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?
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.