Whew! What a year to be the owners of tiny electronic portals into everything that’s wrong with the world amiright?
I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about why social media feels the way it does for a lot of us right now. It’s possible that you’re having a totally different online experience to me, filled with sleeping kittens and laughing babies and laughing babies holding sleeping kittens, but from where I’ve been scrolling, shit has been intense.
This year we haven’t had much real life to buffer out online life. We’ve all spent more time existing in our own heads, experiencing a whole bucketload of complicated emotions, and social media has been right there ready for us to pour them out, or take in other peoples’, or just doomscroll until it feels like literally everything is on fire. For me, it’s felt like things have gotten so loud I can barely hear my own voice anymore (again, it’s possible that I just need more baby animals on my timeline?).
This is coming from someone whose life has largely revolved around social media for the last… several years. For most of my 20s, I’ve spent more time existing on the internet than I have in my actual life. And until this year, I never really allowed myself to stop and question that. Partly because I’ve been absolutely addicted to the scroll (congratulations Zuckerberg, that design feature works great), and partly because I just didn’t feel like I was allowed to. Kind of like I never thought I was allowed to question diet culture. But hey, things turned out alright when I did that…
So, in this very first newsletter, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been questioning lately when it comes to social media. We’re gonna get into all of these in more detail down the line, but for now we’re just gonna do a light base coat and let it bake. I’m also really curious how many of you have been thinking about these things too, so tell me if any of it hits home.
Here’s a bit of what I’ve been re-evaluating:
Maybe… there’s more to life than what’s IG-worthy?
Turning parts of your life into content is a slippery motherfucker of a slope. Somewhere down the line you might start to realise that there actually isn’t much in your life that you keep just for yourself, and don’t feel like you need to package up for the internet. If you’re like me, you might even begin to notice that parts of life that aren’t “content worthy” start to feel a little… hollow? As if you’re not quite sure why you’re doing them?
Turns out, I really had turned into the cliché millennial influencer who couldn’t leave her phone out of anything. Oops.
After forcing myself to take a very bleak month off to reckon with these feelings, I’ve been trying to figure out how I might build something a bit more balanced. A life where I see as much value in walking by myself through a field with nobody in sight as I do in my shiniest internet moments. Working on it…
What do you mean 8 hours of scrolling per day isn’t good for me?!
I probably don’t need to say too much here, since we’re all painfully aware of how our screen time truly jumped out this year. What I will say, is that I started to get more honest with myself about how I actually felt after 37 consecutive hours of scrolling. I’d come away overwhelmingly anxious, scared, distracted, unable to focus, unable to hold real conversations, and feeling like everything about me and my life and the world was wrong. Which is not an ideal state to be in every day.
I decided to learn about why I just couldn’t stop going back, even when I knew it was causing me harm. I read about the intentionally addictive features of social media, how the only goal of the apps is to keep us online as long as possible to collect information about us to sell onto the highest bidder (which is how the apps make money), why the loudest and most reactionary content always thrives (because it keeps us there longer), and the very real impact this is having on our brains. Brains that genuinely have not evolved to cope with this much information every day.
So… that’s been fun.
It doesn’t matter if they’re your friend, they’re cancelled.
I have sat back and thought a lot about how we treat each other online. Particularly, how we treat each other in social justice orientated, feminist, left-leaning (whatever you want to call it) spaces. And how the general vibe has always been that as soon as someone says or does the slightest thing we don’t believe is right, they are disposable. And more than that, they deserve to experience an endless stream of online harassment until they crawl their way towards an apology, which we generally then decide isn’t good enough anyway. And man, do we enjoy the spectacle. Shit has been feeling real medieval round here lately: town square, fruit being thrown, pitchforks at the ready.
You’re also not allowed to point this out. Because then you are a traitor. And then you are next. Every single person I know with an online platform lives with at least a little bit of fear every day that they are next. Usually, not even for something that any rational person could say was “bad”. I don’t want to live there anymore. So, let’s buckle up to get into that.
It’s either a cat or a dog, there are no other animals.
Hey, things were always gonna get the nuance sucked out of them on a platform where words are limited, tone can always be misinterpreted, and the content that causes the strongest reaction (positive or negative) gets pushed to the top.
There is so much binary thinking and so many false dichotomies filling up social media right now, it’s almost as if we don’t trust ourselves to hold the full complexity of any topic. We want the one-line answer that we can repeat over and over again even if it doesn’t make much sense once you lift it out of social media and apply it to the actual world.
I’m not really a big fan of binaries when it comes to a lot of things: gender, moral purity, popcorn… So I’m kind of done with that.
Honestly I just can’t be angry all the time anymore.
There is something to rage about on the internet every day. Some of it genuinely should make us angry, some of it is just fucking nonsense (and some of it is intentionally designed to get us angry in order to get more clicks). But in order to stay “relevant” on social media, you’re not supposed to differentiate between these things. You must be ready to jump into a state of complete outrage at the drop of a tweet, multiple times a day, and perfectly craft your outrage into the hottest possible take. I’m tired.
I’ve been shouting for seven years and when I look back at a lot of that anger… it didn’t actually turn into any tangible change? It just showed how righteous I was, encouraged other people to also be angry, and we all spent a while raging at our phones when we could have been writing to our MPs, getting involved in our local communities or just having a fucking ice-cream in the afternoon on a sunny day.
Right, I did say this was gonna be a base coat so this is me putting the brush down. There’s a lot to say on all of these things, and trust me when I tell you that I’ve spent the majority of my year trying to figure them all out before I started speaking about them. And the main reason why I want to speak about them now is because I don’t want social media to make us sick. I never wanted it to make us sick when it came to our body image, and I don’t want it to make us sick now when it comes to our mental health, our relationships, our self-esteem and our sense of reality.
Maybe it is just me who’s feeling these things. But you know what? Even if it is, I think it’s worth me writing them down. Because I don’t want to stay sick either.
Welcome to the newsletter! Next time I’ll write about something fun, like dildos.
Questions for the comments: Have you been asking yourself any of these questions about social media? What is your current relationship with social media? Does it feel good? Do you think we should be having more conversations about how it makes us feel? If you don’t feel like sharing anything personal that’s cool! You can always leave me “not just you” in the comments so I know somebody hears me. 💜
The internet can be a wonderful place but it can also be super sucky! I'm working on my doctorate in educational leadership and my focus is digital citizenship or teaching kids how to use the internet without being assholes. We are all building this ship while we are sailing it but hopefully through thoughtful lessons on the power and responsibility of online life we can prepare future generations for more.
I lived without social media until I was about 40, no internet, no google... email was new and exciting to me! And here I am now, 13 years on and spending much more time on this gadget than is helpful or nourishing to me. I’m determined to change, but then find myself ‘needing’ to check something. I guess I never was any good at denial. What I am good at is doing more of something. And for me the perfect antidote to screen is feet on grass, so I’m determined to do more of that. Today, the grass is warm and moist - downright sexy 😘