Scrolling my life away

So­cial me­dia ru­ins fun ex­pe­ri­ences and wastes so much of my time. So why, asks Tess Nichol, am I still on it?

Waikato Times - - Weekend | Leisure -

When I was gain­fully em­ployed, I used to dream about what I’d do if I didn’t need to come into an of­fice ev­ery day to pay the bills.

I liked jour­nal­ism well enough, but imag­in­ing what I could achieve if I didn’t have to do it quite so much was very en­joy­able. Ah, to have the hours to pick up paint­ing again, or give pot­tery a go. I pic­tured the lush­ness of the gar­den that would grow with two green thumbs avail­able to tend to it morn­ing and night.

Then, five months ago, I quit my job to travel the world solo. It was one of the best de­ci­sions I’ve ever made.

But de­spite the whole thing be­ing very Eat, Pray, Love ,in that time, I have not thrown a sin­gle pot, planted a sin­gle herb, or so much as glanced at a paint­brush. I’ve done quite a lot of tweets though.

To be fair paint­ing, gar­den­ing et al is pretty hard to do with any reg­u­lar­ity when you’re liv­ing out of a back­pack, but I’d be ashamed to tally up the hours I wasted in the last five months loung­ing on a hos­tel bed crit­i­cally eval­u­at­ing pho­tos of me from 2010.

I’m com­pletely and hope­lessly ad­dicted to so­cial me­dia and I don’t know what to do about it. In the morn­ing, I wake up, look at my phone and two sec­onds later 45 min­utes have passed.

What is the al­lure of the end­less scroll? I’ve heard the mo­tion is sim­i­lar to the yank of a pokie ma­chine; that some­thing about the move­ment makes us near­pow­er­less to re­sist do­ing it again. I don’t know and won’t re­search whether that’s true, be­cause it’s such a good metaphor, isn’t it?

End­less inches have been al­lot­ted to mus­ings about so­cial me­dia; how the Youth of To­day need to Look Up from their new­fan­gled con­trap­tions and ac­tu­ally talk to one an­other for good­ness’ sake, and how self­ies are de­stroy­ing so­ci­ety.

Don’t get me wrong, these luke­warm takes are very an­noy­ing, but I think the knee-jerk re­sponse of dis­miss­ing them out of hand due to be­ing con­de­scend­ing doesn’t ac­knowl­edge how many of us want to be less on­line.

Sure, the vast ma­jor­ity of columns about so­cial me­dia use can be summed up as ‘‘so­ci­ety is dif­fer­ent to when I was young and re­mem­ber­ing I’m old makes me sad and an­gry’’.

But when one of Face­book’s lesser in­frac­tions was de­lib­er­ately see­ing whether they could ma­nip­u­late cer­tain users into feel­ing sad, we’ve got to ad­mit theat so­cial me­dia plat­forms aren’t a neu­tral en­tity.

When so many of us an­nounce our Twit­ter/ Face­book/In­sta­gram hia­tus only to slink back de­feated a month or so later, we need to ques­tion the hold these plat­forms have over us.

So­cial con­nec­tion is a nat­u­ral thing to crave as a hu­man and so­cial me­dia does of­fer that. But it doesn’t come with­out a price.

How good was it to be able to mes­sage my friends and fam­ily when I was far from home and miss­ing those who knew me best? So good.

Also very handy: not be­ing con­stantly lost in new and big cities.

But I also be­gan notic­ing the way very gen­uine ex­pe­ri­ences be­came ‘‘con­tent’’ once I posted about them on­line. Some serendip­i­tous or charm­ing or lovely mo­ment mor­phed, when I posted about it, into a source of anx­i­ety.

I would self-con­sciously check how many likes a post was get­ting, each time re-read­ing it to ex­am­ine whether the word­ing was as touch­ing or funny as it could have been, un­til my mem­ory of the event it­self was re­placed with the ver­sion I had pro­jected into cy­berspace.

What’s the point of shar­ing if the pur­pose is so closely tied to self­grat­i­fi­ca­tion?

Cer­tain el­e­ments of our per­son­al­i­ties are am­pli­fied on­line, and val­i­da­tion in the form of likes or faves makes us more likely to keep post­ing the same kind of things, and less likely to post out­side our ‘‘brand’’.

It’s the funny para­dox of the in­ter­net – de­spite the end­less ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, it seems we prefer to re­strict our­selves to what we al­ready know.

I’ve tried so many tac­tics to spend less time on the in­ter­net.

App de­vel­op­ers have the ex­press pur­pose of mak­ing a plat­form easy to use and de­sir­able to stay on, so I’ve tried to out­fox them – by delet­ing the Twit­ter and Face­book apps and only us­ing the browser ver­sion, by turn­ing my phone to greyscale, by putting a site blocker on my desk­top. All of them have failed. My most re­cent at­tempt at delet­ing Twit­ter lasted less than 24 hours.

Why? Who knows? As any­one who has read my tweets could at­test, it’s not like I’ve got any­thing par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing to say.

I wake up, look at my phone and two sec­onds later 45 min­utes have passed.


Even while hav­ing en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ences abroad, I’m still chained to my phone.

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