Of all the intimate relationships in my life, my entanglement with social media has been more of a head-wrecker than any of my questionable romances. In the beginning, it was this amazing new technology that was going to help us all stay in touch and still live at opposite ends of the earth. It was great for those travelling or living away from home, allowing us to still share in all those important life moments; engagements, weddings, important birthdays, videos of the family cat doing cartwheels - or for just allowing your Dad to show off his newly constructed garden shed. On a wider scale, social media has given a voice to many people who would normally struggle to be heard and created communities for those who grapple to find their tribe. So in an excited haze of heart shaped notifications, the world began merrily enjoying all this hum of connection and initially, it all seemed like a very positive thing.
Then Snapchat happened - triggering a dramatic decline in the acceptance of a natural human face. Then the business world got involved and if you happen to be popular enough (or naked enough) to amass a large number of Instagram followers, brands and products will ask you to simply post a picture of yourself in a pair of branded leggings and pay you enough moneyto fund a down payment on a four bedroom house - which I know, is just mad. Every wedding, hen-do, birthday party, life event, holiday or exam success will now invariably make it to the internet in some shape or form. Gone are the days when someone could have a party and there would be no evidence it ever happened other than the terrible hangover the next day.
So is all this compulsive sharing really a good thing? Even as someone who does share a lot on my own channels, I'm still not so sure.
Social media has more or less taken over our lives and ever since Facebook popped up 10 years I've always had the distant thought of 'this cant be good...' buzzing around in the back of my mind. Psychological research is still pretty thin on the ground as this new tech phenomenom hasn't really been around long enough to give us a clear picture of the effects, but there's a lot going on in the field. Initially the data suggested a negative impact on our emotional health, but the results of a recent study by The University of Missouri show perhaps its not social media itself that is damaging, but how a person utilizes it. In other words; how you use it dictates how you respond to it.
My inclination would be to agree and my own tumultuous love/hate relationship with my phone may really be down just this. It would make a lot of sense that the boundary-less, un-monitored use of our phones could be starting to cause us all a bit of trouble. The amount of information available is beyond any human comprehension and a mismanaged consumption of anything, no matter how 'good' it appears, is often damaging to human well-being. You can have too much of a good thing and if we don't start placing some structure around howwe use social media, it could be in danger of sending us all a bit loopy.
So! with this in mind, I have put together some of the rules I try and follow in order to avoid becoming convinced my life is boring, everyone is prettier than me and the whole world is at a party I never got invited to. I also got so into it I've ended up splitting this into two posts so I don't boggle your mind too much. So here is part 1..
Rule Number 1) Remember its a load of rubbish.
My Grandmother used to say to my mum; believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. When it comes to social media - I think we should re word this; Believe nothing of what you hear - and only a very very small amount of what you see. Social media makes life lookfar too neat and tidy. No ones life really is a perfectly contoured, white-sofa owning, orgasmic, constant holiday that it looks. Its a massive load of crap. They say the camera never lies but in the age of social media -it does.
Rule Number 2) Delete, block or unfollow your exes.
I use 'exes' as the umbrella term for anyone who has ever hurt your heart. Social media can be as much a mild form of emotional torture, as it is a fun way to stay in touch. It doesn't matter if you knew them for 5 minutes or 5 years and its not for any malicious reason other than to protect yourself from pain. Who hasn't experienced this; you're having a good day, its sunny outside, you're ASOS order arrived early and there was a seat free on the train. Then on your morning scroll through Facebook, there it is. Sandwiched right in the middle of the latest viral cat video and a picture of someones' Eggs Benedict. Your ex-fling/person who ghosted you/former love of your life is glaring back at you, smiling and happy - and canoodling someone else. Its like taking a bullet. Now the rest of your morning becomes a silent battle against thinking about how those intimate moments you two once shared - are now being shared with someone else.
In my parents day, when you broke up - you broke up. You would know very little about their life unless through mutual friends or by accidentally bumping into them in Sainsburys. You certainly wouldn't run the risk of punctuating an innocent morning commute with happy photos of their new love on your own mobile phone. The world really has gone a bit mad of late, so do what you have to do for your own sanity, healing and happiness. Allowing them to continually pop up on your feed is borderline sado-masochistic on your poor broken heart. Deleting and blocking is not always easy to do, and I'm sure some of us have done the whole 'thats it! i'm deleting you, you prick!!' only to drunkenly re-add them again at 2am, under the spell of too many glasses of the loopy juice. No shame here - we've all been there. Delete, block or unfollow. You're not crazy or insecure - just giving yourself and your heart the chance to really heal and move on. Even the most amicable of break-ups can be excruciating and we *really* don't need the experience on a constant digital replay.
Rule Number 3) Does your phone make you laugh?
Ok, so, when I first joined Instagram I followed all the usual Instagrammy things; random celebrities and reality stars, travel photography, fashion bloggers, an odd selection of friends and aquaintances - and a whole heap of cute cats and dogs with their own accounts.(like I said..world is going mad..). My daily feed quickly became full of beaches I will never set foot on, celebrity selfies, ridiculously attractive people wearing clothes I couldn't afford - and just a load of other unrelatable stuff. Scrolling through all this everyday can actually be quite corrosive and can make even the happiest of people begin to feel inadequate about their lives. They say you shouldn't read beauty magazines because they will only make you feel ugly - if you follow an excessive amount of attractive people with incredibly rich lives, this is the modern day equivalent of 'the beauty magazine'. There is, however, a whole other world out there and Instagram and Facebook are also full to the brim of accounts for comics, memes, cartoonists and of course - inspirational quotes. My phone makes me laugh everyday and I hold it fully responsible for being given some very odd looks on public transport. I'm currently a bit obsessed with finding accounts that have witty and funny content and there are also numerous people creating pages to help and support - all with a healthy dose of reality thrown in. (A personal favourite is '@effthismeditation' - designed for those who really appreciate meditation - but also just don't.)
It's human nature to want to look at beautiful things but pay attention to how you feel when you've spent a few minutes scrolling. There's a tipping point where our brains go from curiosity and appreciation to receiving a subconscious message about our own worth. If you're left feeling dis-satisfied with yourself and you own life - its time to do a bit of an 'unfollow'. It may just be me, but it really doesn't enhance my life that much to see someones eaten out at a fancy restaurant for the 17th time this week - or they've just bought their 5th Land rover. The same goes for Facebook. I follow a tonne of online magazines and blogs and just general silly stuff. This injects a healthy dose of interesting articles, cat videos and silly memes into the mix whilst diluting out some of the stuff that may be toxic to our self esteem. You may occasionally end up the strange person standing in the bus stop grinning at their phone - but I think that's a pretty small price to pay for being able to keep your head on straight.