trailing her shawl and giving Naomi Campbell a run for her money, and he scurried away after her. They did not look back, but they left me wondering how many times this argument had been broached – and why it had erupted at a party.

If the latest research is to be believed, however, it is the man who is “old-fashioned”, and not his new bride.

A Nielsen Study would seem to indicate that the content obsession with checking e-mails “is no longer the primary pastime of the online user”.

The researchers found that on average, 23% of our online time is spent on social networking sites (last year it was 15.8%), and only 8.3% on e-mail (11.5% last year). The rest of the time, I suppose, is spent reading newspapers and magazines online… or playing games when we ought to be killing deadlines.

Some people find certain e-mail systems difficult to navigate; social sites are much more straightforward. And besides, they enable you to “show off” more than you could ever do, even if you send an e-mail copied to the maximum number of addresses at one go. On social sites, even friends-of-friends can see your new hairstyle – or your new boat!

I will be the first one to admit that Yahoo Mail and Gmail fluster me, and that I still have not come to grips with the new, improved (?) Hotmail.

The statistics show that – perhaps inevitably – Facebook dominates the “online” space. This means, perhaps, that we are living in our virtual world more than in our temporal ones.

Most people, told the phrases “Sonny Gibson” and “tumble dryer” might manage to find the correlation between them, and recall that the former was the victim of a fatal accident connected with the latter, “somewhere in Derbyshire”, some time ago.

However, if you ask these persons whether there were any more incidents – one of which was a terrible murder of a toddler, and the other a quirky accident – also involving tumble dryers, they might tend to think you were pulling their leg.

Similarly, if a journalist were to walk along Republic Street and ask whether passers-by know who Ian Huntley is, and why he is in prison, and what happened to him, and what he did as a result, they might elicit a few replies. Some might even come up with the term “Soham Killer”. However, if pedestrians were asked what happened after that, when Huntley’s fellow inmates discovered his request for recompense, they would draw a blank.

Probably, the name Khaled Louled Massoud would not educe recognition, either.

I think there is an explanation for all this. We are getting too complacent – we are mistaking social interaction for social awareness. We are ready to accept being spoon-fed ‘news’ by the media, tailored to fit their agendas, and we never follow up a story unless they do it for us.

Only this morning a woman at the post office (Hamrun) was ranting in full tilt about “the good old days” i.e. ‘when Mintoff gave Children (sic) Allowance to everyone and then the Nationalists decided that the fourth child was a bastard…’

Now of course this is an extreme case of one-track mindedness. Yet it shows amply how people tend to obsess about certain aspects of life, whilst totally ignoring others. It’s like when one is so fixated about having a clinically clean, showroom-quality kitchen that all the cooking takes place on a cooker in the garage.

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