Virtual Family

I don’t have a large extended family. And the family I do have is scattered, fragmented and as generally dysfunctional as most. I don’t think it’s different or special in that way. This weekend my mum was visiting from Devon to celebrate her 60th birthday. I can’t remember how we got onto the subject and maybe it was the passing of such a significant birthday that put her in a reflective mood, but we started talking about ‘the family’ and in particular Cousins.

I have three cousins, all siblings. I was nine when the first was born and in secondary school by the time the third arrived. By then we had also moved away from the Midlands to Devon. Beyond occasional updates from my Nanna, I grew up knowing very little about them. But I don’t feel I suffered because of it. I personally don’t feel there was ever a relationship to be had there. My sister who is closer in age to the oldest cousin may disagree but I’ve never felt I should feel more for my cousins than I did.

Social media can be a blessing and a curse. I’m particularly good (don’t ask me how) at internet research (curse my flitty mind that will jump around a problem rather than focus 😉 ) and talking about la famillia made me curious. What are my cousins doing now? They’re all in their twenties and yeah they’re all on Facebook. Time for a bit of FB stalking! My oldest cousin has changed his surname, which made it harder to find him, but find him I did. It also made me wonder whether he’d actually changed his name or if it was just a FB thing. People do it. Or if he has, why has he? The youngest two are now dancers/performers, which doesn’t really surprise me. It was something they both did religiously as children, so they’re all over the internet, meaning I found out plenty despite their locked FB pages. Then there’s Twitter. The youngest is an avid Tweeter with over 10K tweets. Most of it was normal 21 year old dancer buff, but I also found out some really personal stuff about her life choices.

I started to regret looking. I felt a bit creepy knowing this much about people I only had a passing interest in. Its not even like we were close or played as children. But the youngest looks so much like my sister I couldn’t stop looking in wonder at her pictures. Was she a nice person, was she happy? I surmised that she’s happy she’s in the business she is, but deeply insecure about certain aspects of it. But then this is social media. Can you ever really tell anything about a person and their life from a bunch of tweets?

It also made me think just how much of ourselves we put out there on the internet. Yes we can change our FB setting to Fort Knox level of security, but that means jack if you use Twitter or Instagram or any other myriad of social media thats out there. I rarely use Twitter (just can’t get my head around how negative it can be) but I have other accounts. I write this blog, which is free and open for all the world to see. It’s my choice to write here, and I have to be OK with the audience it could potentially reach. It’s a truth I think we’re all well aware of, but in order to sleep at night we push to the back of our minds. And the saddest thing for me is it’s not the strangers who could be looking at my pages without me knowing that worry me, but those closer to me, like extended family.

I thought about following my cousins on Twitter, or friending them on FB, but I knew I’d just be doing it out of curiosity. And if it bothers me to think they could be looking at my stuff then maybe it’d bother them to know that’d I’d been looking at theirs. Maybe their parents don’t yet know the things I now do. Maybe they don’t want their parents to know. I hope thats not the case. If I can find out this easily, anyone can.

I closed my cousin’s Twitter page and went to check my security settings.

And Google my own name.