Breaking the Social Media Habit

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

15 thoughts on “Breaking the Social Media Habit

  1. Sharon, thanks so much for such an honest, insightful post. I don’t have a fancy phone with social media but find myself gravitating to the computer far too often for ‘just a quick check’ on who is saying what, and before I know where I am I’m scrolling through the same old posts (as you said) and can end up bored, depressed, you name it, and it’s not necessarily because the posts are particularly unlikeable, although some are, it’s just the way it is. Sometimes you can know too much about a person – something that’s happened to me these last weeks. Will say no more on that. Good for you going cold turkey. I did miss you though!

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    • Aw, thank you, Deirdre. It’s a strange thing, isn’t it, how quickly social media has become part of our lives and how addictive we find it. Just a few years ago we’d never heard of Facebook or Twitter and yet somehow we all managed perfectly well. It’s a bit scary when you think about it. Definitely trying to limit my time on there now, as I was absolutely glued to it and didn’t even realise till I had that lightbulb moment the other day. I know what you mean about knowing too much about certain people! 😉 Sometimes you just want to type, ‘Too much information!’ in big capital letters on some posts, but, of course, we’re far too polite. Thanks so much for commenting. xx

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  2. So true, Sharon, and I think a break from it does as all good. Having had to contend with a stalker, I know about the sinister side of social media too 😦 I think a lot of people use Facebook (I’m a bit of a Twitter numpty!) in particular to promote only the aspects of their lives that are deliberately shared in order to seem fabulous to others – a friend of mine has left the site and calls it ‘Boast-book’! I had to laugh at some of your comments and the people who use social media to ‘wash their dirty laundry’ make me cringe – posting cryptic barbs aimed at others with things like ‘Don’t you hate it when people you thought you could trust let you down’ and then all their mates reply with comments like ‘You okay, hun?’ and ‘What’s up babe?’ I also hate the personal paparazzi thing, where people use their Smart phones to ‘check in’ wherever they go – personally, I couldn’t give a flying proverbial whether Sandy has checked into Starbucks in the High Street or Jamie is on the South Eastern fast service to Waterloo… I really enjoyed the break from social media over Christmas and I’m spending less time on there than I once did, but still more than I should. It lets me procrastinate from writing, marking or other things I should be doing and sometimes, working at home, I do need that. But less social media and more of the really important stuff is a great objective and one which I’ll also be pursuing xx

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  3. The problem we have, Jo, is that Facebook and Twitter are marketing tools in themselves, and many would say they are essential. All authors, whether traditionally or indie published, need to publicize their work, and how else do you reach such a wide audience? Winter Tales has sold really well, but it has to be mainly due to the Facebook posts and Tweets that so many people kindly shared. This means that, if you’re a writer, you just can’t give up on social media entirely. Just the other day, people at work commented that, usually, their timelines are full of my posts, and I felt really embarrassed and wanted to apologise and tell them to unfriend me! But the simple truth is, I am sharing my Facebook friends’ books, news of their new releases, letting people know when their books are on offer, publicizing Winter Tales, sharing links for this blog and the Write Romantics’ blog, as well as other people’s blog posts that I think may be of interest to other writers and readers out there. Of course my timeline is going to be busier than theirs but what can I do about it? It’s a business tool really, and to be honest, I’ve met some lovely people on Facebook who I think of as friends, even though I’ve never met them, and would miss them far too much if I gave up on social media entirely. It’s about finding a balance, I suppose, because, as you say, it encourages procrastination, luring us away from what we really should be doing. I have to say, though, it was a huge relief to leave my phone at home in a drawer and not be tempted to reach for it every five minutes to check what was going on. I felt free for the first time in ages. I definitely think, if it wasn’t for the writing, I probably wouldn’t be on it nearly as much. It’s lost much of its charm for me and I will be limiting my time on it in the future. Thanks so much for dropping by and adding your thoughts. xx

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  4. I am nodding as I read this .and I shouln’t BE reading this as I have work to do. It is addictive…fun…but as you say, you can get a bit fed up of the relentless bombardment of other people’s good fortune. Or cakes and cats (oops, holds hand up).) Like you, I use Twitter & Fb to sell my books..and I wouldn’t have made the money I have without them…but also they intrude ibto my life. I think a day/2 days off sounds fine. Umm…or maybe a morning…an hour…look, I’m switching off for 5 minutes to start with…

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    • Haha, small steps, Carol! It is intrusive – no doubt about it. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Although, to be fair, it’s not all bad. Some of those cats are so cute and it’s always nice to see cake. Except when you’re on a diet. Which I am. Drat…

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  5. Sharon, I could have written this post myself. Some days I adore FB (like Jo, I’m not there with Twitter yet) for its ability to connect me with friends and family spread around the country who I don’t get to see and other days I hate it for exactly the reasons you cite in this blog post. I think the piece about ‘diamonds’ particularly resonates with me and I’d say keep reading what you’ve written in that paragraph because that’s what it is. We choose what to share about our lives and, for most, it’s the good stuff. Yes, there are the ridiculous posts that Jo describes that are clearly there to elicit an “are you ok?” reaction and there are the political rants but, for the majority of people, it’s about the excitement in their lives. But it’s all a snapshot. I can remember someone once commenting to me that my feed was full of pictures of being out and about with Ashleigh yet we hardly ever got out and about; I just happened to share those moments when we did – my diamonds!

    What I find refreshing is that I often have to have a couple of days off social media because I go away with work and wifi is appalling in the hotel. I originally got stressed trying to catch up but then I thought “so what” and I stopped spending hours scrolling through the missed posts. It felt so much better when I stopped worrying that I might have missed something important.

    I’m really sorry I didn’t notice your absence. Don’t take that to heart. Sometimes people just dip in and out and don’t really notice what’s going on. I was one of those people on your absent days.

    Great honest post. Big hugs xxx

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    • Honestly, Jessica, I didn’t mind at all that you didn’t notice. It proved the point that I really don’t need to be on social media every single day. The world isn’t going to come to an end after all. 🙂
      And it’s very funny that you mentioned those photos of you and Ashleigh because that’s exactly what I thought – crikey, you’re out and about a lot. Mind you, if I lived in Scarborough I suspect I’d be out and about a lot, too.
      Lovely of you to drop by and offer support. I’m very lucky to have my chums around me – and that’s thanks to the internet, after all…:) xx

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  6. Lovely post Sharon and one I can definitely relate to. I’m definitely one of those people who only post about the good stuff because I’m incapable of sharing a bad day with a group of 76 ‘friends’ (some of whom aren’t really friends at all and who I only vaguely know). I have given up on Facebook entirely sometimes (although I’ve never put my phone in a drawer) because I’ve felt like you did that everyone else was having huge amounts of fun and I wasn’t. If it weren’t for the writing I’d probably do even less on social media but I know it’s worked for us with Winter Tales. I saw my old Guide leader yesterday who I bump into about once a year. She’d heard about Winter Tales through Facebook and wanted to hear all about the book, about Thomas and about my writing and that’s pretty special really.
    Hope you’re feeling more in balance with the world with your new social media regime and haven’t got any withdrawal symptoms. (And please don’t stop posting picture of The Musketeers because I’d really miss those!) Alys xx

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    • Bless you, Alys, I promise I’ll always be there just to post Musketeer pictures especially for you! Thank you for dropping by and commenting, and thanks for your invaluable support over the last few days (and months!) xx

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  7. Oh, this resonated! I too have a whizzy new phone that makes it easy to connect, and a book to promote so I feel like I “must” be visible all the time. I have to make a deliberate effort not to check twitter at the dinner table!

    I loved the diamonds analogy – I think it’s part of human behaviour to edit as we go, so what we share with others is the highlights. I think it’s great if we don’t dwell on the bad bits, but it is a false picture.

    Great post, thanks.

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    • Thank you for dropping by, Kate. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and I’m very glad that my post appears to have resonated with so many people. I did wonder if there was something wrong with me but, clearly, there’s something wrong with a lot of us! 🙂
      Very nice to meet you and thank you again.

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  8. Sorry, Sharon – me again! But this such an interesting discussion…. Funnily enough before I read your post I had already decided to limit myself to two shortish sessions a day on FB and Twitter and I plan to stick to that. Number one reason; it steals time from writing and other interests; number two: I have to remember the sole reason I joined FB in the first place, which was to raise my profile among other authors/readers in order to sell my books. It wasn’t to see who had made cakes or gone for a walk, and no, I don’t need to know that… well, not really. But on the plus side, FB lets me see what my cousins are doing in other parts of the country and also my Australian family whom I have never met, and that’s wonderful. And I do love the information and photos I get from my small number of interest groups. However, I have also decided to use my sm time more wisely, and that means cutting down the number of likes, shares and RTs to only the essentials, ditto the number of comments, not posting trivia myself (if I don’t want to read it why would anyone else?) and generally being more selective at how I participate. It may be I miss responding to something I really should but the world won’t end and I doubt anyone will notice anyway! I will never miss WR posts as they go to my email. Thanks, Sharon, you have firmed up my resolution – but whether I stick to it remains to be seen! So now, a few more minutes and I’m outa here!

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  9. Hi Sharon

    I know it’s ages since you wrote this but I started a reply on my phone as soon as I read the blog originally, but then my phone “blinked” and the whole thing was gone. Gggrrr!

    Anyway, the long and the short of it was I wanted to apologise in case I was one of the “relentlessly optimistic” people who were winding you up!

    I am the same as you: fed up with those of my friends who post angry/whingey or attention seeking/cliff hanger style statuses. My intention with my “jar of joy” entries, is to attempt to make Facebook a more positive and happy place.

    Do my jar of joy entries mean my life is perfectly happy and wonderful? Far from it! But I choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative (although I will admit a couple of my recent blogs have been rather negative).

    I remember hearing once that people should never judge the outside of someone else’s family/marriage/life against the inside of their own. When I split up with my (verbal and emotionally abusive) husband, lots of friends from church were upset and told me they had no idea and thought we were the perfect couple. We weren’t. I do find myself sometimes feeling envious of other people’s relationships/families/etc and have to remind myself of that. We have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors.

    So I hope you will forgive me seeking the diamonds in my sometimes dusty life and sharing them on Facebook!

    Take care.

    Liz:-)

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    • Hi Liz
      I love reading your jar of joy entries! They remind me to look for the good in everything – sometimes I need reminding! I don’t usually mind what people post on their pages – they belong to them, after all. Just sometimes gets me down when I read all the relentlessly positive stuff about how fabulous their lives are. But then, thinking about it, I don’t think it’s the posts that get me down. I think I’m already feeling low and the posts just reinforce that feeling, which is why it’s probably best to avoid Facebook entirely when I’m down. Even worse – by a huge margin – are the nasty, bitter posts, ranting hatred for just about everyone and everything. I really loathe posts like that and they make me despair of the human race. I would far rather read about your lovely jar of joy and remind myself that, even in the darkest days, there’s always something to be thankful for.
      Thank you very much for stopping by and commenting.
      Lots of love and keep posting! 🙂 x

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