How many of your Facebook Friends are real friends?

I began using Facebook in 2009. If I remember correctly we were on holiday in Scotland with a laptop. Knowing that some of my close family and friends were users I decided to open an account and used it at first as a sort of e-postcard. Originally I had just a few ‘Facebook Friends’: my sister and brother-in-law, my sister-in-law and her husband, my niece and her husband and one or two others.

Then of course Facebook got access to my contacts’ list. Being a hoarder of data I had imported various names and numbers into my address book many coming from my two children’s class parent lists. I’d also started to collect names and email addresses from various members of our church congregation as I took on the role of PCC secretary. So as Facebook grew in popularity and my contacts’ list expanded beyond all recognition, more and more people popped up on my computer screen as someone I should ‘befriend’.

I have no idea why I found myself sending ‘be my Facebook friend’ invitations to at least nine out of ten people that the privacy invasive software suggested but I did. Perhaps I saw it as some sort of trophy to have lots of friends on there. Perhaps I should ask my psychology tutor why she thinks not just me but anyone does it. Perhaps I’ll email her the link to this blog entry and invite a comment!

Now unless you’ve been on Mars for the last month or so you’ll have heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The original concept was, I believe, that a friend challenged you donate to a nominated charity (the US based ALS being the intended beneficiary). If you didn’t donate and only if you didn’t donate you had to tip a full ice bucket over yourself and for some reason video it as proof that you did it (clearly the originators had very untrusting friends!) Many people apparently chose Facebook to promulgate their video with the idea that it raised awareness of the charity.

Since the first videos appeared the whole idea seems to have gone full circle. Firstly you seem to be able to nominate a charity of your choice now and the unfortunate ALS have lost out. Secondly it seems you have to tip a bucket of iced water over your head even if you do donate to charity because all your Facebook friends want a cheap laugh at your expense.

Over the last two weeks my Facebook timeline has been inundated (excuse the pun!) with videos of my ‘friends’ (and their ‘friends’ if they chose to comment on the post) having buckets of ice cold water being tipped over them. I’ve read comments by people saying how funny they have found them but personally I haven’t watched a single clip as I feel it highly unlikely that I’ll find it amusing.

Yesterday when someone posted a comment saying that those of us criticising the craze were in effect being spoilsports, a mutual ‘friend’ criticised something I’d been doing myself on the website. This really made me think. Why am I getting posts on my timeline that I have absolutely no interest in viewing (not just ice bucket nonsense but one or two pictures of cats too!) and some of my Facebook friends apparently have no interest in what I post either? The answer seem somewhat simplistic but true – most of the people I had as friends on Facebook had nothing in common with me and weren’t my friends at all.

As I mentioned earlier, quite a few of the Facebook friends I’d picked up along the way were parents of children in my own children’s class. Why then, I asked myself, do those parents not even acknowledge me in the playground when I collect my son each afternoon? I came to exactly the same conclusion – they weren’t actually my friends!

So what have I done about this? We’ll I’ve had a Facebook friends cull. I’ve unfriended (I’m sure there isn’t such a verb but I can’t think of another way to describe what I’ve done) most of those who have posted videos of themselves having ice tipped over them (that’s quite a few!) I’ve removed from the list (there is another way to describe it) people from church with whom I share absolutely nothing in common and I’ve ‘culled’ the mums who ignore me in the playground.

Now I’m left with close family members, people I share an interest with (mostly cricket and rugby), colleagues and ex-colleagues, old school friends, friends from the past (all of whom I want to stay in touch with) and genuine friends. I feel like I’ve been cleansed!

In fact, I’m seriously considering scaling down my use of Facebook. I’m fed up with it suggesting games for me and things that I might ‘like’. Many of those that I originally joined to share experiences with rarely use it anymore. I don’t think it’s right that you can tag someone at an event or post a photograph of them without their permission. I have this blog and those that really want to read what’s going on in my life can read this (that will be nobody then!)

Guns and Children

Many years ago, before I had children, I spent some time with a family who had two boys. I can’t recall their exact ages now but they were both, if my recollection is correct, very early school age (between 4 and 7).

One of the topics of conversation during my stay centred around the upbringing of children. Now It was a constant source of annoyance to me, at that time in my life, that I found it hard to criticise any parenting decision as I hadn’t myself been faced with the same set of circumstances. If I did ever offer an opinion, the parents concerned almost always dismissed it with the phrase “Wait until you have children of your own – you might think differently then”.

I digress.

On this particular occasion I did voice an opinion, despite the expected riposte, because I felt very strongly that the couple concerned had got it wrong. They had decided to shield their children from all forms of violence. This didn’t just mean avoiding news bulletins and newspapers showing wars, murders and assaults but also included cartoons like Tom and Jerry.

Whilst having more sympathy for their stance on the media, I argued vehemently that when Jerry hit Tom about the head with a frying pan it was ‘slapstick violence’ (my definition) and highly unlikely to turn their two boys into homicidal maniacs. I also felt that an important part of a child’s development was learning right from wrong. I was concerned that if you denied the existence of or shielded someone from wrong-doing you were going to make it harder for them later in life when they found the truth (i.e. that people do die in wars, there are homicidal maniacs and guns do exists).

Now I do have my own children. We have not shielded them from the existence of wars, murders and other wicked human behaviour believing that they should know such things happen but that they are wrong. We have let them watch Tom and Jerry safe in the belief that they won’t hit cats with frying pans or plug their tails into the mains. We would like to think they know the difference between slapstick and violent assault or cruelty to animals.

Now I turn to the other end of the scale and the real reason for writing this blog. In what universe did the parents of a nine-year-old in America think it necessary to give their daughter a lesson in how to fire an Uzi? For those that haven’t read about this, when the weapon was switched from single shot to automatic she lost control of it, presumably due to the recoil, and shot her instructor in the head. He died of his wounds.

How many gun related deaths have to occur in America for them to change their attitude to firearms and consequently their gun laws?

If you live in a country with a gun-carrying culture I can see that familiarity with a gun may actually save your life one day but do you need it at the age of 9? Does anyone, however gun-pissed the country is, need to know how to fire an Uzi? Some Uzis can fire 1,700 rounds per minute although I suspect the weapon used here was the slower 600 per minute. Anyone who has fired a handgun knows the recoil from a single shot can be hard to control but ten in a second!

Sadly I don’t think anything will happen in the USA after today’s incident. From the little I know about it, far too many American politicians are sponsored by the National Rifle Association. On previous occasions I’ve heard the same quote from the NRA – “Guns don’t kill. People do” or words to that effect. They seem to miss the point that if guns aren’t available to homicidal maniacs (or you make them extremely hard to get) then fewer people get killed in the first place.

The poor girl who shot the instructor is now mentally scarred for life but with parents who thought she should have lessons in how to fire an Uzi, you have to wonder what core values she is being brought up with. May the poor man who got shot rest in peace and let’s hope some good comes from his death.

In Praise of a Website

myfitnesspal

I’ve had a weight problem for pretty much all of my life. For some unexplained reason, except when I’ve been exercising in the extreme, my appetite has always ‘won the day’ and I have, on most days, apparently exceeded my daily calorie requirement and consequently put on weight. I’ve been on most of the fad diets (The Atkins, The F-Plan, The Mayo Clinic, Low Carb, Low Fat) but if they worked, and not all of them did, I soon put the weight I’d lost straight back on.

Despite all this experience in trying to reach a weight that I feel comfortable at, I have only learned one thing: If you take in more calories than your body needs, you put on weight!

Over the years I’ve compromised by making the occasional visit to the bathroom or gym scales and if any one morning I exceeded 90 kgs (about 14 stone to those of you who haven’t gone metric!) I’d cut back for a few days until I returned to my arbitrarily set watershed.

Now I know the Body Mass Index (BMI) has been discredited by many but it recommends a value between 20 and 25 for everyone and at 90 kgs I scored 26.8. So it has always irritated me that I was graded as ‘overweight’ based on my limit. By the way, I was equally annoyed by the fact that I would have to get to 83.7 kgs if I ever wanted to make the seemingly unachievable BMI score of 25.

So back in April this year, recognising that many of my trousers were getting a little tight around the middle and having booked a holiday, I ventured onto the bathroom scales to find that I’d risen to 93.8 kgs. That was the highest I’d been for many years and uncomfortably above my self-imposed limit. I’d been keeping fit though, mostly by running, and was regularly running 5k but rather slowly averaging 30 minutes or more.

So having decided that at least the 3.8 kgs had to go, I was keen to count calories (particularly as experience had told me that was the only reliable way to lose weight) and I was recommended to try the website http://www.myfitnesspal.com. For those who haven’t visited this website, it allows you to set goals then recommends a daily calorie intake  for you. Then it assists you day-by-day in comprehensively counting your calories as long as you faithfully input what you eat. Nearly all foods are already in the website’s database but if what you eat isn’t, you can input it yourself for others to use.

The website itself is extremely user friendly and the applications available for tablets and smart phones are easy to use and immediately synchronise with your webpage. There are also links to many fitness tracking applications (I use Endomondo) so you can go out for a run or cycle and see your calorie allowance for the day increase accordingly (something I found a huge incentive to exercise!)

So over 130 days ago I started using My Fitness Pal in earnest and barring a few retirement parties and trips to my in-laws, I’ve been counting calories, principally on their iPad app, ever since. Today is my last day as I go on holiday tomorrow and, as you will see from what follows, I have more than achieved my goal of losing the 3.8 kgs I’d put on.

On the scales this morning I weighed-in at 79.4 kgs – that’s a 15% reduction in my body weight. Based on that my BMI is now 23.7. This morning I ran 5k in 26 minutes 15 seconds the fastest I’ve run that distance in years. I think I can genuinely say that www.myfitnesspal.com has changed my life.

I appreciate using this sort of methodology won’t suit everyone (Weight Watchers seems to work for many) but it has got results for me. If you are thinking of trying to lose some weight I would recommend that you at least give My Fitness Pal a go. What have you got to lose? (Except weight!)