Constance Anderson gives up her boring job to become a screenwriter. Unfortunately Constance is like me. She is easily distracted, especially by social media. At times I felt that the author may have been sitting in the corner of the room I call my office, observing me while I work, or rather while I’m supposed to be working but I’m not. However, I digress.
Jennifer Roberts is a self-obsessed spoilt brat of a Hollywood actress. Through a minor mix up on Twitter she ends up telling a lie about her knowledge of the work of the previously unknown Constance, which sets the social media networks abuzz with chatter. From there the situation spirals out of control for both Constance and Jennifer and they end up reacting to events rather than driving them. Effectively they each lose control of their lives and suffer the consequences of that.
The book is told through the eyes of several characters, some of them likeable but others not. At times I found myself unsympathetic towards Constance while at others I liked her. She comes across as terribly naïve, but I then asked myself if I would have been more in control if I had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime and I guess the answer would be ‘no’. I never felt any sympathy towards Jennifer, but I don’t suppose I was meant to. Involved in their relationship are friends, boyfriends, relatives, employees and opportunists who all want their slice of the fame and fortune that they imagine is being created.
There are some telling passages relating to internet trolls and cyber-bullies. I don’t know if the author had it in mind to make this a morality tale, but there are strong messages about the dark side of social media to which I paid particular attention. I started to wonder if I was guilty of any of the things the author describes, or if my own forthcoming fame (joke) as an author (not a joke) would result in me being treated the same way.
You may be wondering why I only awarded a four star rating for a book I obviously enjoyed reading, and it comes down to the ending. While the various plots and sub plots are all brought to a close, it seems a bit rushed. Fiction editors talk a lot about the difference between ‘tell’ and ‘show’ in a story. To put this into context, imagine that you have been on holiday. When you get back you can tell your friends how much fun you had, or you can show them the photos of you having fun. So it was with this story. The author told me how it all ended rather than showing me.
The book is written in an easy, user friendly style which paints the picture without getting too preachy. There is plenty of humour, but also some pathos. This would make ideal holiday reading, especially if your hotel doesn’t have free WiFi so you can’t keep up to date with Facebook and Twitter (or Instagram or any of those others). By the end you may see social media in a different light. I certainly did.
For many of us the internet is as much a part of our lives as getting up in the morning. The fact that you are reading my ramblings now is evidence of this. Previously you would have had to break into my house and read my diary, or buy me a drink in a pub. However, this is a grave risk to our security and many people don’t pay this aspect of their internet use much attention.
Now, I’m sure that my reader is well aware of the need to keep usernames and passwords secret and not to reveal bank or credit card details unless absolutely sure that the site is genuine. But that is only a part of the story. A post on Facebook or Twitter could be an invitation for thieves to come and burgle your home.
To demonstrate, I’ll tell you the story of a relative of mine, one that should definitely know better, who recently went on holiday. Photos and news from abroad were duly posted on Facebook, so anyone with access to the right page(s) would know exactly where they were. With this blog in mind I wondered how easy it would be to find out where this relative lived. I know where they live, of course, but that isn’t the point. What if I just did a search of the internet. Could I, as a stranger, find out where they lived?
The short answer is yes. It took me less than five minutes and I had both an address and a landline telephone number. If I were a burglar then a quick visit to make sure that there were no house-sitters or other occupants, then maybe come back later and get over the back fence and into the house through whatever window I fancied. They wouldn’t even know it had happened until they returned from holiday.
Now, I’m sure that every one of my relative’s Facebook friends are as honest as the day is long. But that isn’t the point. Facebook posts are often shared and there is a real risk of someone who is less than honest seeing posts they were never intended to see. I often see photos that have been ‘shared’ inadvertently, or which were originally posted by people I haven’t heard of but who are connected to me by a mutual friend.
Nowadays smartphones are even more helpful to criminals by posting nice maps of exactly where you are, on your Facebook page. So even if you aren’t on holiday it becomes easy to work out how long it would take for you to get home. As any police officer can tell you, it takes only a few minutes to commit a burglary. Of course if your kids have phones with that feature then it’s not just Mum and Dad that knows where to find them. Do you know who all their Facebook “friends” are?
The other day I was included, somehow, in a Facebook discussion about a forthcoming house sale. A friend was on holiday (pics posted on Facebook so we all know his house is empty) and someone back home was looking after his interests while he was away and used Facebook to communicate about a recent viewing of my friend’s house.
Again, I won’t mention any names but I think you are robbing yourself at £192 and a half. The post even named the firm of estate agents that is dealing with the sale. So it would be easy enough to arrange a viewing and use it to do a recce of the property with a view to returning at night with my bag marked ‘swag’.
Facebook was about the most inappropriate place possible for such an exchange and clearly no thought had been given to who might see the posts - even prospective buyers who now know exactly how low they can bid! Why wasn’t e-mail used? Or even the direct messaging facility on Facebook?
While the police will always tell you that the chances of becoming a victim of crime are quite low, there’s no need for us to give the crooks a helping hand in this way.
The real puzzle is the gullibility of the Facebook users that shared this. It even appeared in some daily papers, who also hadn’t spotted the glaring flaw. Chinese children speak Chinese and numbers in Chinese don’t appear as we write them, so this puzzle won’t work for them. I don’t know at what age Chinese children start to learn English and western numbering systems, but it is unlikely to be at the entrance age for an elementary school. Why is no one asking the obvious question? Because we’re all too busy congratulating ourselves on the fact that we solved the puzzle. The act of sharing the puzzle is actually an act of boasting about how clever we are.
The puzzle is genuine and was created by someone called David Bodycombe, based on a car park he visited in Portugal 20 years ago. David Bodycombe has been a consultant on a number of TV series, including Crystal Maze, Krypton Factor and Only Connect. If you haven’t solved the puzzle yet there are no mathematical skills required, just invert the picture.