Over-Exposed

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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.

BUT …

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.

celeste barber

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This is my fav!

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

 

 

#ScreenSlaves

Are you addicted to Social Media? ¬†Could you give it up for a week? ¬†That was the premise of an interesting documentary I watched recently on TV3 Ireland called Screen Slaves.¬† It’s no surprise that people have become addicted to their online lives – everything is online nowadays, so what’s the problem? ¬†Like many addictions, the problem is usually when you don’t realise you have a problem. ¬†It was only when the participants were asked to delete the social media apps from their phone that the real impact of their online habits ¬†became clear. ¬†They were visibly shaking and anxious; one of them felt physically ill and all of them lamented ‘I’m going to miss everything!’

For the older participants, it was Facebook that kept their eyes glued to their screens, whereas for the younger ‘guinea pig’ it was Snapchat and Instagram. ¬†In fact, she admitted to spending up to eight hours a day on her phone; checking it every 1-2 minutes. ¬†She said her grades were suffering as a result and even her actual social life. ¬†She would find herself going to parties and spending all of her time on her phone – then rushing home to post the photos! ¬†As human beings we are social animals and there is an addictive hit from the instant approval we receive via ‘likes’ or ‘shares’. ¬†Then there is our ‘voyeuristic’ tendancies, that mean we end up watching other peoples’ lives instead of living our own. ¬†So, what exactly are we signing up for here and what are companies such as Facebook getting out of it?

According to Mark Zuckerberg, privacy is no longer a ‘social norm’. ¬†Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg. ¬†So when we sign up to these online communities, we are willingly surrendering not only our privacy, but also our time – our most valuable commodity. ¬†This is our own personal ‘mental time’, in which we think, dream, imagine and create. ¬†Being a writer, time to just do nothing is the most precious thing in the world. ¬†It was clear that this was the biggest challenge for the participants. ¬†When they were suddenly faced with all this extra time on their hands, they didn’t know what to do with themselves and complained of feeling bored. But for me, boredom is the gateway to creativity. ¬†I do some of my best thinking when I’m bored! ¬†And that’s what concerns me for our future generations. ¬†They are constantly switched on, yet constantly distracted, which affects their attention span. ¬†(Note to self – write more short stories!)

Luckily, I was ‘of an age’ when the whole Facebook thing took off, so I was able to step back and make up my own mind about it. ¬†At the time, I was reading a great book by Tom Hodgkinson called ‘How To Be Free‘, a how-to-guide that offered an alternative to our consumer culture. ¬†Tom had a lot to say about the people behind Facebook and why we should think twice about jumping on that particular bandwagon. ¬†You can read his oldie but goodie 2008 article in the Guardian¬†here. ¬†In fact he is responsible for an entire movement, The Idler, reminding people how to find pleasure in the simple things and avoid the rat race. ¬†Check it out on http://www.idler.co.uk.

Facebook’s popularity has grown exponentially since then – with 1.5 billion monthly active users in 2015. ¬†But as the documentary pointed out:¬†‘If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product’. ¬†And it’s not just the advertising or sharing your private information with third parties, it’s the belief that this is the norm now. ¬†Going ‘offline’ seems to be the equivalent of going to a pub with your friends and declaring, “I’ll have a lemonade please”. ¬†Everyone stares in disbelief, tells you to have a real drink and proceed to buy you a pint anyway. ¬†The fact that I don’t have a personal Facebook page does mean that I am a little out of the loop at times, but I think it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I’ve gained. ¬†If there’s something I really need to know about, the information will get to me eventually. ¬†Perhaps even the old-fashioned way like getting a phone call!

Now I have to qualify that with the admission that yes, I do have an author page on Facebook, but thankfully it doesn’t function like a personal page, so I just use it to post links to my blog. ¬† I’m not completely immune to the pull of social media. ¬†I do use Twitter quite a bit and I suppose this blog counts as well, which is why I always recommend disconnecting your WiFi when trying to write a novel! ¬†It is so easy to get sucked in, so it’s no harm to review your social media habits every now and again. ¬†At the outset, I decided not to have any apps on my phone. ¬†The idea of being constantly available and always connected is a bit overwhelming. ¬†I like the fact that when I shut down my laptop, I’m free from the impulse to ‘just check’. ¬†As Tom Hodgkinson says, people who complain that they don’t have enough time, have simply chosen to prioritise something else. ¬† ¬†And that’s the important thing to remember – we have a choice and I think it’s even more important to remind the younger generation of this. ¬†You can either be a screen slave or a screen user.