Offbeat 11 March 2016

I used to update this news website. It was a hectic gig, up at five every morning, or just shortly after, all bleary eyed and stumbling for coffee. It usually took about three, with double-spoon coffee and one sugar, to get fully up and running. If you need it badly enough the burn isn’t so bad.
I always started with sports. A sports score is easy enough to understand, and so is the fact that Europe is buying all the good rugby players, and that Blatter was going to drag his thing out. Doping scandals were decent bonuses, because whatever happened to ‘it doesn’t matter if you win or lose’? There are only winners in the big league end of things.
After sports it was the second cup and international news. The second cup gave me the ability to look at the news and know I wasn’t still dreaming some kind of worse nightmare than the ones I really enjoy, the ones which keep me amused with decent monsters and ghosts.
When I stopped doing it, it was the migrant crisis and the almost knowledge that Europe will become some kind of fundamentalist Islamic mish-mash, full of a scary number of discontented people quite ready to commit murder for their beliefs, and sex assaults because they are driven into a frenzy by the sight of hair.
There was also the whole Putin in Syria thing, which looked awful, but then again, if you step outside of the ambit of mainstream news, you will probably get the idea that the Syrian rebels are anything but the wholesome seekers of democracy that they are painted to be, and maybe, just maybe, Putin and Assad need to be heard for a bit.
None of that was quite as awful as the Hollywood glitz, and there was a lot of it. Watching the news unfold, everything combined, gave the impression that someone sneezed while carrying a tub of glitter over a pile of corpses. There, alongside the gore of the massacre du jour, would always be some or other celebrity, glitzing everything up.
I have the sense that balanced reporting involves blood and guts on the one hand, and celebrity status on the other, sort of like a balanced diet consisting of a beer in one hand and a pizza in the other.
The one thing that became very obvious was how celebrities created a form of social gravity around them. In much the same way people stick to the earth because of gravity, people also stick to the stars because of social gravity.
This leads me to the question of why celebrities want to have hundreds of thousands of dedicated fans? And is it possible to know them all?
I’ll use myself as an example. Every now and then someone sends me a friend request on Facebook. My basic checks are if we have mutual friends, if the person can spell, and if there are at least a couple of interesting posts that aren’t recipes.
Yesterday I cam across a request from someone like that. I am not sure why, but on a hunch I went and checked her friends. There were thousands. That lead me to the question of how I might ever interact with that person? What would be the point of ‘friend’ status?
Obviously someone who needs to collect friends in those numbers has some kind of issue behind the urge, and I felt a bit bad about deleting her, probably contributing to her sense of inferiority.
But I also remembered someone deleting me who had only about 23 friends. Maybe that person felt I was too much.
As I deleted the friend collector I remembered a scientist called Dunbar who worked out that the most friends it is possible to keep track of is 150, and I didn’t feel so bad. I keep my Facebook friends below 150, and dearly hope that they won’t all show up at the same time for tea. I don’t have that many tea bags, even if I do want to keep track of as many of them as possible.
One of the stories that I do remember from those early mornings is that Facebook has reduced the degrees of separation between people from 6 to to 3.5. People who collect friends in their thousands are most likely responsible.
Tomorrow I will wake up happier. I will have less friends, less coffee and no news.

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