Friends and family are constantly being frustrated by my love-hate relationship to social media. I am on Facebook. I am off Facebook. I am on Twitter. I am off Twitter. I am Linked-in. I am not Linked-in. I even occasionally begin ignoring emails and I am never online at weekends. I have a “smart” phone that can bring all these ways of communication directly to me at any – and every – given second of the day.
If I’m honest, I am a control freak. I want to control my time. I want to have ultimate control over when and how my interactions with the world take place. It is supremely selfish. It is definitely rude. Some might even describe it as a pathology, a mental illness, an unease that is actually a disease. I disagree. I hold by Erich Fromm in this matter: ‘The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.’
So, to add insult to injury, not only do I think that I am not ill for hating social media, but I also think that people who run blindly into ‘connectedness’ are in fact the nutters.
If truth be told, most things about modern living are abhorrent to me. I look toward a mythical past. Not the actual past – not that smelly, messy, disease-ridden and brutish place we know of as historical fact – no, I dream of a bucolic paradise that hasn’t ever really existed. I ache for a fictional nirvana. A place of beauty, calm and joy.
A place where in the morning you go to your mailbox and instead of junk mail, bills and takeaway menus, you get handwritten letters from friends and family. Letters that you’ll keep rather than chuck in the recycling bin. Where a ringing phone meant someone had died. I think part of my horror at the phone ringing is some reincarnated fear from a time when a ringing phone did actually mean someone had died or that war had broken out.
So I like the written word. Unsurprising for a writer. But not all words are created equal. I have given Facebook and Twitter and Linked-in the old college try, but it doesn’t get any better. Each year there are just a handful of posts I want to read. Mostly there are: campaigns or opinions that make me despair about the state of the world; pictures and personal intimacies from people I barely know; despair or illness I can do nothing about; joy and celebration I cannot be a part of; events I can’t attend; jokes I don’t find funny; distractions and noise and noise and noise. Plus the algorithms don’t work so you miss out on the really important stuff. You miss the sound in amongst the noise and there is never, ever any music.
Mostly I find myself becoming more and more misanthropic as the world continues to catalogue and archive its banality. If you think this is a knee-jerk harsh assessment of social media, be at least assured that it is a judgement made after many years of active participation in that which I hate. In Jonathan Franzen’s excellent book about the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus (1874-1936) The Kraus Project, he writes: ‘Kraus spent a lot of time reading stuff he hated, so as to be able to hate it with authority.’
Ultimately social media makes me feel depressed and lonely. I feel happier when I am off it.
I have been told by those in the know that I am lowering my stock as a journalist and as an author by avoiding social media. I have lost jobs on the basis of not having enough Twitter followers. I have seriously considered changing my profession in order to avoid social media and the internet entirely. But what other profession will let me work my own hours from home?
Also, I suppose it boils down to whom you want to believe. Apparently we can no longer survive without internet usage. It is a human right. We can no longer be journalists without the internet. However, the Office of National Statistics puts the number of people who by 2013 have never used the internet at 7.1 million adults or 14% of the UK’s population. Are those non-people? Where are they? What do they do with their lives? If you have never been on the internet, do you even exist? Certainly the TV show producers, with presenters incessantly droning on about ‘you can tweet us at…’, don’t believe they exist. Maybe I don’t want to interact. Maybe I want to passively receive my entertainment or news and maybe I want to mull it over and make up my mind without anyone ever needing to hear my thoughts about it. Perhaps it is okay to go unheard. Perhaps a thought that lives and dies in your mind and memory is as worthy as one that is tweeted and appreciated.
You’re reading this on my portfolio/blog site. I would ideally like not to have a blog, but to record my thoughts in a leather-bound journal, to be published posthumously, so as not to give offence. The way it used to be done. Today, we blog for immediate reactions and repent at leisure for offences given.
That leads me to the question of censorship. The most awful thing about social media is that often a lot of what is posted is public and, if it isn’t, it is still visible to everyone from a person you met once at a workshop to your family thousands of miles away around the world. So you self-censor and think twice before saying what you really think.
One of my best friends is one of the most offensive people I know – if he can say something appallingly wrong, he will do so as a point of personal honour. Thankfully he doesn’t care a jot what anyone thinks and so writes unimpeded by the concerns that I have. I had to send him a private message on Facebook to ask him to avoid posting offensive, sweary things on my timeline. So now I was censoring him as well as myself. What a terrible thing to feel I have to do.
It is facts like this that make me have a ‘scorched earth’ policy when it comes to online interactions. I’m sorry. I know it is odd. But I am happier this way. So, from now on, here is my availability:
* Follow this blog if you have any interest in my writing, both books and features (there’s a wee ‘follow’ button on the bottom right hand corner that lets you sign up with your email).
* Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I check this email about twice a day during the week, but never on weekends.
* My absolute favourite form of communication is a letter: if you have my address, write to me.