It will surprise few of those who know me to read that I love social media. Since being an active member of MySpace from 2004 until 2007/8, I have enjoyed many forms of social media for work and personal pursuits.
Facebook has become my place for keeping in touch with friends and family around the world. I enjoy being able to spend a few minutes mindlessly scrolling through the ramblings of people I know and people with whom I would otherwise have had no contact in years. As someone who has never really enjoyed the phone as a means of communication (the ‘talk to me now’ nature of it doesn’t sit well with me, and the rare moments of poor call quality stress me out more than they should) Facebook is an ideal way of dipping in and out of my friend pool in a way I feel reasonably comfortable.
I have a terrible habit of losing things. I’ve had four mobile phones in the last six months, if you need some sort of idea of the scale of said habit. I am also a great fan of travel (I have been fortunate to have visited 32 countries so far and am currently writing this from my hotel in Sicily, Italy) and as such I take a lot of holiday snaps. The main problem created by this combination of things is that I have previously lost a lot of holiday photos as a result of misplacing (mainly) iPhones. Facebook to the rescue again – I now tend to upload photos to pre-made albums on the fly, so I don’t fall victim to myself in a few days’ time…
There’s a good chance you found this blog post via a Twitter link. Twitter has been a tremendous force for good in the seven years it’s been part of my life. I use it mostly for ‘work’ things – sharing and borrowing links, resources, blog posts, etc. related to the world of education technology and also as a marketing tool since becoming an independent consultant. More importantly though, I have met some utterly brilliant people through Twitter. You know who you are. People I have subsequently met in the real world, been for dinner and drinks with, attended work functions with, holidayed with and stayed at the houses and with the families of. A real testament to the way in which a sizeable chunk of ‘us’ have been able to use the social medium to our considerable personal and professional benefit.
They are my ‘big 2’ but I have also to varying extents used social networks/tools such as Instagram, Periscope, LinkedIn, and lots more over the years.
However, there is a rather sizeable problem. I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s all of us. Since being here in Italy I have been on a self imposed four day social media (and email, but that’s a different blog post entirely) exile. And guess what? The world feels like a better place. I’ve tried these exiles before – a week off here, a month off there. I’ve always found it tricky to go from always on to totally off, but have usually stuck to them.
However, this one has been much easier. Perhaps because instead of merely logging out of mobile apps, I deleted them from my phone. Perhaps because I didn’t bring any laptop or tablet devices. Probably though because four days is a very manageable chunk of time in which to refrain from any habit, I think (and for all of its good, I do think I’m a habitual social media user too).
Additionally though, there are some things that a 100% social media ban has made me think about in more detail, and why I believe it’s had a positive impact on my wellbeing in just a few days.
1. I often feel I’m trying to keep other people happy.
I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy. I get on with most people. And I like the idea that that should continue. So if you send me a message through any social media platform then I feel a moral obligation to reply. Whether I know you or not. Whether what you’re saying is urgent or not. If I don’t reply in a time frame that I think is acceptable then I get stressed that I’ve been inadequate as a fellow member of humanity. You almost certainly don’t attach the level of importance to your transmission. By removing the ability to read it, it removes the stress of being bad at getting back to you. I have a legitimate excuse: I didn’t read it.
2. A lot of stuff on social media is definitely bad for you (me).
It’s overstimulating – I follow too many people on Twitter, for example. If my full time job was reading posts on my Twitter timeline I’d be about a year behind schedule after my first week, I’m certain.
It’s really busy – in addition to the above there is so much other ‘stuff’ that distracts from the main point (at least MY main point anyway): adverts, ‘people you might care about’ suggestions, Candy Crush, spam messages, TrueTwit validation DMs (you are actually kidding me, right?), etc.
It’s pretty angry at times – Twitter arguments between educated professionals, the surprise racist outing themselves on Facebook through an ill thought out Britain First share, YouTube video comments that could be making interesting points but for their expletive-laden personal attacks, to name but a few.
Though I mostly avoid engaging with this kind of content directly, it’s everywhere. So I see it every single day at some point. And that has to take its toll. Being without all of that nonsense for a few days has been liberating.
Mostly though, the reason I feel better for four days off social media is down to my third and final observation.
3. I’m always trying to keep myself happy. And often failing.
In short, I’m a broken human being. I suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, have incredibly needy attachment issues, drink too much and don’t sleep nearly enough.
As a result of all of this, some seemingly small things become big things for me really quickly. And social media really doesn’t help.
A case in point, last week I spotted that one of my very best friends from a previous job had deleted me as a Facebook friend. Not in and of itself a life changing moment, perhaps, but its impact on me was quite profound. Ten or fifteen years ago this wouldn’t have happened. Given my aversion to making phone calls we probably wouldn’t have spoken for a while and would both have just assumed we’d moved on. But deleting someone from Facebook is quite a definite move, almost aggressive. So, it bothered me.
Likewise, I am very rarely the first person to send friend requests on Facebook. This is because dealing with the rejection that would come from the request being ignored would be too stressful.
The more I write the more I realise I’m basically the entire issue here. Points 1 and 2 above are all about the way I react to others, rather than the inherent nature of others’ social media use (largely anyway).
So, what’s the answer? I don’t even know what the question is if I’m honest.
But what I do know is that I feel loads better for taking a short social media break. I’m not going to leave it altogether – there’s too much I love about it and if you’re reading this then there’s a strong chance you’re part of that reason – but I might consider taking monthly short breaks. Because four days a month is manageable. Yes, let’s agree to that.
I’d be very interested to read about any other people’s social media stories. Have you had any breaks from a particular platform? Has it had any kind of effect on your wellbeing?
And as of now, this very second, my social media is back on. So you can tweet me with a response if you like. Or not.