As we slide sun-burned and ice-creamed into August, I think it’s safe to assume we all just want to switch off from life for a while. But is it really possible to switch off when we carry our phones with us like some kind of external pace-maker? As though we might cease to exist if we do not maintain an online presence. But do we really need to share so much of our lives and what does it mean if external validation is all that keeps us ticking?
Every interaction has an exchange and we have to gauge the value of what we are receiving in return for the cost to us. This is where I am right now with social media and I know I’m not alone. I keep coming across more and more people wondering if social media is actually the benign distraction we once thought it was, or perhaps something a little more insidious.
Facebook never held any allure for me – I failed to see the benefits of curating my life for an audience who really couldn’t give a shit. Twitter, however, slowly became an intrinsic part of my daily life. I have learned so much on Twitter about feminism, gender bias, publishing, writing and (no surprises here) that dogs are the true comedians of the world. I’ve had some right laughs and connected with brilliant people.
I find my mood is increasingly affected by what I see on there – whether it be political propaganda, bad news stories, argumentative and angry people who just want to pick a fight or on the other end of the scale, people being really successful and happy. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground – ordinary people having ordinary ups and downs. It’s all somebody who fears their own irrelevance says something controversial and you find yourself drawn into a pointless discussion from which you gain nothing. In fact you’re losing something really important; your time.
This is my real issue with social media. It has taken away our golden opportunities to be bored. Scrolling is the new navel gazing, except that navel gazing might lead to some kind of interesting insight into the psyche, or make you so bored that you decide to paint the bedroom. But at least you’d be connecting with yourself and your feelings. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction, but it’s starting to feel like social media is stealing our down time and we’re complicit in the crime. I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the cost anymore.
It’s the ‘always on’ aspect that seems to be causing this collective burn out. And why wouldn’t it? We were all hooked under the guise of connecting with people, but is it meaningful connection? We are all providing free content for a platform which uses our shared pics to attract more users. We are all essentially working for Instagram, for free! Like, how many times have you stopped in the middle of a nice walk, meal or holiday trip to take a photo for Insta? If you think it through, you are interrupting your personal, private experience to do something for your social media accounts that will gain likes or follows. You are promoting your page. That is work and you’re not getting paid for it.
And even regardless of remuneration, you are thinking about your free time differently when viewing it through the lens of social media. You wonder, will this look good? Will people be impressed? Because I saw X and Y put up pictures of that place they went to and it looked great. And I want people to think I do interesting things too. So we are all being ensnared by each other with representations of our lives that only offer the merest of glimpses into reality. We all know this on a rational level, but we don’t often stop to think about the thought processes this sparks off and how it affects our everyday lives. I see a photo of someone on a beach on their holidays looking serene and free and I just assume their entire holiday was like that. I don’t see the mundane bits, the bits where everything went wrong or God forbid, the boring bits. The arguments. The seething resentment. So this creates an impossible fantasy of what our lives should be like, but will never be, because it’s not real.
And that’s the crux of it. It’s not real and I don’t think I can be a part of that. Maybe I should become a crusader for authenticity, like the wonderfully hilarious Celeste Barber, who gives a real-life makeover to some truly ridiculous IG posts. But fucking hell, that’s more work, more of my precious time and what do I get out of it? It’s one thing if you are actually promoting something, then social media is a fantastic marketing tool. But if not, then you are simply promoting yourself and your life becomes a commodity. Yep, sounds dystopian to me too.
So I’ve returned to the good old blog – a place where I can really take my time to talk about how I feel about things without having to upload some filtered selfie of me not being me. When I blog, I sit down to write, it’s a choice I make. But scrolling on Twitter and trying to find interesting pics for Instagram is just a mindless addiction and feels, at best, shallow and superficial. At worst, I’m handing my free time over to large corporations who profit from our need to feel seen, to matter. Well, I see you, all of you out there who are just doing your best and trying to find meaning and purpose in this unpredictable world. And my God you matter – more than a silly photo or a witty tweet. You already matter – you don’t need likes to prove that. x
7 thoughts on “Over-Exposed”
Love this Evie and I think you’ve hit on something a lot of people are thinking about. I know quite a few authors who have come away from social media and have stated such on their profiles. They are going back to writing and posting updates on their blogs or in their newsletters. I had a week away at the end of June and it was the best thing ever. My phone went into the safe in the apartment. I didn’t need it. Hubby bought a camera before we went to take photo memories and even with free wi-fi in the apartment I didn’t once miss my phone and surprise, surprise, when I did come home and log onto social media – I hadn’t missed a thing.
Taking the break gave me a lot of time to focus a lot of time to assess and plenty of time to realise just how much you can get done in a day without the constant pressure or need to check Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As someone who grew up in a phone free era, it’s probably easier to break the necessity to be online 24/7, but I do wonder about the younger generation. It’s all they know. We saw it on holidays, girls in their late teens, early 20s, out for dinner and spending the whole time glued to their screens. They were even filming each other at the table to post to Snapchat and Instagram. Even older couple had their phones out. It really was an eye-opener to sit and watch.
I think everyone should experiment with a week away from social media and see the difference it makes.
I’m thinking very strongly of going back to just blogging. My poor blog has been neglected and yet my Facebook gets updated all the time.
Great post, and always a pleasure to read them when they pop up in my inbox. Hope the writing is going well for you too.
Hi Amanda, thanks so much for taking the time to connect! And I really appreciate your kind words 🙂 Yes, it’s definitely a growing sentiment that social media might be losing its gloss for some of us. That was a brilliant idea, putting your phone in the safe! And I completely agree, I worry about the younger generation too, who’ve never known life without a phone. Everything is up for public consumption, all the time. It’s just not natural and who knows what long-term effects it will have on society. I’ve only really been at this since I published my first book six years ago, but it’s gone from something I choose to use a few times a week to the first thing I check in the morning. And I HATE that! It’s funny because blogging takes a lot more work, but somehow takes up less time and less mental space. You write it, you post it, end of. You have more control, I think. And you’re right, I don’t think it matters if you’re updating your timelines every day or not, nobody really notices, you won’t lose any followers and anyway, is it even helping to sell more books? Probably not. Writing more books probably sells more books! (more guilt!!) I’m in the planning stages of something new, so just making notes at the moment. Hope your writing is going well too. x
Such an interesting post and something I’ve thought a lot about over the years. I much prefer Twitter to FB these days probably, because it’s more about my blog than my personal life, and Instagram is just for photos of books for the blog. I know exactly what you mean about it being fake and do love those photos you’ve posted by celestebarber above, she’s brilliant!
Thanks Nicki, probably just having a bit of a rant! Mostly because I’m so annoyed at how demanding social media can feel at times. It’s nice when it’s easy-breezy, you see something interesting and think, ‘I’ll stick that on Insta’ or whatever, but when you feel pressure to keep it up and you can’t really pin-point why you need to … Celeste is hilarious, isn’t she?! I’m glad we’re not in that Insta world, at least most of our stuff is about books so we don’t need to look good doing yoga!!!
Tots agree! I don’t have data on my phone, which means once I’m out, I’m out. I don’t do Insta. I don’t post updates about my day to FB. I get a bit cheesed off if I’m out for drinks or at a movie and one of my friends snaps a pic, posts it to FB and then tags me – I don’t need anyone to know where I am, or who I’m with! I mostly steer clear of Twitter, even though I have come across some great threads, as there’s just too much bickering and negativity. I do use FB to build an audience for my photos and writing, but I find I’m scrolling less and less – it just doesn’t hold my interest anymore. I really would prefer to paint the bedroom! 😀
Oh the biggest mistake I made was downloading those apps onto my phone!! I told myself it was important for my platform (barf!) but it’s just become like smoking (crack cocaine!) – a terrible habit that’s so hard to break. Well, all apps have been removed, apart from email, and notifications switched off (deep breaths!). Ah no, I’m not that bad, but I feel exactly the same as you if friends and family put pics I’m in on FB – it’s such an invasion of privacy. The rare times I am on FB and I see people’s status as being on holiday in THE EXACT LOCATION they’re staying, I’m like, why? Why would you want everyone to know that? It’s really weird how people just don’t value their privacy anymore. It’s like your life is a shop window – again, promoting other businesses for free. We’ve been sold a pup, June!! xx
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