One of the things I am trying to use moving house for is to facilitate is healthier habits. A change of scene, I hope, will break me of some of my worse sins, and allow me to start afresh on creating a more balanced lifestyle. One of these bad habits was an excess of social media – and so I recently decided to quit it on the sly.
Obviously, given that you are likely reading this via a link on Twitter or Facebook, you can tell I haven’t gone cold turkey. I haven’t deleted any profiles, deactivated my accounts. But I have massively reduced the time I spend on social media – and, cliched as it might sound, I do feel better for it.
Now, my social media experience has, overall, been a positive one. Other than a few mansplainers and Trumpbots, I have rarely been harassed: most of my negative experiences online have been in the comments of articles I have written (thank you, Avengers fan who wanted to ‘hulk smash my ovaries’, and the Sherlock lovers who told me I should die for daring to suggest Elementary might just be a more diverse and inclusive show.) I wasn’t driven away by haters or Nazis. I just… decided I’d had enough.
I’m not sure how it got to be an issue for me. I suspect, like many people, the treble whammy of 2016’s celebrity deathorama, Brexit and Trump made Twitter a slow-mo car crash it was impossible to look away from. Trump’s presidency has meant that the news cycle hasn’t so much condensed as collapsed, with new craziness spewing out on an almost minute-by-minute basis. The accompanying rise of the Far Right / MRA and an assortment of unchecked nasties has made Twitter a far less pleasant place to be. And, well-meaning and important as the resistance is, that, too, has affected the online sphere.
#MeToo, Kavanagh, the Irish rape trial, #Ibelieveher – this has turned my Twitter feed into an endless screed of sexual violence relived, as women are forced to excavate their own trauma time after time simply to convince men of the reality of the world. The rising tide of post-Brexit racism has stirred important and necessary conversations, many of which are being articulated online – but here, too, the emphasis is always on the victims to prove their case. Classism is being dissected in the arts, and important steps being made. Something as seemingly random as the plastic straw ‘ban’ has sparked vital discussions around ableism.
But for every step forward, there’s a slew of voices arguing it’s not really an issue, it’s the talent that matters, you’re too sensitive, other people manage, what are you complaining about? And so it goes. Post that video, relive that experience, rehash that story for our consumption. Show us you’re not just making it up, it’s not just in your head.
And, frankly, it’s become a little too much for me. Admittedly I probably spent more time than most online. I blame the combination of living alone, so being less distracted by the real-life company of others, and insomnia – I regularly wake in the middle of the night and go into scrolling mode. But I was starting to find myself increasingly annoyed not just by the tweets of people I didn’t agree with, but by those I did (I can’t tell you how often I muted perfectly lovely or articulate people just because the same tweet came up repeatedly in my timeline, liked by all of my friends).
It wasn’t just the politics that was depressing me. I was increasingly plagued by FOMO: why is everyone else seeing all the cool plays, getting all the great gigs, going on all the fab holidays, while I am sleeping in people’s spare rooms stressed out to the gills about moving? I am someone who likes silence and space to write. And yet here I was, daily – sometimes hourly – checking into a steady stream of voices, many of them irate, like a wall of shouting people.
Facebook had also lost its appeal. Once an easy way to keep in touch with friends and family, it seemed at one end just a bunch of angry news stories, the other a series of inspirational memes. And while I am increasingly fond of Instagram, it’s not the ideal platform either for someone who thinks selfies are tedious (yeah, yeah: I’m old, what can I say?). I loved connecting with people online, but this was starting to feel like hosting a party every single day. You might well adore folk and enjoy their company, but sooner or later you want them out of your house so you can put on your PJs and relax.
So, I began to dial back. Many of my Newcastle friends aren’t on Twitter, and barely use Facebook, so it was easier here, as I felt less like I was missing out on some important conversation than I did when I was down south. My cousin doesn’t even have wi-fi – I know! – so staying at her house was a detox of sorts.
I knew I couldn’t abandon it completely – I knew I didn’t want to. It’s a part of my job, for a start. Over the years, I’ve scored gigs aplenty from Twitter, and I use it to promote my writing, sell my books, and connect with bloggers and readers. I’ve made friends and connections that I value and been part of conversations that I think are genuinely important.
So I slowed down on the sly: posting links I needed to share (for instance, to reviews), responding to anything I was tagged in. Casting the occasional glance at what was trending, at what came up at the top of my feeds. But no scrolling. No obsessively refreshing to watch horror unfold in real-time and then read the reactions. No spending half the night staring at a screen because it’s easier than getting up and actually doing something to tackle my sleeplessness.
Some of it I miss. Many of my friends are very active on Twitter, and are, to me, the best thing about it. I love keeping track of their lives, their work, their cats. I miss finding out what’s happening in my area, or reading what interesting people have written. I miss seeing important dialogues unfold, around the arts, inclusion, the importance of change. I also – especially? – miss the absurdity, random tweets about badly behaved penguins or chance encounters. It’s these that will bring me back to it, I know. I don’t plan to be absent forever.
But for now: I’m enjoying stepping back a little, so I can be more in control when I come back to the dance. I’m enjoying the sound of silence.
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