Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The internet is playing a trick on us

Lots of us, my generation, are guilty of falling for it. 

We're constantly, unknowingly seduced by numbers (over a thousand followers? Must be a big deal) and faces (the featureless, flattering photos of Instagram) and other people's life events (the party where everyone's having the time of their lives).

And no matter how well we think we're negotiating this life stuff, these little tricks - and deep down we know they're tricks - end up making us feel bad about ourselves anyway.

So a while back I decided to cut down my online life a bit, and make sure I was doing alright without it.

A few weeks before my 30th birthday, I decided that Facebook could be where I got event invitations, or involved in group inbox conversations, or tagged in photos - but I would no longer browse what I had begun to term The Timeline of Doom.

Despite never being a particularly active user, not having it on my phone, and never big on sharing my innermost thoughts, I hadn't realised how much I subconsciously flicked onto the website in between tasks at work throughout the day, and the effect that was having on how I felt about myself.

At first, it felt a bit alien not to be entertained by the constant slew of missives from friends and acquaintances. I felt a bit of a pull towards it, and that surprised me too.

But after a few days, then a week, then a month and more, the habit dropped completely.

Now I manage quite nicely without the constant drip-feed of other people's lives - which almost never made me feel good, but did give me a lot of oh my god, why aren't I doing that - and instead, if you'll excuse my French, began to give a shit about the stuff that actually, you know, matters.

And low and behold - when you're not comparing yourself to others, or locked down to life on a laptop, or updating the world on your every move for a Retweet - it's like...bloody hell, I'm doing alright.

In fact, I'm doing good: I'm working hard, earning enough money to live the way I want to in one of the world's best cities. I can travel and see friends abroad, live in a good houseshare, occasionally date people, occasionally not, have busy weekends and quiet week nights. And all of that is ok. 

Being online a lot can warp your priorities, and change what you think you want. 

It's fine if other people aim for marriage, babies or a house, writing a book, or getting fame and popularity in a corner of the internet - but at the moment, I'm working on a different kind of future: where I work hard and earn money, not "likes", having fun and, well, a pension; because when I'm old and rickety after all the adventures, I'm going to need some cash.

A timely reminder of the digital microcosm we live in now came the other night, when I sat opposite a man I'd just met for the first time - through an app, ironically - laughing, flirting, getting along fine, and seeing a blank look on his face when I mentioned the word "Buzzfeed".

That someone my age had never heard of this huge website that dominated so much of my online feeds seemed odd - but it was also hugely reassuring.

Because most of the websites, numbers, influential people, followers, likes and carefully posed profile pictures are all part of the internet's big trick.

What matters is when you're sat in front of someone, just getting on, having a laugh. Mates, dates, your face, their face, chatting in the real world: knowing that if they like you, that's cool, and if they don't, you'll still be alright. 

And no amount of Instagram filters can help you with that.


Brennig said...

You're right.

I spend a lot of time online because it's directly related to my job. I hardly use FB any more. I use Twitter for a static number of 'friends' (most of whom I have met in RL). I don't Buzzfeed. Or Reddit. I see people who live their lives through the Portal of Doom (that I know FB as).


I don't manage my online time, though. When I'm busy with (a) thing(s), I reduce online activity.

When I'm not busy I allow it to creep up (usually when the weather is pants and I can't go out and ride something).

Or I read a book. I've read two books in the last 24 hours.

And now I'm reading blogs.

Which doesn't count.


Breeza said...

Love this. I find that I'm less angry in general when I'm not online--FB, instagram, etc. I'm trying not to be on my phone as much either. I miss life when we weren't beholden to electronic devices and websites.

Rebecca said...

It's so true that social media can have serious negative impact on our lives. I'm online all the time, and have been since the beginning of teh Internets. And I did notice that, after a lifetime of being a bookworm, I was reading a LOT less.

This didn't bother me overmuch, because one of the reasons I read - both past and present tense - is to lose myself in worlds other than my own. And here was the World Wide Web, opening up the real world to me in real time. I still love that about it. But then...

I recently read, through social media, ironically, that someone was no longer able to lose himself in books because his ability to focus had been demolished by quick flicking through his various social media accounts. And I realized that the same thing had happened to me.

Where we used to be able to lose ourselves completely in stories or longform articles, and not surface until we were done, we now found ourselves stopping at random times, over and over again. Sometimes putting the reading material down for a few moments, thinking of something entirely different, sometimes putting the reading material down to go check social media accounts.

Parents have long been advised not to let their kids spend to much time in front of the television, then not too much time spent on video games. Personally, I've always thought either of those things had to be extreme cases before they became harmful, though I did always try to make sure my kids were reading for pleasure. I still think that video games actually had quite a lot of advantages, particularly over passive watching of anything.

But kids are now starting on social media before they are teenagers, even though some of the companies supposedly have minimum age requirements. If they all reach adulthood with a complete inability to focus for more than several minutes at a time...that just doesn't seem like it can end well.

Exile on Pain Street said...

The sound of one hand clapping. Take these shackles off my feet.


Blog Template by YummyLolly.com - RSS icons by ComingUpForAir