Foucault's Daughter


Elly Tams ‘Gets A Life’

Elly Tams

‘Get a life’ is a common put-down, especially online. It is one I have received on a number of occasions. The suggestion is that you are a waster, a loser, and probably sat alone in a darkened room with only the internet for company. I have never liked the connotations of the phrase, or the way it is used maliciously. So I was struck by the tweet above, which succinctly sums up all my misgivings about the ‘get a life’ insult.

One of the problems with ‘get a life’ is it seems to reinforce the notion of digital dualism. As Nathan Jurgenson and colleagues have explained, ‘digital dualism’ is the way in which many people (maybe all of us at some point or other) present ‘online’ existence as a separate sphere from ‘RL’ (real life). So when people say ‘get a life’ they can be making out that those in need of getting a life, are spending too long online, and don’t have much else going on in their lives.  ‘Get a life’ can be part of the set of narratives which constructs trolls, those ugly, sad creatures who have no friends and who get their kicks from ‘abusing’ people on the internet. There is sometimes an inference in people’s comments that ‘trolls’ don’t actually have ‘lives’ at all, like ‘normal’ people do. So you can’t hurt a troll’s feelings, because they don’t have any. And you can’t make a troll’s life difficult or unpleasant by what you say and do to them, because they don’t have one. They need to ‘get a life’ before they can be treated like full human beings.

This kind of terminology bothers me because it makes life, and ‘getting’ life fit very narrow confines. And it seems to give people the opportunity to define what someone else’s life is, and what its value is. But life is valuable for us all. I also object to how ‘Get a life’ demonises people who at some point in their life or other, rely on online connections for most or many of their social interactions. Is that such a bad thing? In the 21st century ‘social media age’? I think not.

I’m particularly aware of the ‘get a life’ brickbat at the moment. I have recently done what we all have to do at certain points in our lives, and I have got my proverbial shit together. After being self-employed for a long time (and for some periods unemployed)  I have now got a ‘proper job’ working as a researcher for a UK university. I also have had a book review published on the blog of an academic journal, Gender and Education (www dot genderandeducation dot com).

And I’ve been  dealing with issues relating to my Mum’s severe degenerative multiple sclerosis, that means she now lives in residential care. Recently which has boosted me a lot, I’ve got back in touch with a few very special longstanding friends, and made some equally special new ones.

But do all these things really mean I have ‘got a life’? Do they secure me as a ‘normal’, functioning, happy member of society?

I don’t see it like that. One reason is I have always struggled somewhat with the role work plays in my life. Without going into too much detail, I think I can sum up a lot of my ambivalence about career and paid work with the Philip Larkin poem, Toads:

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.

In other words, ‘work’ can take over and become the bane of our lives, rather than something that makes us feel good about ourselves and our social status. And even when we get a lot out of work, sometimes the way it adds to or takes away from that social status is still problematic. You know that awful question at parties and social gatherings: ‘What do you do?’ and no answer seems good enough.

Also when I am working, especially full time (which this new job is), I sometimes resent not being able to do all the things I enjoy when I have enough spare time to do them! It is no coincidence that I wrote and published my novella last year, when I didn’t have much Work with a capital W on.

However, 42 years into my so called life, though I may not have discovered the  answer to life, the universe and everything, I think I am able to get work and other aspects of life into perspective. One other thing I have done this year that I consider a very valuable part of  my personal development is taking up tai chi. The martial art is backed up by thousands of years of philosophy, that indicates how life’s meaning and health is not to be found in ambitious pursuit of work and career, but in a much more holistic and ‘mindful’ discipline of mind, body and soul.

Again I turn to someone else who sums this sentiment up far better than I could. As the Flaming Lips put it, ‘all we have is now’.

I will remember that mantra when I am on holiday for two weeks, starting in the next few days. And  I will try and remember it when I am back and looking for ways to get through the working week without getting too strung out.

And, for those of you who are wondering if my ‘getting a life’ involves continuing my internet adventures, of course it does. But even online I will strive to remember that the moment is everything. I’m being here now.


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