I had two days without Facebook or Twitter this week. Two whole days! Now, this may not sound like a big deal to some people, but to me it was huge. Which, I suppose, says an awful lot about me and the state of my life at the moment.
It occurred to me the other morning, as I sat on the edge of my bed, packing my bag for work, that grabbing my phone and checking Facebook was becoming an addiction. Seriously. It’s the phone that’s caused it. When I had my old phone, it was so slow and creaking that trying to connect to the internet was too much hassle, so I didn’t bother. Just over a year ago, I got an upgrade, and my phone connects within a second, which means that it’s all too easy to pick it up and tap the screen and see what’s going on in the Book of Face.
The trouble is, it had become such a habit that I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. It was only those two days without a phone that showed me how dependent on social media I’ve become. I was scrolling down the page, reading the same posts I’d already read just five minutes before, and getting impatient because there were hardly any new comments to read! I mean, seriously, how sad is that? It also occurred to me that Facebook was making me anxious, depressed and jittery.
There’s something about all those posts, isn’t there? It’s funny, really. Some people post really angry, political statements; others post nothing but pictures of cats and cakes; some are stuck in gloom and want to share their sadness with the world; others like to air their grievances with a bunch of random strangers, picking fights with their own families and friends for all to see and comment on. It’s their Facebook page, their posts, their choice. People can post what they like and if we don’t like it we only have to unfriend them, or hide their posts, or even block them if it’s really too much.
But what really got me this week – and I know that’s my problem, not theirs – were the people who posted relentlessly cheerful, optimistic, “look at how fabulous my life is. I’m so lucky. Everything in my world is absolutely perfect” statuses. I mean, honestly, if your life is that wonderful I’m really happy for you, but sometimes the endless good news wears me down.
It’s very difficult, when you see such fabulous things going on in other people’s lives, not to look at your own and think, ‘Oh, crap.’ And that, I’m afraid, is what set off the anxiety and depression this week. I don’t know why it happened this week, in particular. There’s nothing that I can say sparked it off. There was nothing different to any other week. It just hit me that morning, as I looked through my timeline, that I was feeling jittery, and that I had a strange feeling of dread. And I didn’t want to look at Facebook any more, or be in touch with anyone online, or make any comments, or post any pictures, or…well, you get the picture. I just wanted to turn off my phone and be invisible.
And the great thing about Facebook is that you can do just that! I discovered this quite by accident. I turned off my phone and lo and behold! I no longer existed in that strange, virtual world where strangers are your friends and everyone knows everything about you without actually knowing you at all. Because, that’s the thing. They don’t know you. I can post anything I like on Facebook and the vast majority of people on my friends list won’t know if I’m telling the truth or a big, fat porky. And it occurred to me that the same was true of the people whose posts I was reacting so badly to.
I’ve had difficult days, sad days, bloody awful days. Sometimes, looking back at what I’ve posted on Facebook during those times, no one would ever guess. I share pictures and jokes and pluck out the diamonds from the dust of my life in those dark moments. Who would know the truth? So when I’m sitting here, thinking, ‘Oh my God, everyone else’s life is so much fun, and they’re all doing so well, and living such glamorous lives, and being really happy and successful, and I’m feeling all fat and fed up, and work was rubbish today, and I haven’t written anything useful for ages, and the oven’s broken, and I should visit my kids and my mother more often, and I never seem to have the time for anything because I’m absolutely useless,’ I should perhaps console myself with the fact that all those posts are just diamonds, plucked from the dust of other people’s lives, and everyone has their fair share of bad days, and it’s not just me who sometimes feels totally inadequate and anxious.
(Since writing this, Sue Fortin pointed me in the direction of an experiment carried out by a Dutch student who faked an entire gap year to prove how we can manipulate the reality of our own lives using social media. It makes fascinating reading. Click here to read it. And thank you, Sue.)
The good news is that I went for two days without switching my phone on. The bad news is no one noticed! I discovered that I reach for my phone far, far too often, and I scan social media much more regularly than I need to or should. I realise, thanks to my break, that I am perfectly capable of functioning in the real world without it. Hopefully, I will now be able to limit my time on Facebook and Twitter, and spend more time doing the things that really matter.
I have no plans to close my Facebook account, or, indeed, my Twitter account, because, most of the time, I enjoy visiting those sites. They have a great many uses. Through Facebook, I’ve connected with someone who lives in America who I hadn’t been in touch with for over thirty years, and I can catch up with relatives who live abroad and friends who are scattered around the country. Through both sites I have found out about new books that have been released, about special offers and about interesting blog posts that I would otherwise have missed. I can make people aware of this very blog and of my own work – I’m planning to post about the release of There Must Be An Angel when it comes out in March, and Winter Tales would never have sold so many copies without all the wonderful people who shared it on Facebook and Twitter, I’m certain. I’ve made so many friends on there, and I truly do love to read people’s posts and Tweets most of the time, and, when I’m struggling, I’ll just stay away for a day or two until I feel able to cope again.
I don’t know if it’s just me who has this problem, or if this affects other people, too. I suppose it’s the equivalent of hiding in your room at a party. Everyone else is downstairs having a great time, but you just feel overwhelmed and tearful, so you end up locking the bedroom door then picking up a book instead. Parties can be fun, but sometimes you just aren’t in a party mood. And that’s fine, too.
Have a great week xx