I think I have it – even writing this blog post is quite a stretch. I’ve taken my computer out a few times this weekend and then stared at the screen and snapped it shut and slipped it straight back into its case. I’m just kind of…done. I need a holiday, from work, from routine, from social media, from screens, from people.
I did an experiment on myself this weekend and didn’t post one Instagram story. I ate delicious meals, and went on walks, and lay by the fire, but I didn’t snap a picture of it, think up a caption or share it with anyone else. I just shared those experiences with myself, and with my family. And you know what? It was hard at first, but then it got much easier.
By Sunday afternoon I was throwing conkers into the wind with the kids to see how far they’d float, we played “aeroplane”, where you lift them into the air with your feet, and then I dragged them around on Rachel’s new skateboard as they squealed with delight. And they looked so beautiful and there were so many picture perfect moments but my phone was in a drawer in the bedroom and that was okay. I only checked it every few hours, to see if anyone had called or messaged me about anything urgent.
I know this is not revolutionary stuff. I know no one is forcing me to share my life on social media. But beyond it being addictive, with all that dopamine flooding your brain every time someone Likes something of yours, it also starts to feel like a responsibility. You get asked to review hotels, or go on trips, and you’re obliged to share these experiences with others. And in order to satisfy weird algorithms (which often reward consistency), you feel like you need to continue doing this, even when you aren’t reviewing something for someone else.
But this weekend, every time I thought I should typically write or share something: like how I felt about my father or my husband on Father’s Day, or how cute the pottery was that my mother-in-law gave me, I just looked at it and thought: meh. I don’t want to write about that. I rather want to call my father and chat, and tell my husband how cool he is as a Dad, and hold that vase in my hand and feel its dainty weight.
I think there’s also an element of being someone who works with words, so that you want to capture moments and feelings by writing them down on a page or a screen as soon as they happen. But you have to remind yourself that not every single moment or feeling has to be captured – it can just be felt sometimes. Also, is anyone going to notice or care if you take a little social media sabbatical?! Hell no! I know that I’m the only one obsessing about it, no one else will notice at all.
Although I didn’t post anything on Instagram this weekend, I did check it a couple of times and something caught my eye called #TheGramSham, started by Jo Lurie. Look up the hashtag, but the idea is that we have all become so conditioned to only seeing the best of people’s lives that’s it’s starting to affect our mental health. The damage that this is doing is vast, especially to our youth who have grown up with cellphones in their hands, and something’s gotta give. #TheGramSham is about opening up and sharing the REAL you, something you hide away because it’s not picture perfect, but which is a lot closer to all of our real life experiences. We need to normalise imperfection and this need is urgent.
The issue it’s addressing is when we see that perfect selfie of our favourite blogger and think she walks around looking like that all day. But the truth is that she put on her best make up, found the perfect light and then took about 11 pictures before she found one she half liked. Then she filtered the shit out of it and posted it and then you go around thinking that’s how she looks 24/7, asking yourself why your face is not like that and wishing that you had her wardrobe, her house or her life. I’m guilty of this too, from both sides I think.
There’s another aspect to it too. When people live lives that are privileged, when they go on awesome holidays, and get to eat in restaurants for free, and get sent gorgeous shoes to wear, they feel that there is no way they can ever complain about any aspect of their lives. They don’t want to appear ungrateful, and they know how hard other people have it, and so they feel they have to hide the more difficult parts of their lives from others, so that it doesn’t sound like they are complaining.
This is hugely damaging. We only have to look at recent events where real celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have suffered from mental illness and died from suicide. They must have felt like they couldn’t ever complain. They were rich, successful, talented. Everyone wanted to be them, so how could they express any feelings of anxiety or inadequacy, or admit that they had depression?
I don’t know where I’m going with this ramble. I’ve always tried to be authentic on this blog, but I think that when it comes to social media I’m also guilty of sharing only the fun stuff. We all do it, whether it’s celebrities, blogger folk or those just sharing their lives with their friends or family on Facebook. You only have to post a negative caption or image to see how much fewer likes it gets than all the happy shiny ones.
I know this is weird but I have a feeling that some time in our lifetimes we’re going to take a step back from technology and stage some sort of revolt. I see a future where we all suffer from massive digital fatigue, where we go back to basics, decide that they’re doing us more harm than good and toss away our phones. Maybe not. It’s just an image I have in my mind, a sea of people standing on a bridge and dropping their smartphones ceremoniously into the water. And there’s something about it that really appeals to me.
I’m not naive though because I know that many of us rely on the digital world, and on social media, as part of our livelihoods. They’re tied together very tightly, so it’s not just a case of ditching the smartphone and shutting down all of our profiles. Many of us have worked hard to build careers, and the digital world has been a very useful tool in our journeys. I know there is much good that can be done with tech, but we need to keep a handle on it. I need to keep a handle on it.
So with the school holidays coming up I’m going to try and do more of the “phone in drawer” experiment. I’m going to buy our family a big 1000 word piece puzzle. I’m going to take out lots of books from the library. I’m going to write in a paper journal. I think I need it. And maybe you do too.
Maybe it’s all time that we have a think about whether we’re controlling our tech, or whether it’s controlling us, along with our self images and the way we experience the world.